(Behind the Mirror of Reality)
(Notes on the work of Bohdan Hostiňák)
When Štefan Hostiňák invited me to his apartment in Svidník over thirty years ago to show me the paintings of his son Bohdan who was a high school student at that time, I was astonished by the focus on imaginative, surrealistic origins and relationships where the story and colour were in a way overshadowed.
Considering the age of the young artist, they were very thoughtful compositions, saturated with symbolic elements, which, with their narrative communicability, were close to the imagery of the literary text. This feature became a starting point characteristic of the following work of Bohdan Hostiňák (1968), where the fiction and the illusion meet.
Eventually, Bohdan Hostiňák started studying at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava at the age of 23, when he was quite well-oriented in what he wanted to do in art.
It is not surprising that after the years he said that the studio director gave him great freedom in terms of creative direction: "I accepted the tutor, but I didn‘t feel any connection with my program, so it worked without stronger inner bonds "(Moses 1997, p. 21), which he didn’t regret as a student (Geržová 2009, p. 335).
Bohdan Hostiňák established himself in Slovak art quite quickly. Already during his university studies he exhibited his paintings several times not only in Bratislava, but also in other Slovak cities (Košice, Senica, Žilina), and abroad (Regensburg, Hamburg, Paris, London, Moscow, Prague, Ostrava, Budapest, Kiev).
He even managed to present himself at seven individual exhibitions (Prague, Vienna, Košice, Banská Bystrica, Bratislava). Naturally, after he graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava in 1997, he expanded these activities considerably.
The result was monographs, numerous texts in catalogs of exhibitions, and a response to his work. Probably the most important moment was the incorporation of Bohdan Hostiňák's paintings into the broadly conceived overview of the history of Slovak art in the 20th century as part of the long-term exhibition project of the Slovak National Gallery (Jablonská 2000, p. 104).
Due to connecting of „unconnectable“ to a coherent whole, the poetics of the early Hostiňák’s compositions was quite close to the collages and assemblages of the Slovak artist Otis Laubert (1946), who emphasized the "hidden grace and artistic values of a small detail" (Rusinová 2000, p. 158).
In the review of the Prague exhibition, Martin Dostál (1995) noticed "the ironic web of various narratively imaginative associations supported by a sarcastically fine painting that provokes the visitor by its particular kunsthistorical intangibility." An analogous characteristic could be used to analyze his father's poems, so the direction of the young artist was probably not entirely random.
Four paintings by Bohdan Hostiňák from 1993-1994 appeared among the acquisitions of the Slovak National Gallery in 1995, and soon they became a part of the permanent exhibition in Bratislava. Looking for them among the latest works would be pointless. His paintings with insect larvae placed in a ragged ground plan or cross section of a medieval church were exhibited as a contemporary counterpoint nearby Gothic painting paintings.
It should be noted that these are compositions from a period when he was practically only at the beginning of the study at the acedemy. Years later, B. Hostiňák referred to them as following: "I was interested by the greatest possible tensions and contrasts that occurred in the picture. It was actually a game with a scale where it was not clear whether the temple is absurdly miniature, adapted to the world of the microcosm, or vice versa, the insect is enormously enlarged. At the same time, the sacral space is changing. [...] In the cocoon, the whole body is being built up and another creature is hatched. These were the images contemplating about spiritual transformation. So the negative association was supposed only to discourage the one that wasn’t a votary. [...] It seems to me that in the temple there is the least of sacred, and that everyday reality is much more divine "(Geržová 2009, p. 336).
Because of the flatness of painting and the emphasized line, his elder academy colleague Robert Bielik said about similar paintings: "One thing is slushing and somehing different is painting. Bohdan started painting after school. At school, he slushed surfaces and drew beatles"(Geržová 2009, p. 317).
Jana Pivovarniková (1998, p. 308) agreed with this with R. Bielik in a review of the Hostiňák exhibition, where she didn’t find any painting qualities, which she considered as his intention "to look as though the media of print, photography, television. This way, paradoxically, he is applying his own point of view (in the sense of an intellectual one), and his own vivid idea of the world disappears here together with the painting."
R. Bielik „wasn’t interested“ in work of Bohdan Hostiňák and "he discussed more essential things [...] with classmates such as Roman Ondák, Cyril Blažo and Boris Ondreička, who were in higher grades" (Geržová 2009, p. 335) .
The variety, sometimes even the contradictions of the students' opinions of the same year, even with the same professor, was distinctive. The words of Dorota Sadovská about R. Bielik and B. Hostiňák can prove it: "None of these artists wanted to discuss the painting with me. I have to say it bluntly, communication happened somewhere else. I talked more to the people who created the objects and the installations "(Geržová 2009, p. 345).
