Friday, July 24, 2015

Archivo Nacho Barcia: Miroslav Tichy


“…the mistake is a part of it, it is poetry…and for that you need a bad camera.”

Miroslav Tichy

“ Sometimes Tichy photographs remind me of candles and shadows and silhouettes, ghost stories, keyholes, Jim Morrison lyrics, white bicycles, the short story by John Cheever entitled ‘The Swimmer’ (the bathing suits)...The best art for me is when I see something and say to myself, yea, I could spend an afternoon doing that. For me, the afternoon is in Tichy work.”

Richard Prince

Tichy is a stubbornly eccentric artist, noted as much for his makeshift cardboard cameras as for his haunting and distorted images of women and landscapes, many of them taken surreptitiously.
Born in Moravia in 1926, Tichy studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts (SVU) in Prague in the years immediately following the Second World War. After Czechoslovakia’s adoption of communism in 1948, he left the Academy and turned his back on the official art world, withdrawing from mainstream society, in part as a political response to the social and cultural repressions of the regime. 


Regarded as a talented painter and draftsman influenced by Picasso and the German Expressionists, Tichy did not agree with the prevailing socialist realism of the day, instead forming an artist collective known as the Brněnská Pětka (Brno Five) with other likeminded SVU alumni. Constantly threatened and watched by the regime, the group took great risk in producing their work, even holding a clandestine exhibition in the Kyjov hospital in 1956. 


His soft focus, fleeting glimpses of the women of Kyjov are skewed, spotted and badly printed — flawed by the limitations of his primitive equipment and a series of deliberate processing mistakes meant to add poetic imperfections.
Of his technical methods, Tichy has said, "First of all, you have to have a bad camera", and, "If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world."
During the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Tichý was considered a dissident and was badly treated by the government. His photographs remained largely unknown until an exhibition was held for him in 2004. Tichy did not attend exhibitions, and lived a life of self-sufficiency and freedom from the standards of society.

Tichy benefitted from the small, yet vibrant, cultural scene of Kyjov, taking in dance performances, plays, and beginning his first photographic experimentations with the artist Ladislav Víšek.. Prone to mental breakdowns since his youth, Tichy worked alongside his peers until an apparent psychotic episode just before a planned exhibition in 1957 from which he withdrew his images. His work was not exhibited again until nearly four decades later. 

Although Tichy is regarded today as an outsider artist because of his unconventional approach to photography, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, and for a time seemed on the path to becoming an esteemed painter in the modernist mode, working in a style reminiscent of Josef Čapek. After the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948, students at the Academy were required to work in the Socialist mode, drawing workers in overalls rather than female models. Tichy refused, stopped working and quit the Academy. He was then required to perform his compulsory military service.

When he returned to Kyjov, he lived with his parents on a small disability pension, and painted and drew for himself in his own style. The Communist regime in its paranoia saw the independent Tichy as a dissident, kept him under surveillance and tried to "normalize" him, bringing him to the State psychiatric clinic for a few days on Communist patriotic holidays such as May Day to keep him out of the public eye. In the 1960s he began to disregard his personal appearance, wearing a ragged suit and letting his unkempt hair and beard grow long. At about this time he began to wander around town with an intentionally imperfect homemade camera, taking clandestine photographs of local women.

Over the years, his deliberately nonconformist lifestyle—as well as his mental illness—landed him in trouble with the authorities and led to periods of confinement in psychiatric institutions and the loss of his studio in 1972.

Living in near isolation in his hometown of Kyjov, Tichy conceived a world populated by images of the local women, taking thousands of photographs from the 1960s through the late 1980s. Though he never stopped producing paintings and drawings, Tichy focused the majority of his attention on the photographic medium, practically reinventing it to suit his artistic vision of capturing the feminine essence with light. 

During the years he wandered through Kyjov taking photographs with his crude cameras, the tall, shabby Tichy was tolerated by the townspeople but regarded as an eccentric. He shot about 90 pictures a day, returning to his disordered home to develop and print them.Homemade telephoto lenses allowed him to work unnoticed at a distance from his subjects. He frequented the streets, the bus station, the main square, the park across from the town swimming pool, stealing intimate glimpses of the women of Kyjov.[9] Although he was not permitted to go to the pool, he could photograph undisturbed through the wire fence. The fence often appears in his pictures, its presence adding a suggestion of forbidden fruit.

Save for the film, chemicals, and photographic paper he bought from a nearby drugstore, all his photographic equipment was self-made. Using cameras inventively constructed from found materials—shoeboxes, tin cans, clothing elastic, toilet paper rolls, even cigarette boxes—Tichy obsessively returns to the subject of the female form, whether viewed from afar with his makeshift telephoto lenses, or captured from the television screen. 

His intuitive method of photographing during daily walks about town might appear amateur in ambition, but the intensity, frequency, and regularity with which he creates reveal a unique and distinctly personal style of photography. Despite his camera’s crude optics—the lenses were cut from Plexiglas polished with sandpaper, toothpaste, and ashes—and skewed framing, the resulting images are formally complex, reflective of Tichy’s early art training, and vaguely reminiscent of the early works of the classical pictorial tradition. 

His images of women—often in bathing suits, bare-legged, or simply walking about town—are subtly erotic, taken from afar, often without the knowledge of the subjects. Tichy often embellished the surfaces and borders of these scratched, blurred, torn, and spotted images by drawing directly on them in pen or pencil, heightening the expressive quality created by his imperfect equipment. Sometimes framed or mounted on newspaper or cardboard, these highly personal objects were created for his own viewing pleasure, each negative printed only once with a homemade enlarger.

In 1981, Tichy’s prolific body of work was brought to light by his longtime neighbor, psychiatrist Roman Buxbaum, who began efforts to document the artist and preserve the deteriorating photographs. Tichy’s work has received public attention only in the last five years, first going on view in an exhibition by Harald Szeemann at the 2004 Seville Biennale, where Tichy’s work won the “New Discovery Award.” After this exhibition, the Tichy Ocean Foundation was founded on the artist’s behalf by a group of trustees to preserve and exhibit Tich’s work, which has since been shown at major museums including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Kunsthaus Zürich.

In February 2010, Tichy had a solo show at the International Center of Photography in New York City. The exhibition featured 100 photographs, the film "Miroslav Tichy: Tarzan Retired," and two large vitrines exhibiting dusty and grimy piles of photographs, homemade cameras, lamps, and rolls of undeveloped film. In its review, The New York Times thought his anti-modernist style was representative of the nonviolent subversion practiced by Czech students and artists under the Soviet regime, and called his photographs an "uncanny fusion of eroticism, paranoia and deliberation" that is "mildly disturbing [but also] intensely fascinating".

Nacho Barcia