Vaclac Havel, 2017
acrylic on canvas
30 x 24 in
No one rivals Vaclav Havel, leader of the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, when it comes to being the quintessential mischief maker with purpose, courage and elan. A playwright, poet and political dissident, Havel would go on to become the first president of the Czech Republic after his Velvet Revolution toppled communism in 1989. He died in 2011 at the age of 75.
Joan’s portrait of him captures some of the boyish insouciance, the cigarette-smoking Eastern European charm that she remembers so fondly. She tells a story about the night that he and some fellow dissidents came to her hotel room in Prague to plot some “mischief making” at her concert that night. Havel had already spent four years in prison for his political activities and was under the constant surveillance of the secret police.
“We all drank beer and planned how we would disrupt the concert that evening because it was on national television,” Joan recalls. “How crazy were they to want to do this?” To sneak the future Czech president past the authorities and into the theater, Joan had him walk in with her, carrying her guitar in its case. (After that, whenever they would see each other, he’d joke, “I’m roadie.”) Once inside, Havel, who delighted in the unexpected, took a seat in the balcony and waited for the mischief they had arranged to unfold. About midway through the concert, Joan turned to the crowd and said, in Czech, “And now I’d like to introduce my good friend Vaclav Havel.”
“The place exploded,” she remembers. “It just exploded. The government immediately had the TV feed turned off. I sang ‘Swing Low’ to him without a microphone because the sound system wasn’t on. And that’s when we bonded. Later, he referred to it as the last drop before the revolution.”