Czech Please! - My fantasy pilgrimage
As a kid, like millions of children before and after me, my sacred ritual was eating cereal while watching Saturday morning cartoons. Along with this came fantasies of making cartoons myself. As I got older I let go of this dream as I came to understand the labor intensive (and often boring and monotonous) work necessary to make animation and the outrageous cost of going to art school. In other words, I came to realize I was to practical, poor and lazy to make cartoons.
Fast forward to smart phones and Apps and animation is now literally at the fingertips of anybody who wants to do it. In addition, I’ve been making paper collages since I was watching Saturday morning cartoons and phone App filters, soundtracks and animation templates lend themselves to layering/ collaging across platforms. In addition the pandemic has given me the time, energy and enthusiasm to play with these new toys. I’m happy to report that at the tender age of 52, I’m now an animator with over 1600 followers on Instagram!
My animation work is, of course, nothing like Saturday morning cartoons. They range from 15 seconds to one minute and often contain dark and surreal themes and content. My aesthetic has developed intuitively but I have learned the tradition it belongs to is experimental surreal avant-garde animation. Perhaps the most important and influential experimental surreal animator alive today is Jan Švankmajer from the Czech Republic. His signature style is grotesque stop-motion animations of objects reminiscent of the Cabinet of Curiosity’s of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II who returned the court to Prague in 1583, after it had been relocated to Vienna. His animation also draws on the regions rich tradition of puppetry and folklore.
Sculpture from Jan Švankmajer. The Alchemical Wedding
I spend many hours now doing this art work for no money and very little attention but a quote from Švankmajer keeps me going:
“There's a lot of misunderstanding about surrealism. People still see it through the prism of certain works of art, by Dali for example; they look at it superficially in terms of aesthetics. But there is no surrealist aesthetics; it's a psychology, a view of the world, which poses new questions about freedom, eroticism, the subconscious, and which attracts a certain sort of people-subversive types. It offers an alternative to the ideology offered by most modern societies, and it's a great adventure; it's tried to return art, which has become representational, aesthetic, commercial, to its origins of magic ritual.”
|Prague Astonomical Clock|
Part of what drew me to Los Angeles is that it houses the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I first heard about this unlikely and unusual place when I was living in San Francisco and received the book “Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology” by Lawrence Weschle as a birthday gift. In a way, I have already made a pilgrimage by moving to Los Angeles.
There is much more I could say about the Czech School of animation (including an epic tale of Walt Disney studios, capitalism run amok, a black and white print of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves stolen from the Nazi’s, and a group of unknown Czech animators who shocked world at the 2nd Cannes Film Festival (really the first because the Nazi’s invaded Poland on the same day the first one was scheduled to begin).
My ultimate pilgrimage would be to Prague to visit the Czech School of Animation and retrace the steps of animators whom with I have a mysterious connection. Hopefully this pilgrimage will occur soon so I can meet Jan Švankmajer who is now 86 years old. My wife, who has no interest in any of this, has met him. But that’s another story.