We went back to Prague the day before our flight because we wanted to make sure we were not in a rush getting to the airport and we fancied seeing more of the city.  We also wanted to see Petra again and she had mentioned we could see her studio.  We were quite pleased with ourselves after our first train was delayed and we had to run to make the connection in Pilsen and we were just deciding what food we would order, when ticket lady came round and stamped our tickets and then gasped because we had got on the wrong train. We were not going to Prague, but instead on our way to the German border. The train said Praha on it because that is where is came from, not where it was going to.  Ticket lady stamped our ticket with something else and wrote something in Czech on it which we later found out meant ‘mistake’ and then we had to get off in a little town in the middle of nowhere and wait an hour for another train to Prague.

The cafe at the station was typically closed and when I went to the ticket guy to ask about the next train, he gave a sheepish look, closed his shutter and ran off. I went in search of food while Jayne looked after the bags.  I was very pleased with myself for stumbling upon a pizza place that I thought was closed until I saw some men making pizza through the window and then I was even more pleased with myself for communicating with the pizza man in German, feeling like the A Level that I enjoyed so much yet was so bad at, had finally come in handy.  And while I was waiting for the Pizza , you’ll never guess what, but station ticket man turns up to get his lunch and a huge bottle of coke, so I had his full attention in the pizza shop for all my questions.  I paid for the pizza and 2 cans of coke with the exact change we had left, down to the very penny.

Meanwhile back at the station, Jayne (who talks to everyone) had befriended a Czech lady called Eva who had also been on the wrong train, the same one as us, because she couldn’t get the door open and missed her stop.  She was meant to be in Pilsen where she works as a bio chemist. So we got to nearly go to Germany, have nice pizza lunch with much needed bright green broccoli on it and chat to a very nice interesting Czech lady in a detour that in the end didn’t matter that much.

When we got to Prague I went off to see Petra in her studio because I was very interested to see where she worked and what a studio in Prague might be like. Photos are below.   Also Petra said she was meeting a friend there later to give her a hair cut, so I was hopeful that she might cut my hair as well, because I refuse to pay for haircuts and just find people who sort of known what they are doing to cut it for free. I did get my haircut and had a very nice visit to the studio. Petra shares with two guys who have desk space and she has a room to herself, which is a perfect size with a window. They have a little communal kitchen and seating bit. The whole place has a good feel to it. It is in a nice area and well kept with central heating for the freezing cold winter months. Petra pays about £100 a month, which reflects the comfort of the whole setup.

It was nice to see how she works in her studio, because she makes installations and we never seem to get installation artists in my studios in Liverpool.  Petra has just been offered a residency in Holland at Studio Complex and Hangarrrrrr   where she will create an artwork that will be displayed in their sculpture garden. She is trying to rent out her apartment in Prague for while she is away, but rented it to an escort through an Air b&b type website, only realising after the deal was done! It’s ok, she’s sorted it.



Jayne somehow managed to book us into THE BEST hostel in Prague, Czech Inn, in the hipster transformed Vinohrady area, away from the touristy bits of town. We loved it round there. We went to a fabulous vegan cafe for tea, which did a lot of raw food and all beautifully presented and then met Petra at a great little bar for cocktails at £11 a round.  On Prague I am sold.


I thought I would use my time in Klaster to pursue some of the themes that interest me in a more experimental way than I would do back at home. When I am making work at in Liverpool I feel like the things I do need to be part of a bigger project or that I must deliver some kind of final artwork, but I feel less pressure when I am away to have a go with some bits and see what happens.


One of the general themes of my work is collage. I like to assemble different images to to make a composition that satisfies me. I like to incorporate nature and structure, patters, symbols and repeats. It comes from my interest in order and disorder. I like to depict landscapes because that is something a viewer can instantly connect with. Figurative painting is about creating an illusion. If l can bring people in with something they recognise, I can then add other things in that may be strange or abstract but the viewer will still attempt to make sense of it.


Around Nepomuk there are patterns and signs on the streets and buildings. It is the same in any town but there will be variations especially between different countries. Here are some of the patterns and signs that caught my eye in Nepomuk.



I used the polystyrene sheets to make printing blocks of some of the patterns and symbols.



I then tried incorporating them into mono print drawings of the landscape in Klaster. Here are the results.



I have been trying to paint pattern in my recent paintings and now I am debating whether to print the pattern instead. It doesn’t always work if you are using linear perspective, it depends how abstract you want the painting to be.
Here are some pictures of what Jayne has been doing.



