THIS CONTEMPORARY EXTRAORDINAIRE AND PROGENITOR OF PRAGUE’S UNDERGROUND GRAFFITI ART SCENE DANCES WITH THE CONCEPT OF DIMENSION

BY BLUE SULLIVAN

Is it a two dimensional sculpture, or a 3 D painting? Jan Kaláb’s boundary defying canon is bursting with mischief and mystery. Born in Prague in 1978, he is one of the Czech Republic’s most signi­ficant contemporary artists, a true pioneer of the underground street art and graffiti scene. A masters graduate from the Academy of Fine Arts of Prague, Kaláb’s ­first street art crew were called “Cakes,” but his later crew,  The DSK, is perhaps the most famous (or infamous, depending on your outlook). These crews lived a somewhat nomadic existence, sleeping (or failing to be able to sleep) outside in places like train yards, or as Kaláb noted on his website, “A few nights too in police stations.” Like many other street art crews, in Prague and around the globe, their work was often heavily influenced by hip hop culture.

Later, in the early 2000s, Kaláb’s work transformed into a kind of glowing trans­ xion on abstract forms.  This evolution marked the beginning of the vivid psychedelic style that defines his modern work, a love letter to the grandeur of simpler forms.

“The circle fascinates me not only by its purity in terms of shape but mainly through the tension between the inner and outer,” Kaláb explained. “As if the fundamental essence of life could be linked to a series of incessant attempts by that which is on the outside of the circle’s perimeter to penetrate it and vice versa. As soon as the tension disappears, one remains circling the perimeter, over and over again.”

The art world’s response to Kaláb’s work has been, contrary to his street crew days, universally positive. In addition to winning the Art Prague Young Award in 2010, he has been described as “one of the most exciting young artists working today” and “a master of the psychedelic aesthetic.” He landed his ­first solo gallery exhibition in 2008 at the Trafo Gallery in Prague, and then again in 2011, 2013, and 2015. Since 2008, Kaláb’s creations have been displayed throughout the world, including Buenos Aires, Bogota, Paris, London, San Francisco, Valencia, Taipei, and Miami. He’s also been featured in prestigious museums throughout the globe, including the MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, the Macadam Gallery in Brussels, and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in his hometown of Prague.

Kaláb’s paintings are typically found on large scale canvases, which have been given a 3 D feel by expanding the artwork out from the base of the canvas (not via the “magic eye” style that predominated malls in the 1990s). The technique’s ingenuity and challenging proportions could evoke the same sense of bewilderment from both an exclusive New York City gallery owner and Renaissance creative at Burning Man.

For his part, Kaláb is circumspect as to what he is trying to achieve with his breathtaking (and breathtakingly odd) pieces. “Making art is like trying to conquer unknown territory,” he said. “A space that doesn’t exist until you discover it. Sometimes the journey only takes you through fallow land; you ­ and a desolate island or get lost along the way. If you don’t stop looking, a completely new world may open before you. And it may just be so dazzling that it’ll transform the old one forever.”

Jan Kaláb | jankalab.com