The Secret of Dance

Dance is a thankless topic for artists. Few painters can capture the nuance of a pirouette or a graceful leap to make a work look both true to life and tasteful, for the main feature of dance is movement. Jan Jüngling undoubtedly possesses the ability to capture movement on canvas. Born on 5 November1946, the son of the celebrated portrait painter Bretislav Jüngling, he has devoted himself to painting almost since childhood.

"It's true that my father more or less led me to start painting, but at the same time he tried really hard to discourage me from it. I had to take the entrance exams for art school in secret, as my father had imagined a different career to art for me. In fact I'm following my father's profession but certainly not in his footsteps. Our art is constantly evolving, and at college my tutor, Professor František Jiroudek, had quite an influence on me. It's a bit of an unwritten law that students tend to take on certain opinions, techniques and colours from their teachers."

At the age of 16 Jüngling became fascinated by ballet. This was triggered by seeing Igor Stravinsky's 'Petruska' at the Czech National Theatre, a performance which had a lasting influence on his future work. On being asked to give the introduction to his exhibition I was a little hesitant about what to write. When it comes to art I am certainly no expert, and so I can only judge paintings from the point of view of a certain expertise in dance.

I remember how I first came across his pictures of ballet dancers. I approached the initial ones like a simple layman, so that as usual I could examine the individual brush-strokes or other artistic devices, (generally I only find out the style of painting from the labels on the pictures), and then gradually work my way down to the individual content of the painting. In the case of Jüngling's paintings, however, their content struck me before I even had time to get close enough to the sign to read the description of the picture.

I frequently see plenty of ballet pictures on sale in the street, and I have to admit that the dance scenes portrayed are mostly lamentable, since nobody manages to get them right. From a professional point of view the fact remains that unfortunately the only thing most ballerinas in pictures have in common with ballet is their costume.

To paint dancers with just the right tilt of the head, subtleties of gesture (different in every ballet), appropriate facial expressions, and the practised twist of the foot when standing on points in the technically correct way: truly, this is an achievement worthy of a master artist. Not everyone is receptive to these details and capable of getting them right. Jüngling not only amazed me by this, but also managed to make his paintings spring into action, thereby in my opinion pushing his art into a whole other dimension.

How can this be? Is it that these paintings were such faithful copies of reality, rather like photographs? No - not by any manner of means, yet it is true to say that they depict reality with precision. Here the lense is not simply a cluster of glass parts mercilessly breaking down dancers and theatre into pixels of light according to the strict laws of physics, but the painter's eye, which is guided by his own entirely individual laws. Nevertheless, the eye alone is still not skilled enough to be able to depict the creative image sufficiently differently from the subject under observation. Certainly that is how it works with nearly all pictures, regardless of what they may illustrate.

This applies all the more strongly to the creation of pictures about ballet, that is, art based on movement, counter-movement, moving tension, the contrast of motion and stasis, and the interactive moves of male and female dancers. Only thanks to the painter's invention and interpretation is it possible for the onlooker to appreciate the kinetic energy set within every static configuration of, say, a pirouette, a leap or wave of the hand during a dramatic scene in the exalted sensation of a dance performance.

Something of a dream-like atmosphere surges up from all Jüngling's pictures. Like shifting sands it encircles the onlooker's feet and draws him down into its depths, or rather its emotional heights; it engulfs him like music, almost as if this were part of the composition of the paintings' colourful swirls, swallowing him up in the grip of his own inspired imagination, until at last it spits him back out into the exhibition hall again.

"Painting really is a mortal passion for me', says Jan Jüngling of his profession. In commending these pictures to you I hope that they will have as strong an effect on you as the emotion with which they were painted, and as the passions they aroused in me when I saw them myself.

Adéla Pollertová
Translated by Kathleen Earley

© Jakub Kavan