There are all sorts of treasures in the house. Some belong to Barry because he collects and sells old things and some were here in the house already. Jayne used one of the empty rooms to make an exhibition of some of the things she found in the house.
Other than making some art, we have chatted with Barry about how he could develop the Klaster Studios project, learnt something about the Czech people and what it is like living in the Czech countryside, had bonfires in the garden, visited an empty fairytale castle in the next village, watched people swimming in the lake, learnt about St John of Nepomuk, drank mango rum and very cheap beer, talked about how Barry will arrange a performance of his opera in Liverpool had a BBQ on the fire with Klarka the little girl and her Mother Lenka, learned how to say cheers, hello and fish in Czech and I visited the Nemejc birthplace (Nemejc is a renowned Czech painter from Nepomuk) and Jayne got a lady with keys to let her climb up the church with a garlic bulb top and touch the bell. And the weather has been glorious!


We’re returning to Prague now for one night and hoping to see our artist friend Petra again.


I’ve been printing in the garden. I brought basic printing stuff for mono printing and a bit of block printing using some polystyrene sheets. I think printing can be quite sociable. Jayne has had a go and also Barry’s husband Joe and Klarka, the little girl from down the road. I started by just drawing what’s around me, because I find that is usually the best way to start.  Jayne is building an installation in one of the rooms using some of the things she has found in the house. Barry has played me some of his Opera Nepomuk and explained the story along with the music, while going in and out of singing and conducting.  There is one scene where the king Wenceslas and St John are sat on the banks of the river, talking about power. Barry imagines this conversation could have really taken place right here in the Klaster Studios garden.



We have arrived in Nepomuk. We took a train from Prague to Pilsen and from Pilsen to Nepomuk. We were a bit confused getting of the train in Nepomuk because there wasn’t a platform on either side of the train, but you just get out and walk over the tracks. No wonder Piotr didn’t think it was such a big deal to take a short cut over the tracks to get to Meet Factory. We’re staying at a motel in Nepomuk because Barry’s house in Klaster still needs renovation work doing and it’s more comfortable in the motel and also really cheap, about £8 a night, sharing a room. We went into Nepomuk for a meal at the local pub, then Barry took us in the car to Klaster, which is a small village next to Nepomuk.

When Barry wanted to buy a place in the Czech Republic, he just went looking for somewhere next to water and the house he bought in Klaster, right next to the lake, popped up on his internet search. This is the house that Barry is developing into Klaster Studios. Klaster is build on the site of an old monastery which was built because there was a gold mine there. Barry jokes that his house is literally sitting on a gold mine. Shame no one can find any more gold. Remains of the monastery van be seen around the village. Looking across the lake from the house you can see the castle on the hill, which is between Klaster and Nepomuk. It really is a sight to behold, especially in the evening as the sun goes down, with the castle in golden light and the deserted lake with just a pub to one side with a few people drinking and enjoying the view. Barry’s house was actually the village pub in the past but they moved it. He’s not entirely sure why. Maybe it was easier to build a new one than renovate an old building. Anyway, as Barry says, they sacrificed the view of the castle.



It takes about 20 mins to walk from Nepomuk to Klaster. Nepomuk famed for being the home of St John of Nepomuk, the saint of Bohemia in the late 14th Century, who was drowned in the Vltava river, as requested by Wenceslaus, King of the Romans and King of Bohemia. It is believed that St John was confessor of the queen of Bohemia but refused to divulge her secrets to the King.



Project Nepomuk begins with Barry’s house and its potential to be developed into Klaster Studios and with an opera that Barry has written, about the story of St John of Nepomuk. Barry’s plan is to hold a performance of the opera in Nepomuk and in Liverpool while building a cultural exchange between the two places. It’s not possible to live in the house in the state it is in at the moment, but it is perfect for studios. There are a number of rooms that could be used as studios in their current state and there is a working toilet and kitchen area. The house is well insulated, the walls are so deep, with that old fashioned style double glazing, where there is a window on each side of the wall with a gap in between. The middle floor is the one most habitable and includes a huge room where Barry stores lots of furniture and interesting things that he has picked up over the years in the uk, Germany and Czech Republic.

