There have been several personalities of art glass who have been forming the main streams, many others have followed them or cultivated them. However, among them have been some distinctive characters that surpass the usual norms with their originality. Without question, one of them is Jiří Šuhájek, a tall portly man with his long black, curly hair and an essential hat. He has mastered the blowpipe, but is also a concentrated industrial designer, passionate and uncompromising debater, but also a popular bohemian companion.
Jiří Šuhájek (*1943) graduated from the Glassmaking School in Kamenický Šenov, where he learned to paint and etch glass (1957–1961). After a short period of working for industry, in 1964 he became one of the first students of Professor Stanislav Libenský who lead the later famous Glass Studio at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. He completed his studies there in 1971. However, the underlying moment of his art career came during his long-term internship at the Royal College of Art in London (1968–1971, Prof. David Queensburry and Samuel Herman). Although he came from Czechoslovakia that was famous for its glass production, it was in England where he encountered hand blown or off-hand shaped glass for the first time, and he was absolutely swept away. He learned quickly what the specifics of working with hot glass are and slowly discovered how to apply them. That is when his journey started.
His early sculptures were abstract figures remotely resembling primitive prehistoric or pre-classical sculptures. Whether he blew crystal clear glass into wire-wound molds, worked it on a blowpipe, subsequently silvering it or later used bright colors or even gold, he always did it in an unusual, extraordinary and provocative way.
He achieved exceptional results when he started to stretch the human figure to the limit of physical tenacity of the material. His numerous thin figures with long legs from the 1970s and 1980s simply called “Standing” or “Sitting” belong to the best and most original pieces that had been created in glass at that time. Unlike many other graduates of Libenský’s studio, who often chose minimalistic and simple art form under the influence of their teacher, Šuhájek unconventional character and selected technique let him go wild and improvise. Also his monumental sculptures made of metal construction and richly shaped, cast or blown glass, often silvered on the inside, do not lack courage and broadmindedness. He started making these nearly mannerist works that might be grouped into cycles “Robots”, “Samurais” or “Spring”, “Summer”, “Fall”, “Winter” in the middle of the 1990s and still expands their series.
Essential part of Šuhájek’s art career are also his designs he has been producing for over fifty years now. From 1979 to 1992 he worked as a designer for Institute of Housing and Clothing Culture in Prague (ÚBOK) and cooperated with glass industry, e.g. with Crystalex glass company in Nový Bor. However, more significant was his employment by Moser company in Karlovy Vary; from 1962 to 1964 he drew designs for them as an assistant and later, from 1972 to 1978, he worked there as a designer. He cooperated with the company even after that. It would be hard to imagine the present company catalogue without his luxurious colorful cut vases. As a main designer, he was responsible for the collection of B.A.G. glassworks in Vsetín in the 1990s. The playfulness and vivid colors of the glassware and decorative glass are quite unusual. Šuhájek also paints and draws. His paintings and drawings too do not lack specific, ironic exaggeration.
Since 1982, Jiří Šuhájek has participated in almost all IGS International Glass Symposiums in Nový Bor. Every performance of this unforgettable international glass art personality at the IGS forum has been an experience that sticks in one’s mind.
Milan Hlaveš, Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, IGS 2018 curator