Maxim Velcovsky - a young Czech artist with a European perspective

Maxim Velcovsky is one of the Czech Republic's leading young artists. Most of his work is in porcelain and involves 'reimagining' everyday objects; among his best known pieces are a vase in the shape of a Wellington boot and a porcelain version of a typical water-cooler paper cup. He is also known for a huge fibreglass crucifix, which stands in a Protestant church in Hradec Kralove. I spoke to Maxim Velcovksy at an exhibition of his at Prague's Galerie Kritiku, and began by asking him to explain the thinking behind his work.

"All the things you see here, the Wellingtons in the shape of vases, clocks or bowls in the shape of the Czech Republic...were among five shapes I created showing how to create design, how to create objects. They were made as part of my diploma work.

"It was the opposite of Sullivan's cliché that form follows function - here function follows form. A boot which protects against water now keeps in water. The same object can have a different use - a boot can be a vase. This is my opinion.

"We were born under communism and from one day to another it changed and the same objects got different names, so you change the rules. Some of my objects are also about this change, a change of function, in a way."

You mentioned your vases in the shape of the Czech Republic. Also I see here at this gallery you have trays for hotdogs, which are also a typical Czech thing, to me: how Czech do you feel as an artist?

"How Czech? Well, I never felt like a Czech, like a real Czech. I think that I feel very European. I had really good luck because my father is a painter and I spent my childhood travelling once a year with him, around the exhibitions. We were just allowed to travel one week a year.

"So I already knew those objects like Coke. Because it's very special...information for foreigners if you say that during socialism, during the eighties if someone had a Coke and he opened a can and it went 'tsssssss' everyone turned their heads, and were looking at the process. 'Oh, Jesus Christ, he's got a can of Coke, please can you just give us me a try', because it was something...incredible in those days.

"I always say we did the revolution because we like to have McDonalds here, we like to drink Pepsi and we like to be free. Those objects were the symbol of a system and people just liked to change it."

Do you have your own studio, or do you work for a company - what's your working set-up?

"I'm just building my new studio, and I'm just trying to bring some friends together and make kind of a group, which will take care of visual design in general, not just free design but graphics and animation, web design, maybe photography, fashion, things like that. So I'm just on the way to building my new studio, because I just finished school two years ago and it takes some time to establish myself.

"It's a problem in our country to work for companies, because our companies, our factories, are very closed in fact. They react to the Russian, German, Arabian styles, so they produce very golden things, ornamental things, porcelain animals and flowers just to pack it and send it somewhere to the Eastern market, or the Western market (laughs) - it depends.

"So it's quite hard to find a progressive person with open eyes and a sense of new things, new thoughts. But I think it's starting now. I hope it will be better in the future."

You yourself have built something of an international reputation, you've exhibited in several countries around Europe - how important is it for you to have success outside this country?

"For Czechs it's a kind of a tradition to be first successful outside then come back and be successful here (laughs), but I can't complain, I have no problem with exhibiting things, people are quite open to exhibiting my things.

"The biggest problem is still getting the pieces into the shops, into the supermarkets; because there isn't even a chance to be there. They are really interested in very cheap stuff, just to sell it immediately.

"But exhibiting outside is a very important thing for me because I always see reactions in other countries. I feel good when it works outside because then I see that this is not about my country but there are kind of international...thoughts in it. And people understand it also outside, which is very positive for me."

Tell me about the huge fibreglass crucifix you made - is it the case that it's actually in a church now?

"Yeah, it ended up in one of the greatest churches in our country, made by Josef Gocar, one of the modernistic architects. You see here [in the gallery] the 'home crosses' which are like models of the five-metre high cross. A bishop from the Hussite church just asked me if we could make a kind of deal, or what would be the way how to make it, so they just paid for the casting of it.

"It is there now and it was a very nice experience for me, because I had a big dialogue with the bishop about the design, about the church, about the way the church should react. It was a very nice philosophical...talk.

"I did it two years earlier at school in 1999; it was a kind of a symbol...because our task was to make a kind of 'home ware' or something, a home accessory. And the cross for me was one of the biggest international, universal...home accessories, in fact.

"So for me it was a very universal and natural way how to design something for your home - a cross. I did it as many colours as you can imagine so you can just order it and I can make it for you and you can have a special piece for your home which will be very into your interior."

What was the reaction of the parishioners who go the church where your five-metre high cross is now standing?

"Reactions are different. From the beginning old ladies were missing Jesus, or the Messiah, on the cross, because it is empty. It's just a kind of ergonomical cross; everybody has an abstract cross in front of them, so they can just think about the person - who is the Messiah? Why did he come and what did he bring?"

Most of your pieces here in the gallery are quite small. You've talked about your huge cross - is there anything bigger that you'd like to make some day?

"Of course. I'm thinking about some interiors and houses. Now I'm preparing quite a big installation, from porcelain again. So we will see! I don't like to talk about my ideas when they are not ready because it disappears in the air and you have no power to just finish it. So I'm of course interested in many fields of art and design."