The Statue of Liberty – in addition to New York and Paris, you can now see it in Prague too. The work of art Statue of Liberty by street artist Michal Škapa, a.k.a. Tron, and architect and interior designer Pavla Doležalová of Studio Unarch is now on display at the SAPELI Unlimited showroom in Karlín’s Butterfly building. Members of the public can admire the work in this unique space, which serves as a design laboratory and provides architects and their clients with a comfortable setting in which to conceive bespoke interiors.
What brought you two together?
Pavla: A love of light!
Michal: How did we meet? It was a coincidence. But coincidences don’t exist, do they.
Pavla: We met at an exhibition. Michal and I have known one another for a long time, since we were youngsters, but we hadn’t seen each other for some time. As fate would have it, we met at the Duo Neone exhibition at Galleri Trafo, where Michal was exhibiting his paintings and objects with integrated neon tubes. I love light. I do custom interiors and very much enjoy working with light, so I really liked the exhibition.
Michal, what kind of relationship do you have with light, and why does you work often feature neons?
Michal: I’ve been working with neon tubes since about 2005. Neon is a wonderful thing. The technique makes use of the luminous properties of the gas. It has a unique spectrum of colours, and the tubes can be shaped in interesting ways. It’s a genuine craft. I have the utmost admiration for the glassmakers who shape the tubes.
But the technique isn’t as common today as in years past when neon lights were used in store signs and on buildings and so on. With new technologies and the use of other sources of advertising lighting and types of sign making, neon lights are on the decline, and the craft is slowly dying out.
I use neon tubes as part of my paintings. Later, I also began using them separately, making various lighting objects out of them. I first included them in a composition in 2015, when I did a painting with concentrated circles and wanted to highlight one of them. I gradually began using them more, particularly in combination with canvas, perforated canvas, and the neon lights penetrate it and make it look like they’re emerging from it.
I designed my first independent lighting installation in 2017 for the Signal festival. I did a light sculpture titled Zjevení (Apparition) for the Atrium in Prague’s Žižkov district. The figure related to the spirit of the venue, a deconsecrated Baroque chapel. Currently, the work is in a private collection.
How did your collaboration come about? And why the Statue of Liberty?
Pavla: The initiative for it came from the specialist interior door company APOLO, which I’ve worked with for a number of years in creating interiors. They asked us to come up with something on the topic of the Statue of Liberty. And we both liked the idea. With regard for the world today and everything that’s been going on with the coronavirus and so.
Michal: Yeah, a kind of libertyless Statue of Liberty.
Pavla: The main idea was to take Michal’s art and give it a new material, to create a transparent work that you can look into and catch a glimpse of freedom. And his layers, the way he works with them on canvas, turn that around so instead of having the neon lights above the painting, they’re actually beneath it, because it’s going to be on glass. That transparency lets you penetrate the core, where there are more layers, the innards of Liberty herself. Those are the neons.
Michal: It was also good that we pretty much dove into the project headfirst. But that’s what I liked about it. You don’t always have to spend years contemplating a thing. And we did a good job of inspiring each another.
Pavla: No one really knew what it was going to look like. And because I work with SAPELI Unlimited, the work was conceived and designed specifically for their showroom in Karlín. And it was a surprise for them, too, right up to the last minute.
Could you describe for us your Statue of Liberty in a bit more detail?
Michal: It’s a light box that’s entirely transparent. Its back and side walls are made of plexiglass; the front is glass, two layers. On the first layer, I created a stylized image of the Statue of Liberty, a brisk style of painting embellished with various gestural strokes and subliminal messages, because we both like that. It’s all in colours, and behind this image there are neon tubes, again in layers.
Pavla: The painting is on glass, which was a new material for Michal to put his art on. And glass was chosen intentionally, because I spent a lot of time thinking about how best to protect the work from damage. Since Sapeli Unlimited is a subsidiary of SAPELI a.s., which owns a factory that specializes in processing plate glass and has the technology to fuse two pieces of glass together so that whatever is in between them is untouchable and undamageable, we ended up choosing this material as the support for Michal’s artwork.
Michal: Right. It was new and we enjoyed it, the way the different colours responded to the heat of the furnace, and we specifically choose colours and a technique that would underscore the artistry of the piece even more.
Pavla: What I like about the piece most is that you can see into it. Thanks to the light of the neon tubes and the reflections off the surrounding plexiglass and glass surfaces, the whole work keeps multiplying ad infinitum. And this is where another aspect of the effect of the work comes in, that endless reflection. Much of my work has to do with space, and I like when spaces overlap one another and the boundaries between them become blurred. This work is brilliant in that on the outside it’s a simple transparent box, and thanks to the inner reflectivity, its boundaries are disrupted and you’re suddenly taken by a sense of endlessness. And its boundaries actually disappear. It’s the same way the statue calls from afar thanks to the light, the effect it has beyond its own boundaries. And that’s also how it works from within. Considering its placement in the SAPELI Unlimited showroom, where there’s a glass façade and the interior communicates directly with the surrounding parterre, liberty projects itself outwards as it bounces off the showroom glazing. From inside, it looks as if the statue is standing outside. And all these levels are what form the dimension of liberty.
What we really like about the topic is that it can be applied to any period.
Michal: The topic of liberty is an important one in any time. For me, it’s also that aspect of being able to peer inside through the shell and analytically view the innards of that liberty and muse upon the idea of seeking truth and answers to various questions.
And what comes next? Are you working on another joint project? Is your collaboration going to continue?
Michal: This was the kickoff, a project we were able to try out collaboration on, and because it worked out very well and Pavla and I inspire one another and generate new ideas together, we’ve established a creative duo. We call ourselves MAGIC CREW. I think we’ve got an interesting future ahead of us. We want to continue creating singular objects, and they’ll always be designed for a specific space or client.
Pavla: We want to combine our work and take it to the next level.
This unique work of art by MAGIC CREW will be on display in Karlín at the SAPELI Unlimited showroom from April until roughly summer. World-class design is the common denominator between renowned artists and the SAPELI Unlimited brand, a new sales concept tailored to meet the needs of discerning clients and architects. The showroom is a design laboratory that approaches each client and architect individually, offering premium components and materials for bespoke concepts arising from close personal collaboration.