- Expected May 26, 2020
An unforgettable portrait of a major pioneering artist, by “Czechoslovakia’s greatest writer” (Milan Kundera)
The Gentle Barbarian is Bohumil Hrabal’s homage to Vladimír Boudník, one of the greatest Czech visual artists of the 1950s and 1960s, whose life came to a tragic end shortly after the Soviet invasion of 1968. Boudnik and Hrabal had a close and often contentious friendship. For a brief period, in the early 1950s, they both worked in the steel works in Kladno and lived in the same building in Prague.
Written in the early seventies, Hrabal’s anecdotal portrait of Boudnik includes another controversial member of that early group of the Czech avant-garde: the poet Egon Bondy. While Hrabal and Bondy were evolving their aesthetic of “total realism,” Boudnik developed his own artistic approach that he called “Explosionalism,” in which the boundaries between life and art become blurred, and everyday events take on the appearance and the substance of art.
Hrabal’s portrait of Boudnik captures the strange atmosphere of a time in which the traditional values and structures of everyday life in Czechoslovakia were being radically dismantled by the Communists. But as The Gentle Barbarian demonstrates, creative spirits are able to reject, ignore, or burrow beneath the superficial “revolutionary” atmosphere of the time, and find humor, inspiration, and a kind of salvation amidst its general intellectual and creative poverty.