Love and eroticism are recurring themes in Filko’s oeuvre, playing a particularly important role in all creative phases of the artist. This can be seen in numerous pieces on show in this exhibition. In Filko’s symbolic system, red, the color of love, stands for the physical realm (biology) and life energy.
In the center of the room stands the sculpture Heart of Love (1966), a construction of iron bars painted bright red that looks like a heart. The theme of love is seen pragmatically here, and in earlier arrangements this object also served as a kind of seat. Love appears as a personal phenomenon between intimacy and openness, as something quotidian whose diverse forms are denoted in this sculpture through a recognizable but very open shape. In the interior of Heart of Love different shapes can be discerned, perhaps suggesting a face, a phallic symbol, or a playground piece for children. In a straight and simple manner, and yet also full of premonition, the object entitled LOVE (ca. 1966) also seems to be raising a banner for love.
Not merely taking a position on the medium of the installation, Filko here also negotiates different aspects of the treatment of love and eroticism in painting, as well as in object and text art. Filko began to fictionalize his person in connection with the Venus of Moravany, as seen in his work from the series Slovak Venus (1958). This ancient Venus figurine was discovered some time before 1930 near Veľká Hradná, Filko’s Slovak place of birth, and it was estimated to stem from around 22,800 B.C. Filko used it to create a myth out of his own birth, which took more than three days in 1937, and of his own artistic impact. His Slovak Venus includes “25,000 BC” as a text-image, a generously rounded number that Filko sees in relation to his own lifetime and his effects on posterity. The color red is used here in connection with traditional symbols of fertility, blood, and birth. The wooden object Venus (1995) leans against the wall like a faded symbolic marker, denoting a place.
In the two works from the series of Plexiglas multiples, Female Breast (1966), here floating in the space, Filko takes a rather playful approach to the aesthetics of minimal art, but he heightens the emotional content through a strong use of different colors that can be seen as representing the opposing principles of life and cosmos, activity and passivity, and also tension and relaxation.
In Filko’s New York period (1982−90), the themes of love and eroticism play an important role. There, in the social and economic heart of America, Filko was confronted with new images of gender and with the capitalist pervasion of all fields of life.
Two painterly works from the two series Subject/EGO GEMINI (1963/1990) and EGO – ON – IN – RED (1990), both dark with bright red interruptions, address Filko’s complex relationship to the notion of the ego, which he saw as a central entity like a super-ego that he separated from his own self and then correspondingly heightened and generalized in social terms. He possibly also reflected on his own relationship to sexuality in these works. From the starting point of the black power of the ego, the spectrum includes feelings of both admiration and fear, and also a desire for control, between fulfillment and desperation is notable here.
In the work Old and New Testament (1983) it is again red that dominates. Filko included many found objects such as pieces of string, paint cans, and a broach in this diptych. The reference to the Old and New Testaments seems to amount to incorporating personal history within a historical framework rich with mythological narratives and sexualized events. The strikingly sculptural quality of what remains a painterly process as well as the psychoanalytical investigation of introspective and sexual elements of the self, aimed towards depicting society — not for the first time in Filko’s oeuvre — are reminiscent of the work of artists like Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. Filko thus also makes use of an activist, neo-expressive, and early post-media shift in painting that spilled over from the Californian West Coast, with its counterculture and spirituality, to take effect in Filko’s New York domicile, where it also recalled Vienna Actionism.
Filko attempts to integrate the full scope of reality into his artistic creations. This is very clearly the case particularly in the painting and sculpture of the American phase, for which the artist used a wide range of found objects. A notable example of this is the sculpture SPIRIT – Shadow Super Head Baby (1985), in which Filko addresses the difficulties he experienced and the longing he felt from his New York emigration for his family and friends back in Czechoslovakia. It is remarkable to see here how Filko succeeds in bringing together such a diverse and apparently arbitrary selection of materials into a single memorable form. The body of the figure is made of soft drinks bottles, soup and paint cans, partly overpainted and with added old items of clothing, all stuck into each other to rise up before the beholder.
Several works in the exhibition main hall also continue the body theme. Just around the corner from Side Gallery 3 there is a work that is formally untypical of Filko and thus all the more interesting, consisting of a stretcher frame to which a reflecting pink foil has been attached. With the title Woman – Venus – Scheherezade – Abstract (1985) Filko names various typological roles for women, from the loving mother to the dominant and powerful Scheherazade, a seductive and cunning character from the Persian tales in One Thousand and One Nights. Here the idea of the feminine as a threat to male decisiveness plays a role, while the tears and openings on the foil and the added Axe in Pink (1990) probably stand for an attempt to somehow manage these tensions.
Above this work hangs the double-sided work AIDS – STAN (1983), painted in large reddish letters. In New York in the 1980s, Filko was concerned about the rampant AIDS crisis, in which this new and initially uncurable immune deficiency caused great worry and fear particularly in the liberal art milieu. Filko addressed this theme in a series of installation paintings, as if he wanted to posit an inviting and warning counterpart with the bold simplistic letters standing for this ominous disease and the accompanying media hysteria.
The cursorily painted sculpture SPIRIT BABY (1985), hanging freely in the gallery, is a work that accompanies SPIRIT – Shadow Super Head Baby of the same year. A dynamic fluid sculpture is developed from several orange tubs, from which paint and soup cans are suspended, while a sign indicates the eventful year of 1982. In different creative periods always anew, works which topicalize death or illness are realized more or less simultaneously to pieces which in a similar way strive to mythologize the beginning of live.
Heart of Love / Srdce lásky, 1966
Metal construction, plastic strings, mirrors, found object (ventilator)
280 × 244 × 52 cm
LOVE / LÁSKA, ca. 1966
Paint, cardboard, canvas 126 × 81cm, tube 108 × 9 cm
From the Series Slovak Venus / Zo série Slovenská Venuša , 1958/ca. 1995
Mixed Media, cardboard
72,5 × 4,5 cm
Venus / Venuša, ca. 1995
113 × 27 × 4,5 cm
From the series Female Breast I – X (Red) / Zo série Ženský prsník I – X (Červený), 1966
Object, multiple, red Plexiglas, cord
74,5 × 56,5 × 17 cm
From the series Female Breast I – X (Blue) / Zo série Ženský prsník I – X (Modrý), 1966
Object, multiple, blue Plexiglas, cord
74,5 × 56,5 × 17 cm
From the series Subject/EGO GEMINI / Zo série Subjekt/EGO GEMINI, 1963/ca. 1990
Tempera, watercolor, acrylic, scratching, watercolor paper
42 × 30 cm
From the series EGO – ON – IN – RED / Zo série EGO – ON – IN – RED, ca. 1990
Mixed media, paper
70 × 50 cm
Old and New Testament / Starý a Nový Zákon, 1983
Diptych, assemblage, found objects, painting, cardboard
165 × 200 × 35 cm
SPIRIT – Shadow Super Head Baby, ca. 1985
Assemblage, found objects, painting
140 × 78 × 50 cm
Woman – Venus – Scheherezade – Abstract / Žena – Venuša– Šeherezáda – Abstrakt, 1985
210 × 120 cm
Axe in Pink / Ružová sekera, ca. 1990
Found object, paint
97 × 30 cm
Pink / Ružová, 1984
Assemblage, Found objects, acrylic, canvas
92 × 152 cm
AIDS – STAN, 1983
91 × 152 cm
SPIRIT BABY, 1985
160 × 70 cm
All works Courtesy Linea Collection, Bratislava; Layr, Vienna