Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph mounted on cardboard (26.6 × 21.2 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, a Scopophilic Urge, a Spit in the Face of Social Realism

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (23.2 × 17.8 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (17.8 × 12.8 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (17.8 ? 11.8 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (23.8 × 12.9 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (28.4 × 13.9 cm).

 

Wilkinson
50-58 Vyner Street
+ 44 20 8980 2662
City of London
Lower Gallery
Miroslav Tichy
May 6-June 5, 2011

Miroslav Tichy began taking photographs in the 1960s, continuing until the late 1980s, accumulating an expansive archive of images. Tichy originally studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, where he was an esteemed painter and draughtsman, taking a lively modernist approach to his artwork. In 1948, with the adoption of communism in Czechoslovakia, artists were enforced to produce work in the socialist realism manner, which Tichy determinedly rejected. In opposition, he and like-minded alumni formed an artist collective, the Brnonská Pitka (Brno Five), staging subversive exhibitions, which attracted continuous state surveillance. In 1957, the artist suffered a mental collapse — he was prone to psychological breakdowns from a young age — and this led to his removal from mainstream society, moving back to his small hometown, Kyjov. He became a non-conformist, eccentric character, half-conscious, half-delusional to his subversive outsider situation.

The artist devotedly wandered the streets, compiling a meticulous photographic archive of Kyjov. He mainly photographed the local women; the curvaceous contours of a body in motion, captured moments of sartorial revelation, smooth calves truncating from underneath full skirts, and remote utterances muttered between intimate sororities. He honoured women in bikinis, becoming a regular of the periphery of the local swimming pool, photographing from the other side of the fence, the metal mesh dissecting the surface of his images. He worked with a homemade camera that he fashioned from used materials, such as shoeboxes, rubber bands and tin cans, complete with makeshift telephoto lenses, polished with toothpaste and ashes. Tichy would then print on a homemade enlarger. He would subsequently adorn certain prints with pencil marks, highlighting the contours of a form, or decorating the edges with coloured cardboard borders, until the works were spilled scatteringly onto the floor, some used as beer mats, some nibbled by rats.

Tichy was an unobserved observer. His approach follows in the tradition of street photography; individuals roaming with lightweight cameras, shooting unsuspecting subjects, recording private moments occurring in public spaces. His photographs present the potential voyeuristic nature of the camera. His continuous contemplation of the female form refers his work to the tradition of high art, where the female nude is seen as the visual culmination of aesthetics. Tichy both celebrates and subverts the pictorial tradition of the nude. The soft focus, careful observation and caressing light provide the photographs with a painterly quality. Yet simultaneously their haphazard compositions and degraded surfaces distort the female form, reminding the viewer of family snapshots. Tichy reveals that the female nude can easily cross the thin line between nudity and nakidity, eroticism and illicitness, spilling into the realm of the pornographic. The ideology of realism, which imbues the photographic image, results in the increased sexualisation of the depicted body, reinforced by the tactile, fetishistic qualities latent in a photograph, diminishing the proximity between subject and viewer.

Tichy was fulfilling a scopophilic urge, whilst fuelling a subversive protest against the Soviet-satellite regime. His move from painting to photography permitted a continued individual artistic endeavour. Photography was less threatening to the Czech authorities than abstract painting. It was dismissible as an innocuous form of amateur documentation. Tichy positioned himself as the town eccentric, and as an outsider he was able to withdraw into the background, his ensuing invisibility providing him with the freedom to assume the role of an observer. His anonymity was an act of political and artistic intent

The artist’s compulsive collecting of images mimicked the Czech government’s extensive surveillance regime. His archiving acted as a parody of the state’s obsessive observation, carried out with a seemingly inadequate caricature of a camera. The mechanism’s simplicity of conviction and the irreverence, with which he treated his images, becomes a satire of the inherent complexity and futility of a large government surveillance regime. Tichy was a dissident spy, persistently surveyed and incessantly surveying.

Tichy’s experience parallels the heightened state of surveillance and voyeurism that characterises our modern society. The exhibitionism we encounter in these photographs is now a constant impulse, in an age dominated by the accessible and intrusive nature of the Internet and CCTV. The difference between Tichy’s photographs and the plethora of images today, are that his photographs were not intended for public dissemination, but were driven by a private desire for visual and dissident pleasure. The aesthetic of Tichy’s photographs clash with the unsoiled lucidity of digital imagery, his photographs have been touched, not retouched. The grainy quality, the curled edges, the pencil marks, and the yellowing paper all characterise these images. They are structured by their limitations and their imperfections, and above all the presence of the artist himself. His circumstances, his persona and his idiosyncratic approach to photography all mark the final physical object, visually manifesting the reveries of a peeping dissident.

