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Fight between Hercules and Apollo for the Tripod

Fight between Hercules and Apollo for the Tripod
signed, inscribed and dated 'VOJTECH KOVARIK !! TRIPOD !! 2020 (1. PAINTING OF 2020)' (on the reverse)
acrylic and spray paint on canvas
78 ¾ x 98 3⁄8in. (200 x 250cm.)
Executed in 2020
Galerie Derouillon, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2020.
S. Bogojev, ‘Inside a Hidden Garden: A Conversation with Vojtěch Kovařík’, in Juxtapoz, 26 February 2020 (illustrated in colour).
Paris, Galerie Derouillon, Vojtěch Kovařík. Hidden Garden, 2020.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Executed on a monumental scale, spanning two and a half metres in width, Fight between Hercules and Apollo for the Tripod (2020) is a spectacular painting by Vojtěch Kovařík. Bathed in luminous, otherworldly colour, it captures his fascination with the heroes and deities of the ancient world. The work depicts the struggle between Hercules—known as Heracles in Greek mythology—and the god Apollo. According to legend, Hercules had travelled to Delphi to consult the oracle Pythia, after murdering his wife and children under the influence of madness. When she refused to answer his pleas for atonement, he flew into a rage, seizing the sacred tripod upon which she sat. Apollo tried to take it back from him, and a conflict broke out between the two, eventually forcing Zeus to intervene. Kovařík reimagines the scene in his distinctive idiom, blowing his figures up to heroic proportions before cropping them at the edges. Layering references to art history and popular culture, he asks how stories ingrained in our collective memory might be revitalised for the twenty-first century.

Kovařík was born and raised in the Czech Republic. He was introduced to the classical world by his art-loving parents, who took him on summer trips to Greece and showed him around Europe’s museums. With their macho, muscular forms, his subjects play with the stereotypes of masculine power and bravado that dominate ancient legend. In the process of exaggeration, however, his figures become forced out of the picture, their bodies too large for the space. The results are infused with both humour and pathos: his once-infallible icons suddenly seem vulnerable and caricatured. Hercules—one of the most famous heroes in Greco-Roman tradition—remains central to Kovařík’s enquiries. The child of a love affair between Zeus and the mortal princess Alcmene, he was known for his super-human strength and courage, as well as for his sexual prowess with both men and women. Kovařík’s recent cycle The Labours of Hercules, depicting the sequence of near-impossible tasks that Hercules was assigned to perform following his altercation with Apollo, was exhibited in Brussels earlier this year.

Kovařík takes his place within a long line of contemporary artists who have mined the legends of antiquity: from Francis Bacon and Cy Twombly to Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. His work draws heavily upon modern art history, with echoes of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau and Georg Baselitz lingering in the present painting. Elsewhere, he looks to influences from his Czech upbringing, including Brutalism, Soviet posters and film noir. Kovařík’s early training in ceramics and sculpture, too, has had an important impact upon his painterly technique. His use of a handmade spraying device, in particular, creates an almost stone-like texture, resembling—as he puts it—‘the patina of a statue’ (V. Kovařík, quoted in S. Bogojev, ‘Inside a Hidden Garden: A Conversation with Vojtêch Kovařík’, Juxtapoz, 26 February 2020). Here, passages of mottled paint give the illusion of an ancient frieze, its figures reborn in vibrant, electric colour.

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