Robert Horvath Interview with JL Schnabel

JL Schnabel: In your statement you talk about how our culture and country is filled with amnesiacs who have readily forgotten the current horrors of the world and instead have turned to the glitter of celebrity and consumerism. Can you talk about why this has become the major expository theme of your work?

Robert Horvath: I grew up in the former Czechoslovakia. My dad was an art teacher, but could not teach because of his conflicts with the regime at the time. As a child I was taken to many museums and was exposed to various kinds of art. My father and I would go visit a local gypsy artist as well as Old World potters that produced functional pottery. Like most of us growing up behind the Iron Curtain, I pictured America as a utopian land with the understanding that I wouldn’t ever be able to visit.

Shortly after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the borders opened and the ability to travel West became a reality for us. I participated in an exchange program and ended up in a university in North Texas. During my graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I began working on a body of work dealing with the nightlife. This was a significant and life-changing time for me, as I finally started dealing with my sexuality.

Once I started seeing the reality of all the shine and glamour of club life and the people participating in it, my work became more focused on the psychology behind the behaviors and the value systems of our modern society. I never thought of that body of work as a negative criticism of the scene, though.

JS: Although the “landscapes” you conjure in your newer paintings aren’t based within the natural world, they have the appearance of something very real and have the feel of being satellite photographs. Is this contradiction of real but yet not real something you were thinking about?

RH: I was reading about the concept of the “memes” in Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene. It is interesting to me to think about how the information systems work. I think that the ability of manipulating information and having control over the way that this information is spread is fascinating to me. Gossip is a perfect example of this transfer of information- I love the idea of the multiple mutations that it can go through as it infects individual minds.

As for the idea of “landscapes,” I think they can exist on multiple levels. There is always the macro/micro question which I am not very concerned with. Entities that exist in my work are something like three-dimensional scans of non-tangibles. I like the mystery they can carry. They are living entities, but not the way we understand living and breathing organisms. I know it sounds so sci-fi, yet I have no history of growing up watching Star Wars or playing video games as with most of my generation. I just don’t think that was on the Communist system agenda.

JS: Your earlier works were more figure-based, yet it still retained the gelatinous and tactile shapes found more fully realized in your new paintings. What caused you to remove the humans from your work?

RH: I think the humans needed to go. They are still in the work, but more symbolically. I am not really interested in the figure as someone who loves drawing nudes, for example. Figure was in my work because it was something the work required. By removing the figure completely, I got rid of the constraints that it always had for me. There is too much history associated with painting the figure; I am not interested in that dialog anymore.

You are correct, though; the gelatinous surfaces stayed. I feel very attracted to something that is so slick and flawless- it makes me question its authenticity. By carrying over the shiny, slick, and flawless surfaces of skin from my models to my “forms”, you could say that in some ways the figure never left the work.

When I painted figures, I wanted then to look as if they were made out of some squishy silicone, plastic, waxy material. When doing photo shots with my models, I would have them put on a peel of cosmetic mask. They could not smile or that shiny surface on their face would start peeling off. It was fun working that way. They were alive but not really, I guess. Imagine a Realdoll, a perfect sex doll, but alive.

JS: Can you talk a bit about how you choose to title your pieces and how they are important to understanding your work?

RH: I was thinking about some powerful concepts/ideologies that I don’t necessarily agree with for the titles I chose for the current work. But there are some goofy ones like “Braincandy” that directly refers to a movie that is so stupidly mindless that you brain’s only function is stuff popcorn in your mouth. I think titles are important to my work as it gives a way for a viewer to enter from a specific place, after that they are free to wander around. Plus, I think my titles tend to have a little sarcasm mixed with silliness.

JS: The glazing technique you employ in your work is rooted in the old world master tradition and yet appears in such a modern and futuristic context. Is this choice conscious? Also, this style of painting must be a lengthy process. How do you feel while you are creating these works? How do you choose which compositions to commit to?

RH: My paintings take long time to make. I am not as prolific as some other artists out there. I am not concerned about making tons of work - devoting months on one painting is a great experience for me. It exercises my patience, discipline, and focus. The process of making my paintings is similar to way I think of my life - I am dedicated to my goals, and I will take time to enjoy the journey. Now, because I make only a few paintings, it does not mean I am limited on ideas, I just don’t feel like I need to put it all out there.

Technique is something that always comes up in discussion in my work. I know that contemporary art world seems to sometimes forget about finely-crafted objects and tends to focus purely on the concept. I realize that the new technologies of delivering visual culture today create huge competition with works that don’t move with the speed of light. I want my work to mirror who I am as an artist; I am not there to compete. I am a very meticulous person, and my work needs to show it.

I love the process of creating something. There is beauty in systems that simply work well together. I enjoy learning about the Old Masters’ approach to make a painting, so that I can adjust it to fit my needs to make work now. My glazing technique is my way to translate working in watercolor to oil. I think colors stay brighter when left in their pure form layered and mixed optically.

Interview by JL Schnabel

Images: "Neurofraud," "Ignavus Viridae," & "Dangerous Dolls" by Robert Horvath

Artist's Profile here.


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