The ground floor, Barry believes, is the ancient baths. It appears like it should go down further and has been filled with mud up to a certain level. There is also the opening to a tunnel which has been blocked off, but at one point lead up to the castle. Barry says that the people here loved building tunnels. The upper floor is one huge space that includes the rafters of the roof. The house is full of treasures: old tiles, glass bottles, other indescribable things. The place is ideal for artist residencies. It is easy enough to get to by train from Prague, beautiful, tranquil and with a rich history. It’s not really in a state where you would want to live there for a long period, but if artists came they could take up accommodation elsewhere in Klaster or Nepomuk and just use the house and garden as a workspace.



We have arrived in Praha! Actually we have left Praha already because as I am writing we are on our way to Klaster via Pilsen and Nepomuk. We only spent two full days in Prague. We stayed in the Artharmony hostel which is a little bohemia in itself. Our room is rainforest chique decor and the hostel itself is full of all sorts of all sorts of funny things, including a lot of fake foliage, birds, wind chimes, a child sized toy horse, paintings of horses, an out of tune piano and a window filled with dried pasta. Peter, who manned the reception a lot of the time we were there, told us that he had researched the building and during WWII it was occupied by the SS as the Ukrainian headquarters. In the 70s it was a brothel.


The first day we went to the Meet Factory for a tour. Through a friend, Jayne was put in touch with Piotr, who works there and he kindly showed us round the gallery, residency space and the Galerie Kostka (Cube Gallery) upstairs, which is a fairly new venture. I liked the exhibition in there a lot. It was by an artist called Lukas Machalicky and the constructions, which you can see in the photos, are made from spirit levels and the whole ‘cube’ is painted red, just for this particular exhibition. I was very impressed with the effort made with the red painting. I don’t want to neglect mentioning the moving image in the screen which was also good to look at but I don’t think there’s much you can say to describe abstract video art and you’ll just have no idea what I’m on about.



Meet Factory is a humongous all encompassing venue in an industrial area of Prague where lots of regeneration is planned for the future. Despite the fact that Czech Republic has money problems just like many other countries, Piotr tells us that there has been an increase in funding for the arts. Meet factory is being rented for a pound a year or something silly, on the proviso that they do good creative things in there. They receive funding to enable them to run the exhibition programme and also a residency programme. You can read more about the residency programme here and there is also a call for proposals for the Kostka Gallery at the moment.  http://www.meetfactory.cz/en/program/residency


Photos below are of the meet Factory and surrounding area. You have to either walk the long way round or illegally run the train tracks to get there from the tram stop. Pietr said you just need to look out for the police before you do it but we didn’t want to risk getting deported.



Jayne also arranged for us to meet a Czech artist based in Prague called Petra Hudgova, through a friend of hers. We met her later that evening and instantly hit it off which is a really nice feeling. Apart from that, her work, which we only saw from her website, looks fantastic. She has done a lot of residencies. I think for some people it really suits the way they work. Do check out her website here. http://petrahudcova.com/  I hope we can see her again but I don’t think those sorts of things can be too prescriptive. I think you need to make the effort to meet a load of great people and then one day something comes up and you think, oh I know who might be interested in that and maybe the same could happen with them about you.


Petra came to the Gerhard Richter retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery with us the next day. We were all of the general consensus that the man can paint. What I love so much about Richter is that he just does whatever he wants. For artists who are not famous, I feel like there is lots of pressure to limit the number of different things that you do because you don’t want to come across as being unfocussed. I can see sense in that but I don’t think it is always the best way. You could argue that in terms of his paintings at least, Richter does have a focus though, in as much as the focus is on how to make a great painting. In the exhibition, the abstract paintings were hung alongside figurative paintings, which made complete sense relating to how we should understand his work.



We also went to Galerie Nod which is an independent cafe/bar and gallery. I felt pretty lucky to see yet more seriously great painting. Some work is exhibited in the bar area and there is more in a conventional gallery space round the back. In a fairly large room with seating, which is part of the cafe, there was an installation by an artist called David Kolovratnik, made from large figurative paintings and projection mapping. See photos below and more info here. The images are moving in a full circle all around the room, but does not project on the paintings, although the do have a light grid projected onto them. I imagine people who know about this kind of stuff will know how it was done, but not only was it impressive in a technical sense, I loved the execution of paintings and the way they were brought together as one artwork though the moving image. The tone is set with the darkened room and the monochrome projection, almost like a veil between you and the paintings. These images give you an idea, but of course it’s not like seeing the real thing, because there is nothing like seeing art for real. It’s even more exciting when you see something you really like.