Pavel Konečný: Interview with Anna Zemánková

When did you begin creating?
You know, when I was seventeen, I loved to draw. Landscapes and things, I still have a few of them. I didn’t show them much. Sometimes I entered into fantasy, but only sometimes, and then not at all. Then I got married. Yes, and I wanted to go to a school for drawing. But my parents wouldn’t allow it. People saw things differently then, you know how it was. So I put it in the attic and moved on. And then I got married in Olomouc, the wedding was in Hejcín, in the new Catholic church there. I had a beautiful wedding, when I think back on it….well, it’s been 48 years now. And then painting was out of my thoughts. When my son, the eldest, studied medicine, all of a sudden those two came with their second son. We had it here in the cellar, that suitcase. I never told anyone that I painted! I never mentioned it. And then he asked whose drawings they were. So I said they were mine. They couldn’t believe it, that I had drawn them. So then my med student kept asking me to paint. “Me, what would I paint? I have other responsibilities!” Then they bought me coloured pencils and paper, so I could draw. So I made some drawings….and they were ecstatic. I said “Sure, I’ll draw you something, I’ll draw you one of my fantasies.” Then he told me, and I think back on it often, “Draw Ma! When you get older and you have this hobby, you’ll be happier in your old age!” And I think back on him often, that I listened, and I drew, and that I have that to this day…you know, when I draw something, that fulfills the bargain, it brings me boundless joy and lets me unwind. And then I move on.

I live here alone, but I always have something to do. But my eyes are not too good. So when I do these tiny things…I thrive on these miniatures but my eyes are not so good, I can’t do them. Right now. I’ve been drawing twenty years now, I started in, oh…’sixty… ‘fifty eight.

Did anyone in your family draw?
No, but there were other artists in our family tree. My father’s cousin was a famous actress – Paula Veselá, in Austria. The older generation knows her. And on my mother’s side, their father’s were brothers, there was a famous opera singer, Herma Zárská. You know, that was an artistic branch of the family, but not in drawing. It’s interesting, that my son the sculptor, his artistic gifts began when he was also 16 and 17, just like me. My father was a barber and my mother was at home. She was one of three sisters ad she was different from them, very different, You know, my grandfather, he was a master mason, in that time they were really builders. He even made up blueprints, he was quite gifted. My parents were from Príbor (the birthplace of Sigmund Freud – PK). My mom often stayed in Olomouc with her uncle and there she met my father and there I was born. I studied to be a dental specialist, and I worked at that until I was wed. I really enjoyed it. I even operated. But I like drawing more, that’s for sure!

How did you make your drawings?
I draw here… on this table. See how inspiration is? Sometimes I recognize that I saw something. Sometimes maybe I see something… sort of a deep feeling, that a person has inside, that stays with me a and then I put it onto paper later. But sometimes not, sometimes I create during drawing. You know, I make a sketch, and then I change the sketch until I’m happy with it, and then I color it in. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes not. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with it. So I usually put them up on the wall and look at them… and maybe it’ll come in a few days! And sometimes it happens that I work on the picture for a long time… for a long time. Sometime when someone comes to see me and I show them my work and we find something missing, and there should be something there, so then I put it aside. And that could be a couple of years! And then I fix it.

Do you have a favorite colour?
Well, I do have a favorite. I like yellow… Then I like orange… well, actually all the colours, except for black. However, you do see black occasionally. I don’t know why I have such an aversion towards black, but sometime I need to put it in, see how I’m always in twist, you know? I’ll show you how I work… it’s on fabric. I always say ”I’ve got the chessboard out.” I change it several times, until it seems ok to me. Well, it will work out… I already have an idea. Maybe on this satin I’ll make one thing next to another, maybe a whole flower. Then you’ll see it in the work and then from that… that’s my method. I’m very pleased by this method, it’s mine, it doesn’t come from anyone else, you know? And that’s something I prize, that nobody tells me how to do something, I just do it. And I think that that is a good way. I watch how my granddaughter draws. And nobody tells her what to do, she wouldn’t listen. They leave her alone. And that’s right. She can’t help herself from saying, “Grandma, look what I made! Isn’t it good?” And I know from my own experience, that it is good. I would hate for someone to tell me… put that flower on the other side! No, never!

