“Expression without some semblance of discipline is just puerile narcissism. It’s the mentality of a toddler.“

V Holeček’s pencil drawings and acrylic paintings evoke an other-worldly realm that is earthy and engrossing. His darkly surreal landscapes are deliciously organic but filled with post-apocalyptic-dystopian wrecks and outsized bones and skulls littering the environment.

Amerikan Gothique, acrylic
Amerikan Gothique, acrylic

Death is a recurrent theme in his work, sometimes in bleak iconography, and sometimes with subversive humour. It takes on an entirely new tone when the eyes fall to the bottom of the page where a flaccid and grey human hand lays.

He creates these arresting bastardisations of classic images, with targets including a portraiture of a Renaissance style angelic woman who is afflicted with a pig’s snout, trotters, and the absence of eyes (in Das Tierdrama). There is also George Washington with black anime-proportioned eyes and tentacles (in In His House at V’rnon, Dead Washingthulu Waits Dreaming) and American Gothic (in Amerikan Gothique). His inspirations include H.R. Giger, Zdzislaw Beksinski, Darius Zawadski, Chet Zar, Lori Earley, Hieronymous Bosch, Aunia Khan, and Glenn Arthur.

Holeček recalls:

“I have fragmented memories of a book of Czech origin around the house when I was very young. It had one particular illustration of Death coming to call at a house as this skeletal figure mounted on horseback. I couldn’t read the book, but the image left an impression. One of my older step-sisters who had a notable rebellious streak brought home a copy of H.R. Giger’s Necronomicon, and I sat and poured through the pages pretty intensely for the rest of the evening. I had seen Alien, and had always been profoundly drawn to terribly visceral elements. To suddenly be handed an entire book of images cut from the same primal fabric as Alien was my gateway drug to a whole host of stylistically-related artists.”

V Holecek Urlaubsfotos, acrylic
Urlaubsfotos, acrylic

Even as a child, he cared more about the art than the “message” of the art.

“I actually didn’t learn to express myself as a child; at least not artistically. That came later. As a child I obsessed over the raw mechanics of it. I created images explicitly to create an image for its own sake; there was not much further intent beyond that. I wanted to draw things that looked like things rather than concern myself with any sort of message that might be conveyed by it. To this day, while I’ve become more expressive, messaging is still secondary to the mechanics of the image.”

He sees the argument far too often that art is supposed to be all about expression.

“Honestly I think that’s asinine. Expression without some semblance of discipline is just puerile narcissism. It’s the mentality of a toddler. A three-year-old is quite capable of expressing, but lacks the order of language to make effective communication. Everyone wants to jump straight to the expressing without putting in the hours and demand to betaken seriously. The way some of them act, you’d think that working hard on something was some kind of social disease.”

Of his development, he goes on to tell me that he’s largely self-taught. While he doesn’t have anything against art schools in theory, he doesn’t think they serve the purposes of fine artists anymore. He says that schools are fine for people who are studying to become graphic designers or animators, but that fine artists are better served in residency programs. He believes that art school is a waste of time and money for an aspiring fine artist.

He talks to me about aesthetics.

In HIs House at V'rnon, Dead Washingthulu Waits Dreaming, acrylic
In HIs House at V’rnon, Dead Washingthulu Waits Dreaming, acrylic

“We all have our own darkness, even if we don’t all deal with it the same way. I reject the idea that liking dark things mean you’re obliged to act like a morose asshole. I know that there is some resonance in dark artwork for some people, and each for their own reasons. Yet some people will like anything with angry angles and drab colors. Others are looking for the symbolism, perhaps as a proxy for asserting their own identity in the world. Some people want to push it away altogether while others want to take it out for a walk.”

I inquired about his supporters and clients.

“My clients and patrons seem to come from everywhere and every walk of life. Sometimes they even surprise me. They run the gamut of political leanings, professions, and across borders. One of my regular patrons (who is also a good friend and former comic book shop owner) seems to love everything that spills out of my head. About the only common thread that I can really seem to tie all my fans and patrons together with is that they are buying the art for the art, rather than as a simple decorative consideration. They’re not buying what they think will go with the drapes. They are all over the board. This has taught me never to presume too much about a person.”

In U.S. society, he detects very diverse enemies to freedom of expression.

“The binding thread is moral authoritarianism. Some days it’s the religious right. Other days its radical feminists or social justice warriors. They all want a lot of the same things; which is to be able to tell you what you’re allowed to say, do, or enjoy. The person who wants to rule the world and the person who wants to save it are all too often one-in-the-same. They both employ divisive messaging and cultivate a binary society where everything that isn’t in line with their own message is the work of the enemy; whether that enemy is the Devil, the Patriarchy, Big Pharma, immigrants, or homosexuals. They’re all subscribers to their own flavor of moral absolutism. They are the drones of their respective collectives.”

V Holecek Beyond the Wall
Beyond the Wall, coloured pencil

I asked him some more about politics.

“I don’t lean reliably in any particular direction. I take each issue as a standalone and decide for myself how I think and feel about it, rather than let some sort of group affiliation make that decision for me. The consequence of that is that people on both sides tend to hate people like me, while at the same time maintain a constant effort to get us into their peg hole or force us into the other one. They’re like the cable companies of politics; they want you to buy their bundle package rather than make your own opinions a la carte. To me, the latter is the greatest act of resistance against the powers that be. That which is amorphous is harder to predict and therefore harder to control.”

He goes on to talk to me about boundaries and assimilation.

Das Tierdrama, acrylic
Das Tierdrama, acrylic

“I think that any time two or more cultures become intermingled, a certain amount of assimilation is necessary for both sides in order to establish equilibrium. That’s never an easy process and frequently it gets messy. The turbulence ensues us that everyone tries to figure out where everyone else’s boundaries are and what boundaries they should set accordingly. Of course it never actually plays out with that level of self-aware civility, but the process is still running. With all processes in nature, it’s not always pretty or idyllic, and sometimes it gets pretty fucking ugly before it gets sorted.”

Holeček takes an active role in the art scene, moderating the Reddit Artstore. He says that he makes the community easy not just for artists, but also for patrons. He has an impressive resume of collaborative works, which have been exhibited widely. He contributed to a book called Creepy Romance,  and designed both a band logo and album cover. He has also worked on independent film projects.

“I’ve done a couple of projects for an independent filmmaker out of NYC by the name of Omar Iturriaga, who I met through one of the Reddit art communities. The first of which was a poster for his film The Rotten Monk. Omar has this lovely dark kind of post-Catholic sensibility.”

Finally, I asked him what it was like to work with him as an artist.

Praga, coloured pencil

“Anyone who has worked with me will tell you that I involve the client in the process, because I hate making progress on something only to find out that I’m headed in a direction that the client hates. I do tons of progress updates back and forth. Often I am given very little direction to start with, which is typically how I prefer to operate. The more vague your idea is, the more room I have to expand or explore it from a creative standpoint. ”

V Holeček’s atmospheric body of work is a divine nightmare made all the more mysterious when you find out that it is crafted by such a grounded man. Originals and prints can be purchased here where you can also pore over his gallery and find out about future events. His haunting world will enrapture audiences for years to come.

Elizabeth Hobson the Creative Distractor at Trigger Warning. She balances raising two meticulously untamed luminaries with being a morbid, over-excitable yet analytic futurephile and social critic. She enjoys reading, writing and talking. Find her stuff here.