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Space for Light

Eva Brodská

02.05. – 15.06.24

A conversation between artist Eva Brodská and curator Veronika Čechová on the occasion of the exhibition Space for Light at Entrance Gallery in the spring of 2024

Veronika Čechová: I would like to begin by asking how you arrived at tapestry as your primary artistic technique.

Eva Brodská: Originally, I was considering studying painting, but I didn’t dare apply directly to the program at the Academy of Fine Arts… So I went to take a look at the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design, and it seemed like they were doing a lot of painting in the studio of textile design, which was headed by Professor Kybal. So I applied there instead. And then I was a bit disappointed because I had to do all kinds of textile stuff at school, which I didn’t really enjoy.

During my studies, when I was commuting to Prague from Roudnice nad Labem, I painted at home a lot and kind of neglected my schoolwork. But right after I graduated, I started weaving on a large-format warp at home. My very first tapestry was selected for a national show at the Prague Castle Riding School. Well, that was quite a victory, and I’ve been making tapestries ever since.

VČ: So you basically didn’t make any tapestries at all during your studies?

EB: The only tapestry we did in school was during the second year, when everyone in the studio wove a small-format motif of a head, about fifty by seventy centimeters. Most of the students did a self-portrait. But I decided—after my first trip to the seaside in Germany, where I observed the local fishermen and their boats—to weave a fisherman’s head with a typical hat. And that was the extent of it during my studies.

VČ: If you never had the opportunity to try your hand at a large-scale tapestry while in school, then how did you construct the necessary warp at home?

EB: The same gentleman who helped us at school helped me with that. I didn’t have a studio at all, so my parents cleared out one room in the apartment where we lived, and the man came to build me a basic frame. And because it wasn’t big enough for the tapestry I wanted to make for the Prague exhibition, I made a second warp myself. I think it was on nails—I don’t remember exactly. The warp ran over a round wooden beam, and I basically wove the tapestry in two parts. Then, of course, I was worried that the two halves wouldn’t fit together. But when I took them off and put them on the floor, they fit. I was overjoyed.

VČ: And what was the reaction to the tapestry you exhibited?

EB: Well, it was—and I don’t want to boast—but it was good! I went to the vernissage before it began because I still didn’t quite believe it and I wanted to be there alone. In the exhibition space there were panels along either side with a little corridor leading down the middle. I walked down the corridor, and my tapestry was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until I got to the very end that Professor Kybal came out and congratulated me. I was completely speechless—my tapestry was hanging at the end, and Professor Kybal was looking at it and saying, “Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t throw you out. You’re really good!” It was amazing.

VČ: How old were you when you received this gratification from your professor?

EB: Nearly thirty years old.

VČ: And how did your work progress after that?

EB: Then my dad decided we could build a studio in the attic of our house. And it’s really great—it has an overhead light and it’s terribly nice. It still has the beams and the original floor, a lovely red floor. It’s an incredibly pleasant, peaceful, and quiet environment, where I can focus.

VČ: And did you receive any other offers as a result of that first important exhibition?

EB: Fortunately, I’m from the region of Ústí nad Labem, and there was some amount of work there. Sometimes I contracted with architects—for example, I made a tapestry for the office of the director of the Civil Engineering Office, and I had other similar commissions. Galleries were also buying back then. That’s not the case nowadays—there’s obviously no money. So, I have tapestries in the collections of galleries and museums in Roudnice nad Labem, Liberec, Litoměřice, Brno, and in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague.

            And then I managed to have an exhibition in Bern in the early ’80s, where one big tapestry was purchased for the evangelical church and some of the smaller ones on display were bought by private collectors.

VČ: And what about invitations to exhibitions where you could showcase your work, be it tapestries or something else?

EB: I actually had quite a lot of shows. For a time I also used to exhibit with a few colleagues from the Ústí region. I can’t even remember what the group was called, but Dr. Škvára brought together a number of people… Back then it was difficult to exhibit, but as a group we had much better chances.

            But I had my first solo exhibition in Roudnice nad Labem in 1969. Since then I have exhibited there quite regularly—the last time in 2015—in the Gallery of Modern Art and also in the cloisters of the former monastery.

VČ: Could you describe the process of creating your tapestries? Do you generally work with large formats, and how long does it take to make such a tapestry?

EB: My favorite format was two by three meters, and it usually took me about six months to do one. These days I make smaller tapestries because I’m slower and I can actually barely lift the big ones now. The big tapestries weigh over fifteen kilos.

            I always tried to prepare something new for each exhibition. For one thing, it’s good to have something new so people can see that I’m working, but that’s not so important. For me it’s important to see the thing in a foreign environment to determine if I can continue in that direction or if it’s all wrong somehow. It’s hard to tell at home. And the bigger the gallery, the better.

VČ: What’s it like to work on a single piece for half a year, or nowadays for a few months at least?

EB: I work pretty intensely—I don’t want to step away from it for any prolonged period. It’s always in my head, and it’s not that I’m completely improvising, but I only ever have minimal sketches for a given piece because I want to weave it and not copy a drawing with my weaving. I don’t want to reweave a pattern—that’s the danger of workshops.

