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On the coronavirus in America

Fast Confession - artist Maxim Havlíček from LA: Americans don‘t give a damn about the quarantine

Karolína Lišková
06.May 2020
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8 minutes to read
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Maxim je v Americe uznávaným umělcem.

MAXIM has lived in America for over twenty years. Nevertheless, he is still Czech through and through and regularly returns to his home country for several months every year. Not only to present his paintings, which we have witnessed the last time, but mainly because of his family, too. The artist is now locked up in hot California with his family due to the coronavirus pandemic. The travel ban prevented him from going home as planned. In an interview for LP-Life.cz, he talked about how quarantine looks like on the other side of the globe and how the the coronavirus will affect art.

S dcerkou tráví čas v karanténně v novém bytě v LA.
Umělec nezahálí.
Nové kousky v Maximově ateliéru.

You‘re in Los Angeles, what are you all going through?

Same things you‘re going through, I guess. It‘s strange, I‘ve never thought we'd live to see this. Until recently, we used to read about pandemics, great plagues, thinking it was all history. It has never occurred to me that something like this could happen in the twenty-first century. Definitely not on such a scale.

America got hit a little later than we did, how do you feel about the regulations? In your case, they are issued by individual governors rather than by the president.

We have the advantage that the governors of the states have more power when it comes to the regulations than the president, so basically what the governor says goes, and the president cannot do much about it. The worst part is that the president didn‘t issue any regulations. According to studies, the coronavirus has been present in America since the autumn of last year, but we didn‘t know about it. In the fall, a lot of people were sick, and it‘s hard to say who‘s already had it and who hasn't. It's all weird. I often imagine it's just a nightmare that we‘ll wake up from.

In California, we have to stay at home, we‘re under a state-ordered quarantine, pretty much like you in the Czech Republic. We‘ve been under quarantine since March 19. California was the first state in the United States to issue this measure. The only problem in America is that Americans don‘t have discipline like Europeans. Europe has historically gone through wars, oppresive regimes, and every change has established some discipline. People had to accept it, whether it was good or bad, they are quite used to accepting regulations. That's a good thing right now.

Prodej luxusního domu, Praha-západ - 226m
Prodej luxusního domu, Praha-západ - 226m, Okolí Prahy

America hasn‘t gone through anything like that internally, there is a lack of discipline. Of course, it went through external issues during the wars and had its own civil war, but that‘s more than one hundred and fifty years ago. There are, give or take, 10 million people in the Czech Republic, LA itself has a larger population, and that's just one city. Thinking about that, something like this isn‘t really manageable here. The principle on which America was built is, above all, freedom. People who didn‘t want to have discipline elsewhere came here to live a free life. And that runs throughout the whole history of America.

We already have protests here, with people proclaiming they won‘t let the government dictate what they can and cannot do. Most of the time it‘s just recommendations anyway, not like in the Czech Republic. In California, quarantine is obligatory, but in most states it is only a recommendation, and Americans don‘t give a damn about it.

Are face masks required?

Yes, since Easter, but only in LA County. We went for a walk yesterday, and that's not super enjoyable either. It's a big city, our beaches and parks are closed and you can't really go anywhere. You walk on hot concrete with a stroller and breathe into a face mask, the temperatures are in the thirties and it's not very pleasant. But fifty percent of people weren‘t wearing face masks anyway.

Are there any fines?

Face masks aren‘t fined, trespassing in closed areas is, and the fines are sky high. But they can‘t have eyes everywhere, the city is huge. It's not like in the Czech Republic, the crime rate is still high here and checking whether people are wearing face masks isn‘t even a secondary priority, it‘s somewhere at the very bottom.

You must have been watching what was happening in Europe, specifically in the Czech Republic. Did you know it was coming? Were you scared?

I wouldn‘t say I was scared. When it all came down in China, I knew it would eventually get here, but I didn't know it was going to be so dramatic. We had SARS and MERS, so I thought it would be something like that. A similar virus. It would be tackled in a few weeks, people wouldn‘t shake hands and that would be the end of it. Little did I know that it would reach such enormous proportions, and globally affect all people on Earth.

How has it affected you economically?

That's crazy. I only purchase materials such as flax from people who do it as a wholesaler, and that's all closed now. It's hard for me to get the special materials I use, and I'm not really in the mood either. The days go by, I don't even know what day it is, and I don't care much. The only thing that gives me any idea about time is whether there is light or darkness outside.

I started working on a new quarantine paper series at home, now that I‘m not going to the studio. I've been chipping away at it, but it's not the same at home. I need a space that I can mess up completeley and then get lost in it. I need that freedom with no regard to anything. And so I‘m spending more time on facetime with my family now. We were supposed to fly to Prague in May, we‘ll try to come in June if at all possible.

Even if planes were already flying, you‘d still have to self quarantine for a fortnight.

