Czech Artist Takes On Lisburn Road Art Dealers

Tibor Cervenak, a former taxi driver in Belfast, opens a gallery and studio space with a difference

Tibor Cervenak welcomes visitors to his Tibor Studio on the Lisburn Road dressed in overalls and waving a freshly-dipped paintbrush around as he talks. ‘I wanted my gallery to be different from the others,’ he insists in a thick Czech brogue.

A huge unfinished canvas at the back of the gallery is raised onto a platform, and on the floor before it is spread out a sheet to catch the colourful drops – removing oil paint from carpet is not an easy task. A small stereo sits in the corner, surrounded by classical CDs. Cervenak wipes off his brush and pats himself down before showing me around the works for sale.

His finely-dressed rivals on the Lisburn Road are more likely to greet visitors in their chic, upmarket galleries with a glossy brochure or a glass of champagne, but Cervenak knows that if he is to compete in such a hostile selling environment he needs a fresh angle to attract buyers.

So, he uses his gallery as a studio - and continues to paint even as newcomers chat amongst themselves -  and stocks up with newly graduated unknown artists, rather than the Bradleys or Stephensons which seem to be ubiquitous in private galleries across Belfast. (Not that his prices are much cheaper, mind. One of several nudes by Alan Wallace is a handful of change off the £10,000 mark, but a man's gotta pay the bills.) 



Cervenak's own works line the opposite side of the gallery and festoon the window display. Their subjects are not obviously evident, but Cervenak is more than happy to divulge their inner meanings. He cites French artist Jean Dubuffet and Catalan artist Antonio Tapies as primary influences. 'I always paint things that inspire me in my life,' he explains. 'I am the subject.'

Cervenak describes himself as a 'feel' artist, someone who works on instinct, 'conducting the paint', and who derives inspiration from other art forms even as he works. Several of his larger canvases, such as 'Symphony in Yellow' or 'After Jazz', were painted while listening to Tchaikovsky and Oscar Peterson respectively - their content was directly influenced by the rises in timbre here and there, the different instruments conducted, the titles of the songs.

Cervenak's work might not be to everyone's taste, but the paintings' intense use of colour and intriguing symbolism affect the viewer on a deep level. This is abstract art that is satisfying and playful, full of soul and movement. And, if you're having problems deciphering them, the artist is never far away, nor averse to talking about his work at length.

Cervenak was born in Hranice in the Czech Republic in 1977. He started painting at the age of nine after visiting the studio of Mikolas Rutkovski and had his first exhibition, which explored war in the Czech Republic, when he was 14. He has since gone on to exhibit his work in Budapest, Paris, Venice and London.

In 2004 Cervenak moved to Belfast - where he subsidised his work as an artist by driving a taxi for three years - and has exhibited in the city's Emer Gallery: all 25 of his works sold within a week. In October 2006 he was invited to exhibit his work as part of the 125th Royal Ulster Academy exhibition, and will be exhibiting new work in New York in March 2011.

Visit the Tibor Studio at 166-168 Lisburn Road, or log on to the website here.

Tibor Cervenak shows gallery goers his work