Do you thing there exists some sort of relationship between your picture and music?
Well now ! There are many… I can even tell you what music I was listening to while drawing. I really love janácek. I sure do love janácek. When I started to fall in love with his music, it took a lot of work for me to approach it. It was really difficult. Or take Beethoven! My daughter can play the piano beautifully. She can play Beethoven’s Appassionata… isn’t that something! And when she began to play, I would grab my kit and begin to draw. I drew and drew while she played. She plays marvelously. Sure… I can draw while listening to music. I couldn’t work if it were quiet, no. My thoughts would wander! I must have my thoughts connected  to the whole. And music has helped me a lot. For example chamber music… I really like those kinds of things. And sometimes someone will tell you, “That’s really something else!” And I’ll say, yes, I did it while listening to a different kind of music. You know, I am catching those different tones which I later give shape to. That’s it.

What kind of changes has your work gone through?
My work has gone through huge changes. The steps were very slow. What you see today, and if you saw the beginnings… well, what a difference! A huge difference. And I always say, whenever I created something, that’s it, I’m finished. And I’m convinced, that I can’t go on. But again and again I come up with another thing. It sows it’s seeds on me, it comes to me by itself, you know. It comes to me itself.

What does creative work mean to you?
It means a lot to me. Life enriches me, enriches me with such… such… I can say that when I’m painting I’m more balanced, calmer, so… well, it gives a lot, art. It sorts me out. Before, I was not as I am now! I was so aggressive, really sort of aggressive and unstable. Now I’m rather mild, balanced, calm. I don’t have days when I’m angry. No, I take care or things calmly. And what art gives me is… it releases me from material things. You know, when a person is released from material concerns… it’s easier. Not that I would renounce all material things, no, but I don’t long for material goods. I always say, “ Only what I need, and no more!” I think it’s foolish when one is attached to material things. I think it’s ridiculous today. And when a person is removed from that, it’s good. I keep thinking a step higher. I think that people who are attached to material possessions are stuck on the ground floor… Yes, and to also have a good heart! You know? That applies to everyone. And I’m satisfied with my life. I have taken advantage of all that was given me. And I put it to good use. You know, I see it in my kids. I have great kids, generous kids.

Do you give your pictures titles?
I don’t give my pictures titles, because everyone can see something different in them. I’ve already noticed that every person has a different feeling about them. I have one feeling and another person has a totally different feeling, so I don’t know. I think I told you once: “Is that healthy? The person who is working on it should name it!” But once on television I heard a Soviet sculptor, of abstracts, talking. He made beautiful things. And they asked him, what are they called? He would ask his friends and then decide after listening to what they had thought. And so I would say, “I agree, to hell with it. That is healthy! So it’s the same for me, it’s nothing unusual.”

What technique do you use?
Various – tempera, oils, dyes, pastels, ballpoints. Well, anything there is, I use. I’ve done a lot of things in twenty years. You know, it doesn’t give me pleasure that people from abroad are interested in me. I would prefer it of my work was in my country. If my people had it. So I’m not after success abroad, not interested in sending things away. I was so happy from [the exhibition in] Litomêrice, enormously happy. Even when I gave them it for free. I had such enormous joy that the work stayed here. Lots of Czech artists have my drawings.

What are the sources of your inspiration?
Nobody knows. Me neither, when I think about it. Why? Where did it come from? There’s a big question mark hanging over it for me too. Some sources? No, I don’t feel anything, not like that. I can’t really say much about that. Really, I don’t know what to say, how to answer that. Because I don’t have any sources, I’d… simply I can create and talk with you. That’s interesting, you know. I prefer calm when I paint. And when I paint, I paint, and then it’s obvious… But I could maybe take some paper, talk with you now and then I could paint a subject.
     But now I’ve done a drawing for you and it was pretty, pretty… sensational, you know? I had to look at it again, how I made it… But still I didn’t like it and I thought about it for a fortnight: “I have to re-do it, it’s not working for me!” Markêta saw it. And I pay attention to her. She doesn’t talk much. But when I see that she doesn’t say anything, she’s just looking at it, then I’m thinking that she’s found something there. She brought me around. And so I changed it a bit. Yes, and now I am happy with it. Its interesting, when I’m not happy with something, I get all agitated. I keep thinking about it, you know? And I have the best thoughts when I get up early. Then I always come up with something! Later, not so much, I’m too scattered. Me, when I get up early, I think about something. Maybe a theme. But I don’t see it a hundred percent clearly, just the beginnings. And then I create it while working. Capture it. It’s the same as when a composer hears a certain tone. Maybe a pot falls on the floor and he hears it ring. He captures the tone… and then it’s motion. It’s as of he’s found the key to something. And it’s the same with drawing. And when poets write. It’s enough to capture one line, I don’t know where it comes from. And then it’s in motion. They’re mysteries which are not solved, and probably never will be.