His interest in spiders, various parasites, invertebrates, insects and arthropods in general resulted into numerous images created by a technically cold and precise line resembling the illustrations from the encyclopedia of the father's library that he had been browsing in childhood.
However, Hostiňák created regular printed ornamental shapes from the penetrations of the details of these animals. The focus on such simple organisms was for B. Hostiňák, as he remarked himself, "a link between non-existence and being, the primordial emergance of living matter from an inorganic world that has begun to be organized" Geržová 2009, p. 336).
Concurrently with the motifs of „temple insect", images were created, where, at first glance, the repellent organisms were replaced by elegant, human-made rockets in various phases – starting from stationary constructions to starter machines, which come out of the sacral space to overcome or destroy vault of the basilica.
Another frequent motif in B. Hostiňák's works in the 90's was deer with rich antler. This traditional, often kitschy element was unexpectedly complemented by meandering snakes, flying missiles, and lightenings straying between the antlers, creating images combining the worlds of different realities.
Having been inspired by Presocratic scholars, B. Hostiňák was fascinated by the idea of lightning, "that rules the order of the world" (Mojžiš 1997, p. 20). This continuated in his paintings of exploding volcanoes at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. The artist, as R. Bielik noted, was already painting at this period.
Determining some partial artistic goals is very significant for B. Hostiňák. If we look back at his work, we will find that he actually succeeded in fulfilling him. When he told in one interview what he was planning to do next in 1997, it was hard to assume that there would be not only a radical change of the subject with the dominant landscape and figure, but also the painting language.
The plasticity of shapes started to occur, as well as the real, even though the idealized landscape. However, he continued to develop his work continuously, without severe jumps, which only confirmed his words, published twenty years ago: "My thinking changes, so it lives" (Mojžiš 1997, p. 20).
B. Hostiňák remembers about this period of his work: "When I looked behind me, I could see distortions and the tragic vision of the world in my paintings. I considered it a weakness. The reaction was an inclination to a pure idyllic landscape, I wanted to paint an idyll - the state of peace" Geržová 2009, p. 338).
This feature of one stage of B. Hostiňák's work is very similar to paintings of Dezider Milly, who did not resolve the tragic or conflicting moments superficially, but in the symbolic, proxy plane: to numerous World War II events he responded by a plethora of variations of a tragically calm, melancholic female figure (Wandering) at the background of symbolic hills resembling his native Kyjov in eastern Slovakia, and not by fighting expositions.
Thus Bohdan Hostiňák began painting his Arcade. The rivers he used to observe during his childhood in the vicinity of Svidník became a type of colorful, unrealistic views of the landscape in the spirit of digital technology.
These works were created within 1998-2002. Along with the clean landscape, he painted canvas where a human, mostly a female figure appears on the background of trees and a colorful flora.
He added the water level, in which the figure melts and mirrors in the shimmering, eternal movements of the surface of the water element. Even with these images, the words of Bohdan Hostiňák are confirmed: "I’m attracted by the pre-cultivated tendencies in art, also some aspects of surrealism, but the emphasised dominance of subconscious, the dictate of automatism bothers me" (Mojžiš 1997, p. 20).
At a time when the claims about the disappearance or the out-of-date painting re-appear, there are artists who are not afraid of being "outdated". They even make the program of the "out-of-dated" the base of their work.
Undoubtedly, Bohdan Hostiňák belongs to the outstanding artists in this context, since he walked his way from depicting the paradoxical parasite motifs and lightning to strawberries and female bathing acts behind the mirror of reality (classics).
Here we can fully agree with Vladimír Beskid, the curator of several exhibitions of B. Hostiňák: "Hostiňák is the heir of neoclassical and Neoplatonic Greek Byzantine tradition, which he as an essential painter rewrites into the present image language. Drop the rough descriptions of illusive and realistic painting - it's a symbolic, coded image language.
The artist calls for figures and objects from the organic and inorganic world, he gives them his own energy and the logic of meeting in the immobile caption of the image field. Hostiňák is a thoughtful and mystical painter without pathetic gestures"(Beskid 2013).
BESKID, Vladimír. Bohdan Hostiňák. Galerie Caesar, 2013 (online). Cit. 2017-03-13. Available at: http://www.galeriecaesar.cz/Galerie%20Archiv/2013/258_hostinak/hostinak.htm
DOSTÁL, Martin. Paroží s jedovatými hady. In: Lidové noviny, 25.2.1995.
