“The subconscious is God TO US ALL”
Has it ever happened to you that you get the feeling from social networks that you already know a person you are going to meet really well, even though you have only seen each other briefly? And then you start talking and as the story is shared and develops you suddenly feel shivers down your spine because you realise how much you have in common? Do you believe in energy? I do. What makes women’s art so specific? How are art and politics connected? And where does Helena get her entrepreneurial genes from? Myself and Helena Leisztner Kroftová have more in common than just a shared passion for supporting women and trying to change the world for the better.
Helena Leisztner Kroftová studied at the University of Economics, but over time began spending time on art. She started by designing clothes, but now works with variable clothing, drawing, painting, photography, and combined techniques. She also gained a practical insight into the world of art, organising exhibitions, PR, and publicity during her time at the Argentinian embassy. For 6 years she worked abroad. She holds a number of Czech and international awards: Zenit 89 Young Fashion Designers Prize – Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, Talent 90, the Masaryk Academy of Arts Prize for Artistic Activity and Synthesis of Visual Arts, International Prize for Modern Art, Límenarte 11 – Italy, Marian Adair Award International – WCI, for lifetime artwork and philanthropy – USA.
Helena, what are you working on right now?
I am currently undergoing another transformation; I like experimenting with different forms of art. For the Blossoms Project of 26 artists, I painted porcelain for Expo Dubai for an investment company. It is a huge bowl, on which the national motif of linden blossoms is portrayed. I took part in an exhibition, entitled Porcelain Prague, with the same group of renowned artists from Galerie U Zlatého kohouta in Prague in December. For that I created several political images, such as Tsunami Beneath the Castle and To Libuše, with a distinctive garland. My work generally has some political subtext. The most recent complex and retrospective exhibition, Reflections, was held at the Italian Chapel in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the Italian Embassy. The main theme was my Praga Caput Regni – Reipublicae project, then Prague – Venice Infinity, and Colours of Woman, pictures that focus on processing the psyche and psychology of women. These works are entirely emotional, pure. My Colours of Woman cycle began with pendrawn portraits. Of women. This was followed by work with the Czech Miss pageant, for which I created variable national costumes. They really stood out at the Miss shows from the Czech Republic abroad because in the very tall, artistic hats they were always higher and unmissable. What is more, the clothes were variable: the hat transformed into a corset, the boa into a gown … The Colours of Woman cycle also encompasses oil paintings with a 3D effect, kaleidoscopic photographs of nature, particularly flowers. And my poetry. The models at shows present my clothes with an image of my picture, moreover with my turning picture; it is the art fashion show of a single artist with music, a stationary and a live exhibition, including my choreography. This again encloses the mosaic of different arts within a single, living, theatrical whole. I am currently the only one with my own authorship of many types of art, and this also motivates me to go further.
How has your work been affected by the ongoing pandemic?
Perhaps all of us expected a crisis to come along, whatever form it took. I see that Covid-19 has meant we have been forced to, and have the chance to, return to nature, of which we are a part. I am now taking more photographs of nature – colour and close-ups. Flowers bring colour. Every flower has a centre, where harmony is created. And this should be projected in the planet and in the universe. I see the centre of the flower and its surroundings as a kaleidoscope. And the subconscious then shapes my pictures. That’s why my exhibitions always come with the subtitle “The subconscious is God to us all”.
I no longer like black and brown; they remind me of the communist era, perhaps just gloss and soil content. And they are also funereal colours, and I steer clear of that.
Women and their fertility: a common theme of my oil paintings. I sometimes hear the opinion that my pictures are erotic, but in reality they depict love, conception, illness, the departure of parents – in short, all the significant chapters in life that change us. Whenever we are down, we become aware of our attachment to nature and the possibility for onward growth. So the pictures capture auto eroticism or orgasms, which merely show that women are key to the reproduction process and the continuation of the human race.
There is much discussion in literature about women authors and the specific features of what is known as women’s literary work. How is womanhood projected in the fine arts?
Women’s art, and everything in fact, is influenced by the fact that we are the givers of life. Men simply do not have this element. When a woman is socially advanced, has social empathy, then the woman-mother not only tries to protect, but support and develop her offspring to the maximum. Men should offer support, but I think that they lack this perception of and focus primarily on the offspring, and therefore future development. The representation of women- mothers in politics is important; here we can expect a certain cross-spectrum empathy. The fact that men are over-represented in politics has been seen in decision-making during the pandemic, when the interests of different risk groups have not always been taken into consideration. In art, it is about work that comes from the soul. And the soul is influenced by feelings. And the feelings of women and men who hold their child in their arms are simply different, and this also is reflected in political decisions.
I absolutely know what you are talking about. You have been a member of several women’s organisations. Women’s Forum, for example. How has the issue of women moved on?
I lived long enough under the old regime to be able to say that in more than 30 years of the new regime, the issue has genuinely moved forward, but that is an old development. At the same time, I am not a proponent of elevating one sex above the other. It is all about humility in communication, reaching agreement and bringing up children with love, which is fundamental for the development of the whole planet. We women are not always able to maintain female solidarity. Men are. If I were to use a comparison, men work predominantly with each other in a group, while we women are often confidantes, but rivals. I personally am more solitary. It begins with creation, it ends with organising exhibitions.
