Czech

Artist Pasta Oner on Warhol and the spirit of Prague

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Last Thursday I had the privilege of attending the launch of the new special edition ‘Andy Warhol’ Absolut Vodka in the Gallery of Art Prague, surrounded by an exhibition of his stunning prints. It turns out that Andy Warhol once had a bit of an obsession with the Absolut vodka bottle. At the launch were a number of familiar faces across the happening Czech art scene including artist, Pasta Oner.

Pasta is primarily known for his colourful street art and murals which he has been flawlessly creating for some time. As the years have progressed, he has moved on to a number of other styles and presented his work regularly in Prague. As sometimes uninformed expats, we tend to notice the Czech art scene, but often ask ourselves the question: who did this? Pasta is a prime example of an artist whose humble yet remarkable talents mirror and compliment great icons of the past, including Andy Warhol. His use of colours, characters and text remind us a little of the pop art that Warhol (who has Slovakian roots) was once known for. Read on for a brief interview with Pasta and his thoughts on Andy Warhol, Prague and vodka…

In a nutshell, how did you get to this point?

I started to paint graffiti twenty years ago, I was thirteen. During those years, street art came to the Czech Republic for the first years I was only looking at the Internet and thinking about where I could move with graffiti, and this was the next step. From my childhood I had been painting and studied at a school for graphic art in Prague. In 2002 I had my first exhibition here. Now I concentrate more on studio works, canvases and sculptures. But I still mainly do mural art.
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‘Choose to be happy’ mural in Dejvice

You’ve been compared to Michelangelo and others, do you feel that famous?

It’s a local thing. It’s a really local thing – it means Prague. Most people don’t know that my art exists, they don’t know me. Sometimes similar artists around the world know my work, but it’s people who are interested in it and check it on the net.

At what point did you realize that you were becoming a bit of a big deal here?

It happened slowly. The smaller circle of friends around you never say it, they are your close friends or family and they don’t need to say it. Maybe when you are shopping sometimes people will ask for a signature, then you think ok.. somebody knows me! But it’s better for me this way.

How would you describe Andy Warhol in only a few words?

The biggest edge in the world of art, the biggest star in the world of art. He developed something that we know now – that artists can be stars. There had not been artists like this before.

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Pasta Oner with actress Anna Geislerová at the Andy Warhol Absolut Vodka Launch

How would you describe vodka in only a few words?

We call it liquid karate here in Prague. For most people I know, it makes them more… (karate gestures). It’s full of energy and usually you drink it with red bull. It makes something really change in most people. Normally I don’t drink red bull, I’m careful. But if I need it to restart or something, I’ll have one and everything is perfect (laughs).

I love vodka, but with red bull…

It’s quite dangerous.

Are you originally from Prague?

Yes, but it’s kind of difficult because I was born in Slovakia in a city called Trenčín, on the Czech border. During the time that we were one country, and no one cared about borders. My mother is Slovakian and my father is Czech. When my Mother was pregnant, she went to Slovakia and I was born there… So I’m originally from Slovakia, but moved to Prague when I was very young. My Prague-born friends still joke about that with me, they say I’m not really from Prague (laughs).

How would you describe Prague?

I travelled a lot when I was a child because my mother was an air hostess for 25 years, so I felt that this was one of the biggest schools of my life – travelling, but every time I come back to Prague I feel something that is very difficult to describe. It’s the spirit of this place, it’s really strong in Prague because it’s a really really old place and many cultural things happened over 100s of years.

Like a kind of electricity in the air?

Yeah maybe, it’s kind of magical. I really love Prague for the energy of the city. I love New York too. I could even live there but Prague has something special. I don’t know what it is. I’m glad that the bars and gastronomy are changing here too. Everything’s going up at least, because years ago it was terrible. When I came back here from London or New York it was hard falling down to Prague. I don’t have anything more that I need here now. I think everything is good now.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Because my mother was an air hostess, I wanted to work on a plane. Everyone thought I wanted to be a pilot, but I actually wanted to be a steward because of the girls (laughs). I saw a lot of really beautiful air hostesses.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Woah (laughs). Maybe, years ago I attended free techno parties here in the Czech Republic. From 1996 it started to be really huge and I still have these roots in my head and in my heart, so I would like to see Woodstock or something. Something before the travellers came to Europe and gave free techno to people.

