“Through the study of nature we will achieve everything. When I have a beautiful woman’s body as a model, then drawings according to that model can also represent insects, birds, fish… A woman, a mountain or a horse is formed according to the same principles.” Those are the words of one of the first modern artists – the legendary sculptor Auguste Rodin. On the eve of the twentieth century he significantly influenced the development of art, by creatively grasping the fundamental importance of natural forms for a work of art. Since then his thinking has not only been applied in art practice, but also in theory. Shapes of nature enter into the work of a modern artist somewhat naturally and various art methods, programs and art conceptions again and again succumb to the laws that shape natural forms. And it doesn’t matter whether an artist is depicting forms of organic nature or whether he is proceeding from inorganic natural constructions. The result will be basically the same, because one cannot disengage with impunity from the world of shapes we live in. Fundamental formulas present in the forms of the world assert themselves in artwork in endless variations and permutations. But, as Henri Focillon says in his book The Life of Forms, “nature around us creates spirals, circles, undulating curves, stars. If I want to study life, I must resort to those shapes. But as soon as those shapes enter a work of art, they acquire entirely new values and stir up entirely different systems.” Yes, he means a world of emotions, associations and interpretations, a preserve of endless metamorphoses, an avalanche of changes set off when the psychological moment comes into play. Forms of life in an artwork then change into life of forms.
And just like that, with this awareness and intuition of an art-sensitive being, Pavel Brunclík approaches two principal fields in his work: looking at the landscape and the human body. In both cases he searches for the essence of nature, the essence of shapes, lines, forms, but also colours and movement. Simple shapes freed from everything unimportant and distracting dominate his landscapes, structures brought to the limit of an abstract sign, colours abstracted into illusive vision and light, whose changes again and again determine visual experience. While travelling around the world Brunclík did not seek the magic of the exotic nor a variety of landscapes, but he endeavoured to elucidate the form of everything that is crucial in the life of nature, which is subject to immutable laws and is eternal. His depiction of landscape is based in metaphor arising from a kind of ur-shape as a cornerstone of nature, from its structure, texture and craftsmanship. Details are enormously relevant for his landscapes, as well as light, and colour and its values. Almost all known “wonders of the world” beguiled Pavel Brunclík between 1999–2004 and even though they have been depicted million times, he saw them in his own way. The fanciful shape of a stone or a tree branch, the waves of sand dunes, billowing waters, bizarre rock formations, soil cracked by the heat, a shadow cast on earth –in his pictures all these things become almost ghostly apparitions. There is also an undisguised admiration and amazement reserved for elements. A quiet communication with them. As if the gates to the essence of the Earth were opening in his landscape pictures. And it’s entirely up to the spectator whether he perceives these photographs as an overall portrait of the soul of our planet, or as the specific appearance of individual places. Brunclík organized his landscapes into two principal collections called Back to Basics and Earth. The latter designation also undoubtedly applies to his last collection of nudes. It is concerned with elementary shapes. With the fundamental – this time of man.
A nude. This traditional term for a contemporary photograph of a naked body is now used only out of habit. Photographs of nudity don’t concern themselves with graceful curves and their modelling by light, with the object as such and its artistic transformation, but with demanding intellectual messages. While František Drtikol at the beginning of the previous century introduced in his nudes the concept of “la femme fatale”, a fateful woman who is at the same time a saint and a sinner fulfilling his romantic erotic dreams, his no less famous disciple Helmut Newton at the end of the same century openly manifests a sophisticated concept of a sin and his photographs tease with a seductive coldness, tantalizing poses, a shamelessness they provoke the aggressive physiognomy. Yet the mysterious Robert Mapplethorpe ostentatiously shows that psyche, physis and sex are inseparable determinants of all human beings, he adores self-confidence and the pleasure to be gotten from one’s own body and presents this body – for him typically primarily a male body – not as harmony, but as an element, a force. And the extremely successful Joyce Tenneson, younger by a generation, publicly admits that she loves nudity for its fragility, sensibility, and as a symbol of the vulnerability of a human being in the apocalyptic environment of today’s world. In all the above cases, however different they are, we see a reflection of their authors’ inner world. Yet, also, at the same time, of the psychic and social atmosphere of their era. However, Pavel Brunclík’s nudes originated at the turn of the second and third millennium. They are a reaction to a reality full of unfulfilled desires, aggression and of romantic nostalgia, and yes, also of sexual obsessions, fears and restrictions. They ask about human identity, and they have also changed significantly through time.