Let’s return to politics. You said yourself that your art is often political. Many artists, however, are strictly against political involvement.
Why shouldn’t politics be a part of art? Art moves through human mentality. Art is also able to covertly manipulate people. And it is not by chance that artists are persecuted for their art under totalitarian regimes. I remember that when I painted a picture with a religious theme under communism, for example a Jewish cemetery, members of the STB (secret police) had remarks about whether or not this was appropriate in the pictures. They were just as bothered about Charles IV at prayer. I jointly founded the A prima vista, or Fashion Provocation, group back in 1988. I prepared various patriotic, provocative choreography and models, for example a dance version of My Country, Freons, red t-shirts were cut at Rockfest, I was arrested and interrogated several times. It was art, it was symbolic and political. And the protectors of the regime knew it all too well. There are many types of art, but mine has always expressed a reflection of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the time. Music can be political, just as can design or fine arts. We are back at the subconscious, which is the impulse for the expression of feeling. I continued the patriotic theme in my Praga Caput Regni – Reipublicae project, I made clothes on the theme of the Czech lioness, which Renata Langmannová presented in many places in Prague where the Czech lion is found. Some of the cycle is found in the national libraries in NY and in Florence. The clothing was naturally accompanied by my picture and choreography for many possibilities of presenting the golden national dress. Some were there at the gala opening of the International Biennial of Modern Art at the National Gallery in 2006.
You are also th eco-founder of the Czech Friends of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, of which you are now the chair. These “Friends of…” organisations are very common abroad and help artists, or talented scientists perhaps.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. is the only national museum in the world devoted solely to women artists and has societies in all capitals. Toyen is the Czech female artist represented in its collections. The idea was initiated by Catherine Cabaniss, wife of the former US ambassador William Cabaniss, in collaboration with Eliška Hašková Coolidge. We used our own funds to try and help young artists, or disabled artists. It was interesting to see the work of a professional American organisation. We organised a number of concerts and exhibitions in the Czech Republic, at interesting venues: at the Senate, Česká spořitelna bank, Salmovský Palace, in cooperation with the National Gallery, and in New York. We found support from the Mathilda Endowment Fund, run by Duchess Mathilda Nostitzová, for people with severe visual disabilities and from La Sophia in support of abandoned children. We set up the FNMWA Face of the Year, whose prize-winners include women artists, women artists with visual disabilities and, for example, a restorer of Romanesque clothing, a ballet dancer, and a 10-year-old singer – an orphan with Asperger syndrome. After 13 years of work at the society, we plan to hand over the reins of management to the next generation.
You have mentioned several times during the interview the influence of family and roots. You did not have it in the least bit easy, given your bourgeois background. You said that you don’t want to be tied to history, but that it is at the same time good to remember it.
When I think of my childhood, I always remember dining at the table. We always had a natural, white, ironed tablecloth and fabric napkins, polished silver cutlery. I have no idea how my mother managed to do it when she had a job. My parents never complained about their change in conditions, they wanted to spare me from this. My ancestors were merchants in non- ferrous metals and had a number of apartment buildings. They never built a villa because they would generally go to Venice on Thursday and stay there until Tuesday. My grandmother found it hard to deal with the fact that she was “merely” a hostess. Even though she attended all the business meetings or organised important meetings and banquets for many dozens of guests. When nationalisation came, my father remembered how his grandfather had burned his securities and begged him never to go into business. My own father said the same to me. My grandmother, a great role model to me, began devoting her time to art after the communist revolution. Her art protis and tapestries meant that she suddenly became the main breadwinner in the family. Her husband never recovered from the loss of his position and the persecution he suffered.
What type of work pleases you the most? What is the difference between preparing exhibitions and working on an order?
For an exhibition, I work alone with a huge amount of freedom, meaning enthusiasm. If I am organising everything, I have a curator in Italy, the whole exhibition and PR are my responsibility and I need this. Everything is already prepared abroad and the artist is given space to express herself; that is not such a common custom here. Specific pieces for companies or other clients, for example a type of photograph, a painting, a canvas, porcelain, and the size, I choose in line with the style of the space and the mentality.
Mostly, however, there are more women making the decisions in design, meaning that there is generally concordance in advance according to intuition. I offer a design in my studio, since personal contact is important. The time right now plays into the hands of online sales, and there are no problems there either.
We will talk about strong, proud grandmothers next time. I plan to write a book about mine. She was a prominent pharmacist in Pohořelec and her patients included Edvard Beneš and Hana Benešová, Alice Masaryková, and artists from the National Theatre. My last question is about your plans. What are you planning?
I don’t plan. At all. It might seem like a cliché, but I think that we have all come to appreciate the saying “seize the day” this year. I was looking forward to my exhibitions, particularly abroad. It is not easy to shift exhibitions. Plans are made years in advance, so exhibitions are generally cancelled rather than moved to a later date. I let things happen naturally. And I am happy to be able to find some time for myself. It is important. I get up early every morning and do some meditation, dance, or yoga. I am therefore able to lift myself above the everyday problems and deal with matters with a bird’s-eye view, easily, with concentration, and comprehensively. I would particularly recommend it to our busy women.
By Linda Štucbartová
Photo By: Lenka Hatašová