The Artwork I Bought From The Devil

The first time I went to Prague was during the summer of ’98. It was the moment “Mezzanine” was released by Massive Attack.

Traveling solo and lightly, I had no plans, no phone and certainly no camera. I discovered a hostel run out of a school building and found myself swept down into underground passageways, drinking Velvet, dancing at parties, accompanied by a former Russian sniper, and walking the sinuous cobblestone streets that taught me the freedom of not knowing what was around the corner or even where exactly I was. The city, then, had a magnetism for risk and magic that was nothing but seductive.

The second and third time I visited Prague, while crossing the Charles Bridge, there was an older man wearing knobby red horns on his head, working on his paintings, selling his art. His work consisted mostly of self-portraits: images of himself with his horns on his head posed on the Charles Bridge, looking away, his tongue flailing out to one side. Sometimes he had a sun visor on and painted himself with the visor, but he always had his little red horns, and he was always stationed on a particular edge of the bridge.  He did, however, also paint pastoral scenes of the Czech countryside and some of the Charles Bridge itself. He seemed to be there every day regardless of weather: He baked under the summer sun and on my winter trip, there he was again, selling and making his art. I made it a point to talk to him before I left to go home, conversing with him a bit in German, and ended up buying a few of his paintings. It was irresistible.

All I’ve had were these paintings and my memories of this artist, until I decided to look him up again to see if he was still around, only to find out that he had passed away, sometime over the past couple of years. I kept reading that he was also referred to as “Devil Man” or “Devil of the Charles Bridge.” He was known, as I remember then, by locals as “The Professor of the Charles Bridge.” Apparently, he had been a professor prior to his Charles Bridge post.

His real name is Antonin Votava and I imagine that he continues to contribute to the fog, fading in and out, over the bridge that crosses the Vltava River.

Here are my paintings by Antonin Votava and some images I found of him online. I’m glad someone took photos.

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