And you used to be a DJ in the past, is that correct?

I quit because I don’t have time. Years ago we had a group called “Toys” – we were three DJs in the group and we were called this because… we were not really DJs (laughs). We were quite a famous group, we had many fans, but one day we quit. I don’t know why. I guess we were tired of it.

Which actor would play you in a film about your life?

Leonardo DiCaprio because he definitely needs an Oscar (laughs). But in a true way, not ironically. I think that The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. He was totally fucking perfect. He didn’t play it, he was IN it.

Great, one last thing… Do you have a favorite piece of yours?

It’s a hard question, it’s usually the last one.

Because it’s finished I guess – and you’re relieved that it’s done?

Yes, and then in a year you look at it and think “hmm, I’m not sure” (laughs).

Check out more of Pasta’s work on Facebook or his website.

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Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Petr Hricko Photography and Pasta Oner.

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Jan Wolf on ‘Siciliana’ and Czech film

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Jan’s cozy and stylish flat sports a lot of film and art memorabilia setting a nice vintage feel and atmosphere for our interview about the Czech film industry, and of course the release of his new film Siciliana, which was rendering as we spoke.

Read on for an inside look at this neo-noir film and for a look into the workings of the Czech film industry.

Thanks for having us today Honza. Are you from Prague originally?

Yes, I was born in the 80s.

An 80s baby, like myself! Where did you grow up?

In Dejvice. I had my elementary school around the corner from our house and spent a lot of my childhood running around outside with my friends and riding a bike. I also loved visiting my grandma and taking long walks around Baba looking at the beautiful old buildings. I also travelled the world a lot because my parents both worked in aviation.

Excellent and did you study film at university?

No, I actually studied graphic design in Žižkov, back then it was called advertising graphics. I also worked in television for a while and then a production company in 2007. I spent two years there and learnt everything about film.

Have you always been interested in film and art?

Since I was a kid – I was always drawing posters for non-existent films and I got my first video camera for my 18th birthday.

What was the first thing that you filmed with that camera?

My first film! It was called 1976. The movie was so shitty and it was filmed in 14 days with my schoolmates in our cottage. It was supposed to be a drama, but it was terrible.

Well it mustn’t have been too bad if you’re still making films now. Tell us about your new film Siciliana

It’s a short film, 26 minutes long and the reason why it is short is because of the rejection of the previous script for a feature film by the Czech Ministry of Culture. We had already casted it and everything so I said to myself we have plenty of time, let’s make a zero budget film with the same crew. I wrote the script, which is only 9 pages, in 14 days. It is basically a simpler version of the feature with zero budget of course (laughs).

14 days? That’s quite a short time.

Yes! So, it’s set in the early 60s in Sicily in a sleepy little town by the sea shore. The main character Maddalena (Petra Nesvačilová), who is in love with a travel agent that is married of course. The agent’s wife is very jealous and begins to make plans for revenge… It may sound cheesy, I did get some inspiration from cheesy TV movies, but it’s still a thriller.

I believe you also helped with the costumes? It looks very vintage.

I asked for help from ‘Lazy-eye’ who designs remakes of original 1950s dresses. I think it’s called neo-vintage. She is one of the partners of the film and without her we would never have made it.

I see. And what will happen after this film? What’s your next project?

I’m still developing some scripts, one main script in particular which took me over two years to write and rewrite. We always ask for some financial support from the Ministry of Culture… but they always want rewrites.

What do they want you to change?

Well the jury once said, “You know in this country we don’t shoot movies like this…” It was like going back to the stone age.

I see, and have your parents always supported you in terms of your art and film?

Not really. Mum was an air hostess and my father was a navigator. But my Mumis quite supportive now.

If you could choose an actor to play you in a movie about your life, who would it be?

I want somebody cool, of course! Hmmm.. Let’s say Ewan McGregor or Jude Law.

Good choices. What do you want people to get out of this film?

I suppose that life can be unfair sometimes.

Is this film based on true events? Maybe events in your own life?

No and I’ve actually never been to the Sicily either!

No? Would you like to go there?

Of course, maybe this Summer.

What’s your favourite part of the movie?