            There are some excellent weavers in workshops, but they sit there next to each other, and they each do just a piece of the larger work. They have a precisely drawn pattern and numbered colors, and they have the colors on a wool stand, and they weave it according to those numbers. If a tapestry is so high that they can’t reach it, they simply move it; they have a roller that they wrap it on. And so they can’t actually see what they’re doing—they don’t see the tapestry in its entirety. The result is absolutely perfect, but I find it deeply unsatisfying.

VČ: Could you describe what it looks like in your studio, for those who haven’t had the chance to visit?

EB: The warp I have set up in my studio is still the same large-format one. I used the beams in the attic, so I have one beam near the floor and another near the ceiling, and the space between them measures almost three meters. I have nails hammered into the beams, and I string the warp up from the bottom and then back down again and so on until I reach the desired width. It always requires two people to do it. Then I have two ladders placed on either side of the warp with a board running between them, which I sit on while I work, weaving from the bottom up. Thanks to the ladders, nothing obstructs my view of the tapestry in progress, and I can see the whole thing. I can step back about six meters, so I can view it from a good distance.

VČ: So, do you always do a section, step back to take a look, and then return to the weaving frame?

EB: Sometimes there’s a detail I want to have a look at. I keep wanting to see it from a distance as I work, so I keep getting down from the board. But it can’t be helped. I have to keep climbing down and taking a look from at least two or three meters away before I can continue. There’s a little bit of exercise involved which is pretty healthy.

VČ: If you’re spending several hours at a time working like this, I imagine you must maintain a particular type of concentration?

EB: Sometimes it’s soothing. Other times it’s more irritating. Sometimes I get really flummoxed, and I keep stepping away from it, and I have to think about it a lot, and sometimes I even unravel it. And unfortunately, when I’ve woven a big section—maybe a meter—and I suddenly see that it should have been different down below, it’s hard to do anything about it then. A friend once told me, “It’s like life—if you mess something up, you can’t fix it.”

            So, sometimes there are problems, but I think I have enough experience at this point that I don’t make huge mistakes and don’t have to unravel anything completely. But it is really very hard to meddle with it later on.

VČ: What does such a mistake consist of for you? What do you see as a mistake?

EB: I always do a little test weave before I set to work. I recently found one of these tests, and I remembered that I was so glad I did it because one side of the tapestry was supposed to be darker. I noticed this on the test weave, and then I wove it darker when I did the full tapestry.

VČ: Let’s shift from the process to the topics—what is your main source of inspiration? When a viewer looks at one of your tapestries, they may read it as pure abstraction, but upon longer observation, certain scenes or situations frequently emerge. The titles often give us clues as well, referring, for example, to nature and its phenomena.

EB: When I was first starting out, I used to do a lot of walking in the countryside and in the Eagle Mountains. I really loved the landscape there, and I used to draw and paint with watercolors outside. And I wove meadows—it was a kind of series. I don’t know how many I did, but quite a few, and meanwhile I went to the seaside in Germany almost every summer. I really liked the German sea—it’s kind of gray. And quite wild. I went to Bulgaria too, but it wasn’t the same. It was very colorful and not so wild. Of course, I longed to see the Atlantic, but there was no hope of that…

            Then came the year 1990, and I went to Brittany for the first time, and I’ve been going back ever since. The sea there is absolutely breathtaking. It’s both wild and quiet. My works may look abstract, but they’re mainly views of the sea and the sky.

            If I retain some kind of powerful memory from a particular place to use for a subject, then I translate it into a tapestry. It’s a bit like being in that place again, but my mind is also more on the material. I don’t know how to invent anything and I don’t remember very much, so I use the drawings I have from these places. I guess I’m very much there at that moment, and then when I draw it, my thoughts are already on the tapestry. Then I just struggle with the material to make what I want to make. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.

            I work mainly with wool and sisal, which I also use for the warp; it is very artistically pleasing to me. It’s tough to work with, but the wool sticks to it—it doesn’t slip. So I can weave with one color sparsely or densely and get a more intense shade, like with watercolor. I like that a lot, and I use this effect often.

            I like natural materials. The only exception is some synthetic fishing nets that I gathered at the seaside. I used them on one tapestry that’s hanging in the current exhibition. I have some other found nets as well, so maybe they’ll turn up again sometime…

Eva Brodská (*1937) is a creator of monumental woven images, which she makes using a traditional tapestry technique. She uses wool as her main material, often in combination with sisal.
She graduated from the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design in Prague, where she studied under Professor Antonín Kybal, the founder of the modern interpretation of textile art. Since the 1960s she has exhibited in various places in the Czech Republic and abroad. Her consistently original tapestries are conceived as paintings. They are among the key works of Czech textile art of the second half of the twentieth century. Brodská is a member of the artists’ forum Umělecká Beseda, and her works are represented in the collections of renowned museums and galleries.

The program of the Entrance Gallery is realized with the financial support of the City of Prague, the Municipality of Prague 6, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, and the Union for the Protection of Authorship GESTOR.