Miroslav Tichy’s photographs have only come to the public attention in the last seven years; inaugurated by his inclusion in the 2004 Seville Biennial, by eminent curator Harald Szeemann. Since 2004 several major international venues have mounted exhibitions, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2008) and International Centre of Photography, New York (2010).

This show has been organised in collaboration with Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne.

Miroslav Tichy died April 12, 2011, aged 85.

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (17.8 × 13 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (9.4 × 6.7 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (12.9 ? 8.9 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (18 × 12.2 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (17.9 × 11.5 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (17.5 × 10.5 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, Mixed media on photograph (11.8 × 18 cm).

Miroslav Tichy, Inv. nr 1-35, untitled, undated, Miroslav Tichy, Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean.

Miroslav Tichy, Photographer off the Grid, the Subversive Voyeur

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, undated; mixed media on photography; 11, 9 x 10, 8 cm.

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, undated, b/w photography on baryta paper in a, passepartout, 17,9 x 14,3 cm, with passepartout: 29,3 x 23,7 cm.

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, undated, b/w photography on baryta paper on carton, 17,2 x 13,6 cm.

Miroslav Tichy, Inv. nr 4-3-32, untitled, undated, Miroslav Tichy, Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean.

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, n.d., Silver gelatine print, 18.1 x 13 cm, Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich, Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou.

 

Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall
in the building Magasin 3,
floor 1, elevator 4
+ 46 8 545 680 40
Stockholm
Miroslav Tichy
January 26-March 23, 2008

By JARKA HALKOVA

Working independent of contemporaries in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Miroslav Tichy (b. 1926) created an idiosyncratic style, fascinating in its imperfection and reminiscent of photography’s early experimental years. Using homemade cameras Tichy took blurry mottled photographs in his Czech hometown Kyjov — anonymous portraits, often framed by elaborate mounts.

Miroslav Tichy is a great "find" among unknown artists who worked on the outside edges of the art world. Following the Communist takeover, Tichy spent some eight years in prison camps and jails for no particular reason other than he was "different" and was considered subversive.

Upon his release in the early 70’s, Tichy wandered his small town in rags, pursuing his obsession as an artist with the female form by photographing in the streets, shops and parks with cameras he made from tin cans, children’s spectacle lenses and other junk he found on the street. He would return home each day to make prints on equally primitive equipment, making only one print from the negatives he selected.

He stole intimate glimpses of subjects through windows and the fences of swimming pools as well as in the street, sometimes finding himself in trouble with the police. He would often draw intricately on each print in pencil embellishing images with lines or reworking them in other ways, Tichy would also sometimes include a card frame around the prints and decorate those too.

The work, which might to the casual viewer appear to be intrusive voyeurism, takes on a melancholic and poetic quality. They are exquisitely produced small objects of obsession, which have no equal. He produced work — not for others, but solely for himself with no regard for exhibiting or selling the work.

Tichy's pictures were known only to a few until July 2004, when he won the "New Discovery Award" at Arles. An exhibition of his work was shown at Kunsthaus Zûrich September 2005, and was one of the most curious and perhaps controversial photographic events of 2005.

Starting in 1948, Miroslav Tichy’s life seems to have been comprised of many personal protests. He rebelled against changes brought about by Communism in the late 1940s and was forced to leave the art academy in Prague where he was studying painting and drawing. As a result, he did all he could to drop out of society. He stopped working and spent most of his time wandering the city parks. He neglected his appearance. He would wear the same clothing for weeks and repair it with wire. He grew his hair and beard long. He was the opposite of the image of the new Socialist man being championed by the new government.

Through the 1950s and 60s he paid a high price for his dissidence and was forced to spend eight years in prisons and psychiatric clinics. He suffered many incidents of repression afterwards including being forcefully evicted from his attic studio in 1972 and subsequently having his artwork thrown into the streets.

His rebellious streak seems to have carried over into his photography that he started in the 1960s. He avoided anything that smacked of correctness. His is a practice of photography, at least technically, would be considered 180 degrees from the procedures Ansel Adams was laying out in his technical book series of the late 40s and early 50s.

Voyeur with home-made camera
The photographer Miroslav Tichy became known in the Czech Republic only recently, after he achieved major success abroad. His unusual photographs have been exhibited in galleries in London, New York, Zurich and although they are of very poor technical quality visitors and critics are impressed. The photographs are now sold for up to ten thousand euros.

Nearly 80 years old, Tichy is regarded as a real eccentric by his neighbors in Kyjov, a small Moravian town. His work reflects his obsession with the female body. But while other photographers ask women to pose, and use the best equipment and store photographs with a big care, Tichy did the opposite.

He used to hide in bushes and take pictures of unaware women and girls with his home-made cameras. Once developed, they were thrown away and Tichy didn't care about them anymore.

