Painter Karolína Netolická: The world is like an inflatable bouncy castle

Why do you use such a pastel in such large paintings?

Because pastel is for me the happy medium between painting and drawing. I consider myself more of a designer. But it’s true that many people my paintings evoke painting, because all these large black areas were created by coating a pastel.

Anyone who’s ever held a pastel between their fingers probably knows how difficult your approach is. Why such a large format?

I choose a scale that can be encountered and that can engulf the viewer.

Pastel has dominated you from the start?

I started on a smaller area with a micropencil. I drew people in down jackets who went higher in the world of birds. When I “embroidered” in filigree, I drew knot by knot. Then, I wanted to broaden the subject so that the public could even confront it physically.

What was before “micropencil embroidery”?

I did more bone drawings. I already wanted to study art in high school, but I went there to become a mycologist. It was my great desire. I admired the world of mushrooms. You rub, this anatomy…

Karolina Netolicka

Photo: Petr Hornik, Pravo

Where does your passion for mushrooms come from?

Frankly I do not know. She graduated around the age of thirteen. My family and I went mushroom picking, that’s right. I liked searching, wandering, discovering. I liked to study the structure of mushrooms in detail, I concentrated as much as possible when drawing.

Did that calm you down?

Yes a lot. I went from the detail to the whole. Just like now in your paintings. A blank screen calls me to a duel. I have to control it!

Your subject is man versus nature. What annoys you so much?

It’s a matter of life for me. Man belongs to nature, he came from it, but at the same time he earns money with his behavior. How many times he cannot dialogue with her, he destroys her.

The animals in your paintings tend to have human bodies. What do they show?

Exotic animals symbolize aliens in another world. I am based on the ideas of Heschel. He asserted that man is also an animal. We have common instincts, a certain degree of aggression in common.

Man against nature – one of the strong themes of the painter. Frontiers of Sight (2022).

Photo: Karolina Netolická archive

What do you mean?

The books of Konrad Lorenz and Erich Fromm inspired me a lot. Lorenz asserts that aggression is ours and is innate, Fromm disagrees. He distinguishes between malignant and non-malignant aggression, when the calculation of reason is obvious in humans, malignant, on the contrary, in animals it is a more instinctive affair. We the people have some of it.

Nature without men will survive, man without man will barely survive. But people are strangers to your paintings.

The strongest component is alienation. When I create groups of people, each person is distanced from the other. They have no closer ties. They do not conduct dialogues, they are separated. I often think that when a person departs from nature, it can happen to them in human society over time. We begin to distance ourselves. It happened to me lately to paint something which will then become a reality. I am not at all comfortable.


I don’t think that’s unusual, because when you look a bit at what’s going on around you, a certain predictability is evident.

In one case, you show a person killing chickens. It’s full of blood everywhere. Why so natural?

I called the image the Mask of the Red Death and it is one of the few where there is blood. My intention was to describe the relationship between man and nature in a clearer and more expressive way. In this image, I show man as a simple consumer, as a being who only receives and consumes, but who is not capable of giving himself.

A common landscape is a forest. But a forest that doesn’t look friendly at all.

It is more of a lost house, which also warns us of our mistakes. The man is locked up there as in a cage in which he wanders permanently. I contrast branches covered in rotting lichen with the smooth surfaces of trash bags, inflatable balls or modern down jackets. I am interested in the relationship between the new and the aging, something that will be endured for ages and which, on the contrary, is subject to destruction.

Man against nature – one of the strong themes of the painter. Fortune Teller (2021).

Photo: Karolina Netolická archive

Are current turbulent events reflected in your work?

I confront the facts experienced with my inner world. I convey to the paintings my own sense of the present rather than specific events. I am focused on socio-ecological reading, in particular on the literature dealing with the theme of invisible risks. This is another important part of my job. I touch on it in paintings where the characters have white masks on their faces.

You mean eye masks?

Yes. They symbolize our blindness to risks that we are often unable to experience or feel. People’s faces are vague, their eyes are open, but they are empty.

Are we risk averse?

Danger only reaches us when it is too late. There are virtually no boundaries between risk, crisis and disaster. There is often an invisible danger which, when it is a risk for us, is very close to a crisis. I understand this as a state in which we exceed a certain limit of endurance.

And if the state of threat exceeds the carrying capacity, we are in a state of catastrophe. And from there – in my opinion – there is no way out, unlike the crisis. I am fascinated by Zygmunt Bauman’s book on the liquid world. I wonder why the world couldn’t be plastic, like a bouncy castle?

Why a bouncy castle?

Because it can change shape and looks like some kind of empire that can be blown here, blown there, and jumped around.

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