I came across Petr Řehoř’s latest work during Helsinki Art Walk last weekend at Galleria Pirkko-Liisa Topelius and I immediately became curious about the possible interpretations of his semiotic paintings.
The exhibition called Days in Rome emerged from the artist’s residency in Rome in the summer of 2014 and it displayed paintings and collages made during his stay in the Italian capital, as well as other works he had previously started and finalised during 2015.
Days in Rome started as a creative process meant to capture the spirit of the place and its daily culture, as the artist himself recalls:
Before my residency, I had never spent more than a few days in Rome. So during this longer stay, I wanted to capture the atmosphere and life of Rome and at the same time continue my work, which is based on inserting text messages within the visuals of my paintings. Every morning on my daily walks, I passed by Rome’s newspaper kiosks in almost each street corner. The kiosks are an important part of the visual street culture in Rome, where people gather to buy local or international newspapers and tickets for trains or buses. I then remembered a ’60s painting of Italian modernist Renato Guttuso from an exhibition of his work in Prague – a painting of a real-scale Italian kiosk full of newspapers and surrounded by people. From this mental image I got the idea that I could use the newspapers in my work to visually express this side of one’s life in Rome.
Through cut-out newspaper texts, and by combining colors with news titles’ dramatic statements, Řehoř’s paintings cast an own interpretation of the Italian media culture. There was also a process behind each of the paintings – the artist first cut, reshaped and juxtaposed the paper clippings, then took a photo and based on the photo he would create the painting. So the result comes out as a meta-interpretation of what used to be a newspaper page.
The papers were randomly chosen and the shapes of the cut-outs also began as a random act, although eventually some ended up creating letters that unified as the name of the city: ROMA or AMOR (love in latin) if spelled backwards.
Days in Rome (R2) , Petr Řehoř | 2014, oil on canvas
Days in Rome (Foro di Romano), Petr Řehoř | 2014, oil on canvas
Days in Rome (Il la guardiamo con gli occhi), Petr Řehoř | 2014, oil on canvas
Days in Rome (L’Unitá), Petr Řehoř | 2015, oil on canvas
The exhibition seemed almost like a natural creative step in Petr Řehoř’s work, since playing with letters, words and fragmented messages is by now part of his identity as an artist.
During the early 1990s’ financial crisis I was walking on Aleksanterinkatu, one of the main banking streets of Helsinki, and the tearing down of what used to be wealthy banks’ neon letter signs caught my eye. When I asked one of the workers what was going to happen with the neon letters, the answer was that they were going to the dump. I asked if I could have them instead and after some negotiations the letters were transported to my studio. I found it intriguing how once so mighty banks’ logos could turn into a pile of junk.
What was the life of a neon letter sign? I started to work with the letters, I counted them and started to reorganise them into new words and meanings. The letters became carriers of hidden messages and they slowly revealed their lives to me. I turned the letters into objects, I painted and photographed them and used them in my paintings. To me, these letters still have deep meanings. They have become symbols of power that can vanish in an instant. Ever since I discovered the letters, I continued working on this project in one form or another.
Řehoř’s letters emerge from lively, contrasting and graffiti-like paintings, revealing a world of chaos and confusion. Distorted letters, illegible words and messages illustrate the difficulty of finding clarity and truth in today’s world, where media audiences are at the receiving end of political lies, propaganda, and manipulated half-truths.
As a parallel to the various interpretations of the messages they carry, the works are created through multiple successive layers. The artist first paints the background, writes his own thoughts in Czech or Finnish, or quotes from political theorists such as Hannah Arendt and only afterwards he adds the letters using computer-generated stencils.
His work is a reminder of the constant language “noise” that surrounds us, the importance of criticism when interpreting media messages, and the dangers of embracing unilateral, obtuse views.
On the same note – it also vividly brought back in mind the response of a friend’s father a few years ago, when he was confronted with the fact that a news might have been untrue: Of course it’s true! They said it on TV!!!
Amalgamate, Petr Řehoř | 2014-2015, acrylic on canvas
Distorted, Petr Řehoř | 2014-2015, acrylic on canvas
Dislocation, Petr Řehoř | 2015, acrylic on canvas
Detail from POEM, Petr Řehoř | 2014, acrylic on canvas
About the Artist:
Petr Řehoř was born in 1949 in Varnsdorf , Czechoslovakia and has been living in Finland since 1974. He is a member of Finnish Painters’ Association and has had numerous solo and group exhibitions both in Finland as well as in Czech Republic. Some of his works are part of museum collections (Amos Anderson Art Mseum, Helsinki, EMMA Art Museum, Espoo) or displayed in municipal houses, hospitals and swimming pools in different Finnish cities.