GERŽOVÁ, Jana. Rozhovory o maľbe. Pohľad na slovenskú maľbu prostredníctvom orálnej histórie. Bratislava: VŠVU, Slovart, 2009. 398 p. ISBN 978-80-8085-939-8.
GRUSKA, Damas. Popis jedného zápasu. 06.04.2014. (online) Cit. 2017-03-13. Available at: https://kultura.pravda.sk/kniha/clanok/313686-popis-jedneho-zapasu/
HOSTYŇAK, Stepan. Z istoriji samooborony“ [Z dejín samoobrany]. Prešov: SPN – OUL, 1989.
JABLONSKÁ, Beata. Maľba v postmodernej situácii. In: RUSINOVÁ, Zora (ed.). Dejiny slovenského výtvarného umenia. 20. storočie. Bratislava: Slovenská národná galéria, 2000, p. 98-106. ISBN 80-8059-031-1.
MOJŽIŠ, Juraj. Súčasná výtvarná scéna VIII. Rozhovor s Bohdanom Hostiňákom – Moje myslenie sa mení, teda žije. In: Nové slovo bez rešpektu, year 7, 1997, # 38, p. 20-21.
PIVOVARNÍKOVÁ, Jana. Správy z výstav. In: Slovenské pohľady: na literatúru, umenie a život.Year 114, # 7 - 8 (1998), p. 307-309.
RUSINOVÁ, Zora. Bohdan Hostiňák. Bratislava: Koloman Kertész Bagala, 2005. 183 p. ISBN 80-89129-59-5.
RUSINOVÁ, Zora. Objekt v multimediálnych kontextoch. In: RUSINOVÁ, Zora (ed.). Dejiny slovenského výtvarného umenia. 20. storočie. Bratislava: Slovenská národná galéria, 2000, p. 149-162. ISBN 80-8059-031-1.
Translated from the Slovak by Ivana Grešlíková
 Bohdan Hostiňák (1968) was born in Svidník in the family of Štefan Hostiňák, a poet and literal historian at the Museum of Ukrainian Culture, an important representative of the contemporary literature of the Ukrainian national minority in Slovakia (the selection of his poems also appeared in the Czech translation of JaroslavKabíček:StepanHostyňak, Prague: Mladá fronta, 1982, Slovak selection was translated by Marián Heveši: Inventarizácia, Košice: Východoslovenské vydavateľstvo, 1987). Thanks ot this he was basically in day-to-day contact with books, including those about the art, which in many ways directed his efforts to express not only a visualized story that would be presented first, but vice versa - to use not every accessible metaphoric encryption key. B. Hostiňák studied at the Secondary School of Art Industry in Košice - Restoration Department (1983-1987) at Nikolaj Feďkovič, a graduate of the Prague Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (Prof. Z. Sklenář). B. Hostiňák extended his studies to the stonework department of the same school (1987-1989). Then he briefly went to work in restoration workshops. In 1991-1997 he graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Bratislava, the atelier of prof. Rudolf Sikora.
 B. Hostiňák commented it later: "There was a time when literature was more important for me than life. When I went out into nature, I was at the Military Museum of the Dukla operation at the same time. Tanks peeked out from the tall grass, a bit furrther there was a piece of artillery battery, not far from them some other things, and there was cattle grazing in between "(Mojžiš 1997, p. 20). By the way, B. Hostiňák's close bond with literature is suggested by his portrait photography, where he is captured with long lines of hundreds of books on the shelves (Rusinová 2005, p. 170). We can often notice poetry of colors in poems Š. Hostiňák, e.g.: "Povidomlennja pro vystavku osinnich koľoriv" (The Announcement on the Exhibition of Autumn Colors) in the collection "Z istoriji samooborony" [From the history of self-defense]. Prešov: SPN - OUL, 1989, p. 74.
 Damas Gruska (2014) also pointed at the fact that some Hostiňák’s paintings borders with kitsch.
 "In the near future, I want to work on figurative painting, landscape, still life, and in the broadest possible way. Probably it’s a matter of art speech. Figuratively speaking, so far I have been using the same number of words, maybe one sentence. But I was able to express precisely what I was interested in by the means I’d chosen" (Mojžiš 1997, p. 21).
 Dezider Milly (1906-1971), a Slovak painter originally from the local Ukrainian ethnicity. The Gallery of Dezider Milly's Museum of the Ukrainian Culture in Svidník is named after him. He studied at the Academy of Arts in Prague (1926-1933, Prof. J. Schusser, A. Hofbauer).