Either that, or get tested. But we would be coming for three or four months anyway. My parents haven't seen the baby yet. We‘ve moved to a larger place in LA in February, now that we have a baby, so that more people, family and friends could visit us. But no one will come here now. It sucks.

The last time you were here was in the summer, you had a huge exhibition. Do you still have any paintings here?

I do. All the paintings that haven‘t been sold are in the depository.

Would you do another exhibition if you flew to the Czech Republic?

I wasn‘t planning it, but you never know with me. Now that everything‘s been banned, we will all be hungry. I was thinking that I would like to use this year only for the creative work and finish a completely new series. It was going great before all this happened. I have already finished about twelve new large-format paintings in the studio and started a couple more.

I'll see how the situation develops, how I‘ll feel when I get back to it, and how the connection to the new paintings will have changed. It's all very much about the moment. And that's somewhere else now. I'm really looking forward to the new and the unknown, to rediscovering it in that new moment.

Last time you said that your creative process is affected by how you feel at the moment. Now everyone is depressed…

It‘s not really depressing for me. It's just something we weren't prepared for. I‘m more frustrated than depressed. I had to put everything aside and I don't have things under control. But I try to perceive it as if I took two months off. It's hard, but you adapt.

Prodej luxusního bytu, Troja - 107m2
Prodej luxusního bytu, Troja - 107m2, Praha 7

But at least you get to enjoy your little one.

Exactly. I call my parents and my brother every day, I spend time with my daughter, I play silly games on the Playstation, I watch TV series, we drink wine. I‘m doing things that I normally don't have much time for. It‘s not like we can change things anyway.

I think a lot about what it will be like when it's all over. Selling paintings is always difficult, for the vast majority of the population, visual art - and art in general - is a completele non-essential thing, and it will be all the more difficult in the post-covid world. On the other hand, I tell myself that people who buy and collect art are mostly people who are well-off, and they will have the money and desire to buy art after even after this. Maybe it will actually be even better, because they will realize how difficult the situation was for us artists and that we will now need more support than ever before.

I have two big exhibitions in the planning process for next year, although I don't know how it will turn out. Virtual exhibitions could be an option, but people can look at Instagram just as easily. Virtual exhibitions are great for presenting photographs, but not so much for paintings. Techniques and materials that you need to see in detail play a big role in painting, you have to see and feel the picture. You won't get that experience from an online presentation.

Do you already have an idea when safety measures will be loosened?

I know there will be no major cultural and sporting events in California in 2020 at all. I don't know how about smaller events, which would include exhibitions, but so far there are no indications as to what we can expect. Before the quarantine began, a friend from Prague contacted me that he would like to help me organize an exhibition in Mexico City in the spring of 2021. He‘s taking care of it, he‘s communicating with people from the Czech consulate in Mexico City, but unfortunately it has all stopped now because these days no one is dealing with anything other than Covid.

A gallery from Sydney also contacted me at the beginning of the year, saying that they would like to do an exhibition of my works there in the autumn of 2021. So I hope that at least some of these things will take place. I‘m also currenly working on a fashion collaboration with a fashion designer in Melbourne. We‘ve designed a series together that will carry my designs, so we are just waiting for the situation to improve and then we‘ll be able to produce the collection.

Are you in contact with any Czechs in California?

Not at all. There is a consulate in LA, but I'm not in contact with anyone. I have a friend from Slovakia, with whom I've sometimes chatted, but that‘s about it.

What about this situation limits you the most?

Definitely the restriction on free movement. All those prohibitions banning us from going places, and that includes the journey to Prague. I know it would be technically possible, but not entirely simple. Especially now that we‘ll be travelling with a baby. I grew up under communism, being grounded for two months isn‘t hard for me - for Americans, on the other hand, as I said, it's unimaginable.

We have elections here in the fall, so we'll see how it turns out, if it will has any effect. I hope so. Here in the United States, the difference from the Czech Republic is that what our president says or does has a global impact. And as everyone knows, it is a real shame. The whole political situation and leadership here is completely absurd. The mind boggles. How could it have come this far? I am ashamed of my fellow citizens who defend him. Fortunately, I don't know anyone like that personally. Los Angeles is a fairly intelligent liberal bubble.

I think that as soon as it dies down, people will start going to work again as always, I have no worries there. Rather, I don't think the worst is behind us yet. More waves will come, just like in the last pandemic a hundred years ago. The virus is here to stay, I'm sure of it. I can't even imagine what frontline medics are going through. And I hope that when the next wave comes, they will have everything they need to protect themselves better, and that it won‘t be as difficult for them.

I‘m trying to do everything to keep my family and myself healthy. We need to pull through and most importantly stay together.

Maxim, thank you for the interview.

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Rychlá zpověď - cestoval časem Maxim Havlíček:
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Rychlá zpověď - lékař Jan Vojáček:
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