Sculptor and painter Jaroslav Róna: humans become a nuisance for robots

On your business card you have your equestrian statue of Jošt Lucemburský, which you made for Brno. It seems to mean more to you than to others.

I put it on the business card because it has a distinctive silhouette with elongated legs, so it stands out well there. (Laughs)

It was a great job for me, because I got one of the main squares in the second largest city in the Czech Republic. Additionally, the statue is relatively boldly designed, yet it found 100% support from the advisors. I didn’t expect it at all and I couldn’t believe it. That’s why I consider it my great success. This is perhaps my most famous statue.

The truth is that I had to devote a lot of time to Jošt, two years of daily work. Ten hours a day, including weekends, without holidays. It was a marathon, mentally and physically demanding.

Bronze Jošt is eight meters tall. But recently you made an even taller bronze statue, the ten-meter red giraffe, which stands in Prague’s Pankrác. Was working there a challenge for you, even in terms of technical implementation?

In each case! I am rightly proud of the giraffe, she is playful and not burdened with special meanings. It is a statue of joy. But I’m also proud of it because its production was extremely complicated. It is welded from 180 parts and anchored to an internal stainless steel structure.

There are not many bronze workshops in our country and I employ the last trained engraver, Mr. Miloslav Pešek. He is in very good physical shape, but will soon be in his seventies. Due to the large deformation of the material during welding, he must climb into the statue, hammer it with a bronze hammer and reshape it.

A playful and must-see shiny red giraffe in Prague at Pankrác.

Why doesn’t he have any followers?

Under the Communists, propaganda as well as decorative bronze statues were made so that the chickens had a livelihood. While today sculpture competitions in public space are no longer frequent, these craftsmen have ceased to be necessary, so they have abolished the field of study.

Last fall, you presented the nearly five-meter-long granite statue of Robot Victory at Expo Dubai. I’m beginning to suspect that in addition to the bronze workshop, you’ve also purchased a stonemason’s.

And I also have a brilliant old gentleman in it! Jiří Kubík, who made this granite statue with several assistants. It was not a job, but my free creation. It was created for about five years. She remained in Dubai until the Expo ended, returning to Prague in the spring. I don’t know what will happen to him yet. Some interested people have already appeared, but I haven’t agreed with anyone yet.

The statue depicts a robot raising the last person’s skull above its head like a trophy. Do you think robots will destroy us one day?

Well, it is very likely even in the future that robots will be taken over by humans. Gradually they find out how vulnerable and stupid people are, and as soon as they solve the problem of their reproduction, people begin to bother them.

Small bronze sculptures on display at DOX.

Photo: DOX

It reminds me of statues of American Indians, like the Mayans or the Aztecs.

I walked out of the Toltec statues I saw in Tula, Mexico. They represented warriors, but also the pillars of the temple which supported the roof. I’m happy to admit the Toltec inspiration, I’ve been influenced by Mexican sculpture all my life, among other things.

What fascinates you about ancient cultures?

As soon as you step in front of a tall building or an ancient statue, you will be completely amazed. In modern European sculpture artists have struggled with what can be carved into stone, for example in the Baroque it was a movement – but as if they were denying the material. Sometimes you don’t even believe it’s a stone. It’s absolutely fascinating, but I love when statues admit their material. That’s why I look for shapes that bring out the power of the stone even more.

You are currently exhibiting sculptures, paintings and objects at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague. Most of the time, it’s all kinds of fantastic buildings. Did you also find inspiration for them in the face of ancient monuments?

No, my work has nothing to do with them. In the past, the interest in sculpture focused mainly on the human or animal figure, but the fact that some artists created sculptures in the form of buildings was not there at all. With one exception! And it is ancient Chinese funerary art.

The Chinese created special vessels, probably for ashes or ritual objects, which often took the form of such special pavilions. I started making my constructions under the influence of these old Chinese sculptures.

Recently I have assembled these objects from various found objects and components, modeling them with wax and then casting them in bronze. I can process various details, take any shape and model it. Working with wax is fantastic.

Small bronze sculptures on display at DOX.

Photo: DOX

Where did you come across ancient Chinese sculptures?

In a novel by writer Erich Maria Remarquo, in Shadows in Paradise. I liked it so much that I became interested in old Chinese bronzes, I was also influenced by my experience with cinema, in the 1990s I worked as a lead artist for the Czech film America based on Kafka’s novel The Unknown, I designed the architecture of non-existent cities there.

I’m still interested in architecture, my wife Lucie is an architect, recently we even designed and built a house for a friend of ours.

You are not only a sculptor but also a painter. What do you spend more time doing now?

I change it, it is halfway. In fact, I’m always pushed for ideas and insights. And they push either the sculptures or the painters. And they grow until I finally have to do them to get rid of them.

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