The climax or generally the whole second part which is at night, but shooting at night was terrible. We were all tired and wanted to go home.

What kind of movies do YOU like watching?

All types of movies, from the cheesy stupid comedies to cabaret.

What do you need to have to break in to the Czech film industry?

A good project. It’s hard to have one though, there are a lot of films that are the same, nothing is special that you remember. It’s all the same actors and stories every year.

What do you think the industry needs to fix that?

Something special. They shouldn’t be afraid during the development of the script and shooting. Be original. Of course, it’s much harder to have success with a non typical Czech movie. The audience always wants that nice little film.

Nice. Change of pace now..Who could you not live without in Prague?

My friends and my mother of course.

Where do you hang out in Prague?

I like Bukanýr, Le Clan and Pioneer of course, it’s one of the best parties. Also, Groove bar, Q cafe and in the summer I like to be outside in Riegrovy Sady, for example. Basement Bar is good as well.

Describe Prague in adjectives..

Quiet but loud. Fast but slow. Prague is not black and not white, you can just find whatever you want here. I like the quiet little pubs with my friends and I also like loud parties..

Very ambiguous, sounds like the way Charles Dickens would describe a city! If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Maybe the Roman empire.

Cool. Also, your surname is ‘Wolf.’ Have you ever been compared to the animal?

Not really. It’s a German surname originally. It used to be spelt with a ‘v’.

What animal would you compare yourself to then?

Something lazy, not a wolf (laughs). A fish I guess, something slow..

Thanks a lot for your time and the best of luck with the film!

Be sure book tickets to the premiere of Siciliana this Friday the 23rd of May at 8pm in Lucerna. For more details, go to their Facebook page.

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Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating. Photography by Petr Kurečka.

Expat Lukasz on his love of Prague and bad words in Czech

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Written by Ryan Keating

Polish expat Lukasz and I recently sat down in a typically smoky Czech bar with nothing but quirk and mulled wine to entertain us. The perfect bar atmosphere to engage each other in an endless discussion about everything… and nothing. With a slight Irish twang in his accent, Lukasz’ story is quite an interesting one. Read on to see for yourself.

So! Your surname translates into English as “good”, do people ever make fun of your name?

Not really, because gut is German, and these things are quite normal I guess. But, if I was brought up in an English speaking country, probably they would.

(Laughs) “Lucas Good”, I would probably make fun of you… sorry! This is a German surname, do you have any German ancestors?

Yes, my grandfather is German and I have some family there but I’ve never heard anything from them, just seen some pictures and that’s it. It’s a pity that there was none of the language in the house, my grandfather spoke fluent German, but he never spoke it to my father.

So where are you from in Poland, Lukasz? What was it like growing up there?

Very small town or village kind of close to Krakow, about an hour away. It was nice, huge gardens, a lot of animals around me. We didn’t have a farm, but my grandmother did. So after school, instead of going home, I would usually go to my grandma’s and playing with the animals and then come home at about 9 in the evening, covered in mud (laughs). I would sometimes bring animals home too.

Like what?

Frogs, lizards, some exotic insects, hamsters, parrots. I also had a dog at home and I had some fish too.

You had everything!

I was basically taking anything that I found on the street (laughs)

And how did you get to Prague? How long have you been here for?

Well, I’ve been here for three years. I had actually never been to Prague before I moved here. I had been living in Ireland for a couple of years and I just wanted something, I wanted a change. The opportunity actually came one summer when I had a job offer. I actually had two job offers at the same time. One in Berlin, and one in Prague. And I chose Prague.

That’s great, I think most people choose Berlin.

Yeah well I chose Prague because I had heard a lot of nice things about it. I think it’s a beautiful place, man. I actually came here and knew no one. I went from no one to quite a few great friends, so I’m very happy here now.

Did you find it easy to meet people when you first came here?

For the first few months it was a bit difficult, I came here with, I think the Irish way of meeting people still in my head. You know, when you’re waiting in a queue or something you’re just naturally talking to the people in line, and that doesn’t really happen here. For the first few months, people were looking at me in a funny way (laughs). So that’s when I thought ok.. this isn’t exactly what you’re supposed to do. But then when you meet people and meet people through other people it works very well. This is how I met all of my friends.

