Stanislav Grezdo (born Stanislav Grežd’o), 1972
Stanislav Grezdo was born in Piešt’any, western Slovakia in 1972. His father (also called Stanislav) worked at the local nuclear power station, while his mother Viera taught Russian and Slovak. Of his youth, Stanislav remembers disliking school and spending most of his time there drawing cartoons. He has fond memories of being a Pioneer and taking part in the annual First of May workers’ parades. In 1986, Stanislav moved to Bratislava to attend Polygrafická škola (Graphic Arts School). He was there when the Velvet Revolution happened, which he refers to as a ‘great time in his life.’ Stanislav graduated in 1991 and returned to Piešt’any, where he worked as a printer for eight years.
In 1999, Stanislav traveled to the United States at the invitation of a girl he had met at a concert in Prague. He spent six months in New Orleans, which he says he ‘didn’t like much,’ before moving to Austin, Texas, where he met his wife Tracy Miller. The pair then settled in Chicago, where Stanislav took a job as curator at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA). Stanislav says he enjoyed meeting Czechs and Slovaks once a week in the pub in Austin, but has not sought out members of the Slovak and Czech communities in Chicago, as he does not want to be part of a ‘closed’ society, the likes of which he sees in parts of the Ukrainian Village district in which he works. Stanislav remains a Slovak citizen and does not exclude the idea of returning to live in Europe later on in his life. He says he travels there with his wife at least once every two years and that each time they go, they stay for at least one month. Stanislav says that it has been good for his art to live in a larger city, as there is more ‘competition,’ which he finds stimulating.
Stanislav paints and creates mixed media pieces influenced by his surroundings. He says that he draws upon his memories from Slovakia, incorporating political and anti-political symbols in his work, as well as aspects of his country’s history, which is ‘very difficult to take out of your head.’ He recently exhibited a number of his newest prints and sculptures in Calgary at a solo show entitled Icons & Altars.
Stanislav discusses how his work has changed as he has grown older
“During the time I was going to school, I was drawing comics during classes, because I was kind of bored. This means I drew many comic books during school times. And after that, I started working in the print shop and I had many leftovers from the print machines – screws and springs and things – and I started making collages from that. And later, after I moved to America, I was starting to do paintings, and now I do like mixed media painting, anything.”
At the time of the Velvet Revolution, Stanislav was in Bratislava
“That was the great time in my life. I was in Bratislava, I was like 17 or something and the revolution started in… or some kind of signs of the revolution were in 1988 – the year before the real revolution, there was the candle demonstration. I remember I was in school, and they told us ‘don’t go there,’ and that kind of made us wonder, and we went there. And there was like the police and these firemen with hoses. That was so much fun that after, the year later, November 17 came, and we really wanted to go there. We were there and it was like, for young people – it was so much fun for us to be there. I saw Karel Kryl come to Bratislava and a performance there. It was kind of like a big event.”
Stanislav came to the United States in 1999
“I’m not a person who is changing that often, but I met this girl from America – I was at a concert in the Czech Republic and I met this girl – and she really wanted me to see America. I really didn’t have that much interest about that, because it was kind of far, you know? Well, and after I [thought I’d] just go and see, so I was in New Orleans. I don’t like it that much, but in that time I want to make money, because in that time you don’t make that much money in Slovakia, but in the half a year that I was in New Orleans I was thinking I can just work there for a year and come back and I will have some money that I can do something with.
“And after I went to Austin to make some money, but I met there my current wife, and I just kind of got stuck in America. And after we decided to move to Chicago. And I am here. It was like totally unplanned. I still have all my stuff in Slovakia, you know, my room. Because I was not planning to stay here and I just kind of stayed. I am like 12 years here.”
Stanislav says he did not seek out Slovaks and Czechs when he moved to Chicago
“I was not really looking for the Czechoslovak community, because what my experience was that if I want to meet somebody from Czechoslovakia, it was just kind of for the memory of the past, not too much about the future, what I want to do. And I can see it perfectly with the example of the Ukrainians – some Ukrainians just live in their little Ukrainian communities; they never go outside of the community, they don’t speak English and they have their jobs where they speak only Ukrainian, they go to stores where there is only Ukrainians. And they are just kind of so closed that they are like living in some kind of little village in Ukraine. Which is good about the Slovaks and Czechs, because they don’t have that, they need to progress beyond that community. That is good for them because they need to learn English and don’t… you know – they need to do something else.”
Stanislav says he has a lot in common with his colleagues at UIMA
“Yes I do, the language is more similar than… at least they are saying it – I think it is kind of between, between Russian and Slovak. I understand them, ninety percent of what they are saying. They understand me and what I am saying in Slovak. And I think the culture is kind of similar, also because we were in the same bloc. You know, we talk about these Pioneers outfits and stuff like that – everybody remembers. You know, we have similar things. Of course, there in the Soviet Union it was a little bit different but at some points we can get the same memories.”
Stanislav says he views his childhood differently now that time has passed
“At that time I was not aware that this is a totalitarian state, because as a child I was very happy, because I don’t know any better. If I look back, especially at the time when I was older, I was not understanding why I have a problem with music, for example, why I cannot listen to that music. Or like, why somebody cares if I listen to Western music. I totally don’t understand that, like what was the reason for it? And I still do not understand what was the reason why we could not listen to Western bands, especially KISS, which is a very mild band – just because they have on make-up. What is the difference, you know? I still remember, KISS was enemy number one. And people don’t even know what they played. It’s a very mild rock and roll band. They’re not like Satanists or anything, you know, or capitalists, or anti-communists. They had nothing to do with that. I just don’t understand why we had so many problems with Kiss.”
Stanislav says his parents may have preferred living under communism
“Yeah, I think my father liked that, you know, the time. Because imagine that you were born under communism, you live your whole life under communism and after things change and everything that you were preparing for or that you built all your life is like gone. I think he kind of lost his job in the end, or some money at least was stolen from his company because of the privatization, and he was kind of very angry about that. And I think he would be very happy to go back to communism, at least at some points, you know. “Yeah, my mother was also mentioning something; the children were much better at school. In communism there was more… it was better. Now they are just crazy – this is why she is not teaching any more. Well yeah, I know some people who would totally go back. At least like just the idea. There is no way how to go back, but they just kind of have good memories. Maybe because they were young or something, just kind of nostalgia. I’m not sure if that is real – all the memories, you know. I don’t think they really want to go back, sometimes you just have good memories.”
Category: Chicago, Oral History