Vaclav Hejna made hundreds of sketches dealing with the theme of Man at the Table. He depicted the large-handed, slouched figure several times, in 'Cekarna dr. Schauera' (Dr. Schauer's Waiting Room, at the National Gallery in Prague), and yet again, incessantly in other paintings from 1933-1939. This series of works still now has been interpreted in the literature as a symptom of the economic and political depression that beleaguered Czechoslovakia between World War One and World War Two. From a constricted visual angle, Hejna has been considered as an artist with the usual social leanings. For this reason, the particular subversive possibilities of his early work originating in his painterly gestures have not been duly recognised. The following contribution centres on Hejna's expressive, impastoed figural paintings of the 1930s taken within a wider context. At the heart of these cultural-historical considerations is the theme of the mirror. Basic questions are raised regarding the relationship between the appropriation of reality and art. In Hejna's work, the motif of the smeared-out, scraped-off face appears often. On one hand, it is anchored in the rhetoric of Modernism, which extends from Balzac's The Unkown Masterpiece to the aggressive over-painting of Arnulf Rainer. At the same time, Hejna's disquieting, dehumanised depiction of figures reveals a critical distance from the entrenched culture of the avant-garde, from the culture of so-called 'Classical Modernism' generally and particularly from the long-enduring culture of Cubism in Prague. It emerges that Hejna's unmistakable painterly vocabulary was developed independently and in a congenial relationship with the philosophical trend of existentialism in France. While the black oval of a head represents a loss of faith in any human cultural form, the rough painting of Hejna's pre-1939 work may be considered a harbinger of Art Brut and L'art informel.
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