Review: Soft and Pink

Using a beloved childhood technique, Josef Bolf springs a nasty surprise on visitors to Hunt Kastner

Josef Bolf - Soft and Pink/Měkký a Růžový

While perusing Josef Bolf's exhibit at Hunt Kastner, I couldn't help but imagine the artist as a five year old, diligently scribbling away, crayon in hand, hoping beyond his wildest dreams that one day his masterpieces would hang in more prestigious places than his parent's kitchen. But Bolf's use of the time-honored, child-friendly technique of "scratch-painting" a black surface covering a base layer of crayon doesn't reflect an equally serene or comforting selection of motifs.

Through his use of a technique layered with innocent, candy-coated memories, he's able to add a greater sense of unease and double the disquiet of his work. It's tempting to pretend that the works are those of a child showing the beginnings of an overactive and troubled imagination. Yet also his predominant choice of pinks and purples for the base layer, and his cartoon/comic-inspired figures drip with familiarity and entice the eye to take a closer look. His themes rely on a mixture of despair, entrapment, pain, and a handful of other things that make you feel really good about life. Most of his work is on a large scale with many minute details that require a good examination of his canvasses, adding to the intensity of the themes.

Bolf himself has stated that he's also interested in the idea of miscommunication, highlighted symbolically by his broken computer wires but conveyed metaphorically through meshing of a rather innocent style, medium, and color with less comfortable intentions. By tricking us into letting our guard down, his motley comic cavalcade opens us up for a nasty surprise. Still, due to the comic nature of his style, all the blood, guts, tears, and severed limbs that make regular appearances in his work are somehow not real, or can be imagined away. Perhaps, we might think, that all the misery can be fixed with the comic band-aids usually scratched into the picture along with the gore.

Take it for what you will; choose to ignore the incised message or turn your face in horror, something disturbing resides in Bolf's works and it lays in wait under your bed and in your closet just waiting until you turn the lights off…

Soft and Pink is at Hunt Kastner Artworks, Kamenická 22, Prague 7 until July 15th, 2006

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