Jiří Voves

* 1945

  • “I then left the Academy and had to do my military service. But to begin with that seemed pretty nice because I managed to get myself into the Army Arts Studio in Prague, which was like a normal job. But I wasn’t there for long. In those Sixties, and especially in ’68, we were pretty active students and we were signing everything we could. So as I was coming to the art studio one morning, like to work, two men drove up, sat me down, and said I’d be coming with them; they took one other friend of mine and put us into a car. When we asked what was going on, they just retorted ‘you’ll be informed’, they took us to Juliska and closed us up in some room. There were some fifteen soldiers there already. They took our army tops, didn’t tell us a thing, left us there for some twenty-four hours, and then herded us into a bus in the night (still without telling us anything) and began taking us to various garrisons, as we realised. We kept driving from barracks to barracks, and so-and-so is to get out, so-and-so should get out. Well, and my friend and I were dropped off (we didn’t yet know where we were, but we found out soon enough) at the barracks in Jince. That was a combat unit, and they were doing some purge and they had found out that there were some students who had signed this, this, and this, and they made them into unreliables. That was fine, we were unreliable. Well, so they split us up among the various units, and I ended up lucky because Jince weren’t far away.”

  • “The camp commander (in Jince) was quite reasonable, probably because they brought him two soldiers-graduates in the night. Before that we had a pip, they took that off, that is, they demoted us. Instead of the pip, we wre privates. We couldn’t care less, but a private-graduate is quite an interesting figure. Mainly, we had papers with us for the commander which stated that we were not to be given weapons, but that otherwise they could do whatever they wanted with us. Well, but that’s a pretty awful situation for them, when all of a sudden they get two people [with a ban on weapons] in a combat unit, where all they do is go shooting, training somewhere, etc. He made an amazing deal with us, basically, he didn’t know what to do with us, so we came to a gentlemanly agreement. He gave us one room in the barracks and said: ‘You’ll come here in the morning, and you’ll go sleep in the evening. You’ll be here like this from Monday to Friday, and then off you go home so that I don’t have you here and you don’t get in the way over the weekends. If the alarm happened to sound, you’ll run to this room here, get yourselves inside, and keep the lights off. That’s how you’ll survive the alarm because I’m not allowed to take you on any combat mission.’ And this agreement set me up for the whole stay. (Q: What did you do in the room?) Well, we were crazy bored, so then we came up with an idea (in part it was that guy’s idea)... Every barracks has a room, something which is called the Hall of Tradition, some kind of dumbassery where soldiers have lessons. Well, and he came up with the idea that we paint a picture of two soldiers embracing (the sculpture was done by Pokorný, I think) on the big white wall there - it was called Comradeship, it’s one of those well-known Bolshevik sculptures. Well, and he wanted us to paint that on the wall.”

  • “I wasn’t on National Avenue, I happened to be here (in Zadní Kopanina) with a friend. Majda came in the evening and informed us. Of course, we quickly put in a few shots, and then we did what we could within Prague. It was nice and euphoric, and we all deserved it. As I mentioned before, there is some connection, when I was full of optimism in 1968, I remember telling Dad, completely naïvely trying to persuade him, using all those big words, that they can’t do anything with the whole nation. And then they did, in two years. But to be honest, not with everyone. So the euphoria after 1989 was also somewhat tempered.”

  • “The Sixties and that time of studies was the period when a village boy came (I was always afraid of Prague) and was thrilled. I think the Sixties were the most amazing period because the age was right. In that year 1963 and throughout my studies, this generation was in luck because everything began to open up in a wonderful way. There were amazing films, a wave of Czech films, amazing books were published, Divadlo Na zábradlí [Theatre on the Railings] started, as did Viola, Reduta, Jazz, everything. And now suddenly I found myself in Prague and I had all of this at my fingertips. It was amazing. The atmosphere was awfully important to us, as well as the environment and the new possibilities. So it was a period when we didn’t study much, we flunked it a lot, but not always. To begin with we were completely taken by it. Then there were the May Day celebrations. The Sixties were really intense. You could travel, they began tolerating trips abroad for students with invitations. Honestly, we always got a letter from someone outside, we wrote an invitation into it in the pub and took it to the cops, and they gave us a stamp that we were free to go.”

  • “I had a friend, Zdeněk Kirchner was his name, a painter. He should never have emigrated, he was a person who loved Prague, loved Prague pubs, and he was the type of person who couldn’t live without it. He never learnt French, and he was never allowed to come visit back here, and he had left his mother here and no one else. When he died, because I knew that (Pavel) Tigrid knows him and (Jiří) Kolář knows him, so Tigrid was really glad, he said he would be very glad. At the time he was minister of culture, and he said: ‘Yeah, bring it here, and I’ll prepare you some paper for the borders.’ His whole legacy, because he had made it there, he was in some group, but he didn’t make much of a name for himself, but otherwise his work was really compact. There was a whole studio of things and a warehouse there, so I was going to bring it here, and either we’d manage to get it into some collections here, or something would be done with it, but if it stayed there it’d just rot. Well, so I drove to Paris. When we crossed the borders, the customs officer leafed through the papers of what we were bringing, and I said that he’d certainly have something from the ministry of culture. He said that he had nothing of the sort, and after a brief calculation he worked it out to some 1.5 million [crowns] in duty. I said: ‘But wait up, we’re rescuing valuable things here, this isn’t any business. It’s with the minister’s approval.’ The enlightened officer understood and said: ‘Look, if that’s how it is, I’ll give you some advice, the only way is a civic society. That way we’ll let you through.’ (Q: So you established a civic society at the borders.) No, no, no, not like that. He said: ‘I’ll give you a week, I’ll keep the stuff here.’ So he let us though with that we had to establish a civic society, and then it could go through customs the standard way. So we did that, and everything they required, we did it. We called the civic society Memory [Czech: Paměť], and that was that. That’s how we came to found the civic society Memory, and with it Studio Memory, because some friends received a house in Truhlářská Street in restitution, and they gave us the cellars to use for the collections...”

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    Praha, 19.01.2014

    délka: 02:14:45
    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Stories of 20th Century
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A man behaves in a certain way, but that doesn’t mean he’s in the resistance. It’s a matter of attitude to the situation

Young artist
Young artist
zdroj: Internet/soukromý archiv

Painter and graphic artist Jiří Voves was born on 4 January 1945 in Pardubice. He only vaguely remembers the period following the Communist coup in 1948, his parents tried to shelter him from the vagaries of the time. But even so he remembers the businessmen put on display in the windows of their own shops, or the police visits in their house and the confiscation of the property that came from his grandfather‘s shop. In the 1960s he began studying architecture in Prague. His university years and the relaxed political atmosphere of the time had a euphoric effect on him. He travelled through France, visited theatres, concerts, exhibitions, and cultural events. In the 1970s after completing his studies he did his military service in the seclusion of the Jince barracks, he was then employed at an architectural office. When he refused to sign the so-called „Anti-Charter“ in 1977, he was fired. He went freelance and earned his living with painting and graphic design for books. Shortly after November 1989 he oversaw the moving of artist Zdeněk Kirchner‘s collections from France to the Czech Republic. For this purpose he established the civic society Paměť (Memory), which became an important cultural centre: organising exhibitions, reading sessions, discussions, theatre plays, concerts, etc. After his wife‘s death the witness was not able to continue running the studio, and so he handed the premises in Soukenická Street over to Andrej Krob and Divadlo na tahu (Theatre on the Move). Jiří Voves now lives in the settlement of Zadní Kopanina, where he devotes himself to painting and graphic design.