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Photo: Lukasz Gut

Great, let’s backtrack a little bit.. Why Ireland? How did you end up there for two years?

Well, I needed a change in my life and Ireland was quite popular at that time. So basically, I gave notice to my boss and in two weeks I was already in Ireland. It was all very quick.

Wow! That was quick.. And you went to Dublin?

It was very quick! Yes I went to Dublin, and I only knew one person there but after some time I made some really cool friends. Friends forever 🙂 Not just Irish people, but other nationalities too.

As I understand it, sometimes there is a bit of a conflict between the Czech Republic and Poland. It’s a common stereotype that Czech people hate you guys! What do you think?

I have never had any trouble living in Prague. We like Czech people. We like the attitude, the beer and we like Prague too. There are a lot of Polish people here in Prague. If you ask anybody back home about the Czech Republic they will say it’s cool and that it’s really nice. I wouldn’t say that the Czechs hate the Polish. I think this negativity is more common in Ireland or the UK.

What are the main difference from the Czech Republic to Poland? What do you miss?

Well I always miss family, but I don’t miss anything else. We are quite similar. The food is pretty much the same as well so I don’t miss that. I also left Poland straight after college so I didn’t have any really strong relationships with my friends. But yeah there is never a time when I’m sitting on my couch and thinking “Oh my god, I really miss this…” That doesn’t really happen.

One thing that’s weird about going back is that everyone speaks your language! And I can hear people talking about me. Always strange after being away for a while.

Great. Now I want to ask you about the language. I know that Czech and Polish are very similar, but there are some words that are the same but have extremely different meanings. Tell us about some of them.

I think there is even a website with a list of them (laughs). The word čerstvé means fresh in Czech, but it means old in Polish.

That would have made an interesting trip to the supermarket.

(Laughs) Well luckily I already knew about that difference when I came. But there are others, for example šukat means to look for in Polish but it means to f@#$ in Czech (laughs). I was at the office once and there were a lot of Czech people there and a Polish friend was here. And I kept saying Magda I was looking for you and everyone thought it was a bit weird. I mean, they know about these differences, but it’s still sounds funny.

If you could describe Prague, how would you do it.

Ok, I need to tell you something…. This isn’t my opinion, but my friend’s. They said that “Prague is like a prostitute, it’s so beautiful on the outside, but underneath it all it’s dirty! And used! Hahahaha. But she said that because she had some issues with the foreign police and visas and everything, she wasn’t from the EU. Sometimes it can be hard. She’s a lovely person though, I miss her a lot.

Yep, I know what she means and a lot of others do too.

But for me, I really like Prague a lot. I do avoid the tourist places and those bars that everybody goes to. But when you know where to go and live, it’s so beautiful. It’s green and has a nice vibe. I also think that Prague is one of the safest cities in Europe. It’s really fun!

For expats and other people who are thinking of living in Prague, what advice would you give them?

Well, there is some advice I can give that is the same for any country that you move to… Understand the culture, it’s the first thing you have to do. After that, everything is going to be ok.

How tall are you?

190cm.

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Photo: Lukasz Gut

This is a stupid question, but a lot of people want to be taller to see the world from a different perspective or to be above people etc. How does it feel to be tall Lukasz?

Well, I’m not that tall. 190 is not that tall. I’ve never thought about that actually (laughs). I actually wouldn’t mind being a little shorter.

Tall people have it so good! Where do you like to chill out in Prague?

Riegrovy sady! I just love it. I live very close so I spend most of summer there.

I like it to. Very nice atmosphere. Who would you say has made Prague really worthwhile for you?

Well I’ve got a couple of Czech friends, American friends, Polish friends. Friends from everywhere really! I have a lot of active friends here which is nice. Whenever I want to grab a bike and go somewhere or go to the gym etc, there is always someone who is up for it.

You’ve travelled quite a bit, tell me about a crazy travelling experience.

Definitely Africa, it was so different. Lots of people are offering you things; hotels, hostels, tourist attraction deals etc. It really opened up my mind. I was sleeping in a tent with animals walking around – right in the middle of the Serengeti. There were a lot of hyenas around, and that was a bit scary.

Great! Thank you for your time Lukasz and enjoy your time in Prague!