What are you working on at present?
My son promised me butterflies. You know, he has a set of beautiful butterflies. Tropical ones. But he still hasn’t given them to me. So I said to myself, I’ll draw them. And so I did. Here, take a look… It’s interesting how I came to that while working. That’s cut-out, that’s pressed, that’s sculpted. For me, drawings that are done normally have nothing to say. So then I tried to cut through the sculpted ones, so that they would approach reality. And it worked…! This one has a lilac colour… They’re not like the butterflies here, but they are butterflies… maybe it will fly sometime. Sure, nobody knows. I don’t rack my brains over it… I draw it. Yes, take a look at those rainbow colours! They’ve come close. But now I’ll show you some butterflies which are really amazing. Take a look. These ones don’t resemble our butterflies. They’re more like birds. You know, when you look at them, there’s life there. The sculpted effect does that. If they were drawn normally, no… 
     I really love my daughter-in-law, the sculptor. She’s a very unusual girl. And I had a bird which everyone admired. When someone looked at him they’d go… oh! And Markêta, when she saw him, used to say: “Oh, he’s so beautiful!” And the last time she was here I said, “ Wouldn’t you like to have him?” And she said, “ Mother, would you give him to me?: And I said, “ You know I would!” So I brought him over and she was overjoyed. And with Markêta it is especially exhilarating, because she knows what is good. She know… it’s fantasy, you know!

What do you like best to create?
I can’t tell you what I like best to paint. Every picture is dear to me. Every picture is dear, when it’s finished. And when I put it aside and I draw, then the new one is dear, And for the past 24 years that I have been drawing, so far I have never thrown one out! Even if I wasn’t crazy about the subject. It’s happened that I drew half of it in a completely different way. I’ve never thrown anything away. I really think about them quite a bit. I take every drawing seriously.
And now I want to show you the birds on satin. Sure, take a look…! That incredible softness… You know how satin shimmers and makes a life-like structure. I love working with it. I thought of it myself. I didn’t have paper. I always arrive at something out of desperation. I had a piece of satin and I said to myself: “I wonder if I could paint on that?” Si I tried it, and see for yourself, it worked! Most of the time when I change a technique, it’s always out of necessity. I run out of something, you know…? Now I’ll show you a bird which has a propeller. Imagine that. You know, the propeller turns and allows him to fly. See how it turns? There, that is beautifully represented. That’s all from the satin, otherwise it’s ballpoints, That was a lot of work, enough for five other drawings. You have to have very precise fingers to do it. You have to put it aside after awhile on account of your eyes… And here are some drawings on silk. You have to prepare the silk first from behind. If you just cut the silk it would fray. It took me a lot of work to get it right. Now I know the trick. Whenever I paint on material, it takes special paints. You can get them… well, not always. You see… this is the four-story satellite of y fantasies. Can you see it? In my fantasies the butterflies and birds are not sitting on the ground, but in the branches. And then the branch strongly resembles the bird. See it, sitting on the branch, on the leaves… there’s a kind of hawk, see it? And here are doves. Sure, they’re different… here is softness and silkiness.
     And when I later look and see what I’ve done, I tell you, I feel good. I feel really good. And not out of pride, no. When I die, I’ll leave them for my children. And they can do what they want with them. Just so they get them, and they’re distributed fairly. I know what Mammon does to a person. No person is good who has too much. I’d rather live humbly and live a beautiful life. I’ve always been afraid of money. It scares me. Because ho who has a  lot of it, is bad. I’m so glad it occurred to me to paint on fabrics… See the softness here and the density here.
     But it’s interesting, I came up with it myself. Now I’ve bought some new kinds of paper. But I have never found any on which I would paint the same subject. If I do, if I start to repeat myself, I might as well pack it in.

Spring 1980, Prague

The text is a partly edited and abridged transcript of an interview recorded by Pavel Konecny during preperation of the lecture “Fantaskní tvorba Anny Zemánkové” (“The Fantasy Work of Anna Zemánková”), which was given at Divaldo hudby (The Olomouc Music Theatre) on 28 May 1980.