Brunclík’s nudes from the period 1986–1995, published under the name The Other Women, are, undoubtedly, in many ways a reaction to a new image of women. Here are very self-confident women, coldly dismissive and provocative in the rough eroticism which evokes exhibitionistic, even masochistic and sadistic sexual games. Naked or half-naked figures in environments of cold marble halls, wide stone staircases, paths in dark gardens, cold mirrors, bathrooms, balconies and metallic rails… A vampire seductress in an elegant pose with a cigarette in her hand… Urgent corporeality, tantalizing aggressiveness, even cruelty, a tinge of awe, and yet provoking eroticism. There is no doubt that the Newtonite “concept of sin”, resonant also in the title The Other Women, is being celebrated here. But this celebration also perfectly reflects the taste of those times – enchantment by glittering luxury, by a mix of mystery and sexual fantasy. And the cult of wealth and celebrity as well. There is also a Newtonite fascination with the fact that there is a beautiful body under those clothes and that those clothes are here to be stripped off, or to serve as a theatre curtain which must open and then close again. And to arouse a permanent interest in the spectator – what kind of surprise is he in for in the following scene?
A collection of Brunclík’s nudes from 2005–2007, called Geometry of Nudity, is in many ways different. It’s a direct sequel to his landscape series. It emphasizes primarily the purity of a shape. The beauty and power of a detail. And the “concept of sin” of his previous nudes is replaced by his passion for the dancing pose – for the naked body in movement, male and female alike. In a way he fulfils his long standing wish – he wanted to devote his graduate film at the FAMU academy to ballet. Not because of dance, but because of the aesthetics of a body in motion. In this way he is like František Drtikol, a brilliant personality from the beginning of modern Czech photography whose fascination with dancing poses was to a certain extent motivated by his marriage to dancer Ervína Kupferová, often a model for him. Brunclík cooperated on this collection with members of the Prague National theatre ballet. And it was a fortunate choice. Who but a professional dancer can control their body to the tiniest muscle in an aesthetically pleasing way? Who knows the better possibilities of movement? In fact it’s teamwork: a photographer comes with an idea and models attempt to find ways of fulfilling it. Or else models themselves present their possibilities – and inspire the photographer.
“There are two possibilities: either the model is a matter that embodies my mature idea, or he himself will inspire a new idea. An idea – a stone thrown into water around which concentric circles will start to form – will, perhaps, after a long time and after many attempts, lead me to an image which will have, even for me, an unrecognisable place and time of conception,” writes František Drtikol in the mid- twenties, in his private notes entitled Wide Open Eyes. This was the photographer who, in his urgently expressive nudes, masterly connected dynamic dancing poses with a new understanding of the role of the geometry of space and light; an artist who could ideally use erotic moment and connect it with the psychological aspect and a powerful artistic imagination. The human body is a medium of beauty for Pavel Brunclík as well, but also of power and life energy, and the dancing pose is a powerful challenge evocative of reaction in a long chain of pictorial variations, long shots, medium shots, details. But as opposed to Drtikol he mostly creates group nudes in which both men and women have their place. And work with detail is for him the basis of the dynamics of motion and simplicity of form. A demanding arrangement, often with as many as six models, and scenes requiring the cooperation of four assistants, on a strictly white or black background, an absolute concentration on the depicted figures – this all is characteristic for him, in whose work nothing distracts from central attention.
As a graduate in mathematics Pavel Brunclík pays meticulous attention to every little detail. He professes precision, sternness and simplicity. And, at the same time, as a graduated film director and a photographer he moves in the spheres of pure imagination and aestheticism. He perfectly combines his rationality with his emotionality. The result is a series of emotionally impressive pictures, calculated to the last detail. Their visual urgency reveal the fact that Brunclík has worked in the field of top advertising. The collection Geometry of Nudity is just another proof of that.
Geometry is defined as “a field of knowledge about spatial relationships”. In the case of Brunclík’s collection we are talking about relationships of pure, even minimalist lines and shapes of the human body. Yet at the same time it’s about the relationships between erotically charged dynamic dancing poses, light and space. This leads to monumental pictures. And monumentality always involves grandiosity, celebration, a moment of immortalization. Yes, the forms of life can change through work into a life of forms. The dialectic interplay of mutual connections is nowhere as obvious as in those transformations. The principle of metamorphosis is decisive for the vitality of artwork.
After Brunclík’s landscape “back to basics”, Geometry of Nudity is his next thrilling story about the primary qualities of life and the world.