"They are all very careful observations of women from Kyjov and of everyday trivial activities. But soon you realize that these trivial situations such as someone sitting on a bench, women waiting for a bus, someone taking a T-shirt off at a swimming pool, are somehow extraordinary. Tichy managed to give this banality a feeling of exceptionality and rarity. Just part of a female body in his pictures can look very esoteric. There are so many magazines that offer much more nudity than Tichy but his photographs are different. A woman's tights between a knee and a skirt or a swimming costume in his pictures look somehow mysterious," Says Radek Horacek, the director of The Brno House of Art which is currently running an exhibition of Tichy's photographs. "It is like when an eleven years old boy falls in love, steals a photograph of his classmate and cherishes it in his notebook. Tichy even sketched on it, drew frames with a pen or a pencil. Some of the photographs were taken from TV, some were just thrown here and there. Some romantics say that there even are traces of mice nibbling at pictures in the unbelievable mess."

In the 1940s Tichy studied at Academy of Fine Arts in Prague but after the communist takeover in 1948 he left school returning to Moravia. The solitary artist started with paintings, figurative drawings and settled with photography, sticking to his main motive — women. In the 1960s he used to make about 90 pictures a day. Unnoticed and unknown he behaved like a voyeur trying to capture a precious moment.

"When I was a little boy, my grandmother used to tell me: "Wash your hands — otherwise you are going to be like Mirek Tichy." For my grandmother he was a forbidding example. For me he has always been a magnet," says Roman Buxbaum, who introduced Tichy to the world. The photographer's friend from childhood, he emigrated to Switzerland with his parents. On returning to his birthplace a year later he discovered the photographs and started exhibiting them abroad. "These days there are plenty of artists who take photographs. They have modern digital equipment and the best computer software. They try to make their pictures look crude. They want something like a document of a reality. But can you believe a 30-year-old university graduate? Does he really know what is crude? It is simply impossible, especially in comparison to Miroslav Tichy. He lurks in a horrible worn out coat and — from behind bushes and walls — takes photographs of fragments of female nudity or the steps of a woman walking down a street."

The exhibition in Brno has created much interest, especially among locals, Some come hoping that they to recognize one of many women and girls captured in the photographs. Others come to see why the strange old alcoholic man so famous.

The photographs are puzzling. Unfocused, not well developed and damaged by weather and careless handling, never meant to be exhibited and, even now, Tichy objects to the success and fame. He chooses the people he talks to and shares his opinions with. He has described exhibitions as a waste and says this world is no more than "a double shit."

"He had to take such bad photographs to be the best photographer. You can't take good photographs to be the best — but you have to take the worst to be the best," says Pavel Vancat, author of a monograph on Tichy, paraphrases the photographer's own words about his approach and continues: "I think these pictures have a really special atmosphere of the time when they were made. They have a special magic as work that has arisen from one man's endeavor. It is like a tombstone to one very special life. It might influence a lot of people. On the other hand, he stands quite aside from any other group of artists. And he is a quite solitary person. Many people might like it and many people do like it but I doubt that there will be something like a 'Tichy school'."

— July 21, 2006

The exhibition is curated by Tessa Praun.

Miroslav Tichý, Untitled (MT-Inv-No. 2/119/23),
ca 1950s-1980s, B/W photograph; artist´s frame 29,8 x 16,8 cm, framed 59,5 x 46 x 4 cm.

 

 

Miroslav Tichy, Inv. nr 4-98, untitled, undated, Miroslav Tichy, Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean.

 

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, undated, b/w photography on baryta paper on carton, 17,9 x 12,4 cm, outer dimension: 21,4 x 15,4 cm.

'Not a Painter … Sculptor … Writer (but) Tarzan in Retirement'

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, undated, b/w photography on baryta paper on blue paper on carton , 10,9 x 12,5 cm, outer dimension: 17,8 x 20,4 cm.

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, undated, b/w photography on baryta paper, Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich.

 

MMK Museumfür Moderne Kunst
Frankfurt am Main
Domstraße 10
+ 49 (0)69 / 212 30 447
Frankfurt am Main
Miroslav Tichy, Photographer
March 8-August 3, 2008

I’m not a painter. Nor a sculptor. Nor a writer. I’m Tarzan in retirement.

I’m such a wild person not even John of Nepomuk or God has any influence over me. No one.

I don’t eat animals, because the animal is like me.

I’m a Samurai and my only aim is to annihilate my opponent."

— Miroslav Tichy

People say that Miroslav Tichy has never touched a woman. The truth of the matter is that he has never bothered about an audience, an exhibition, a publication. To him none of that seemed worth striving for. The world was anyway a mere appearance, an illusion. And everybody recognizes only what they want to, he repeatedly maintains. Tichy lives in his own world, one that is not determined by conventional aims.

Having trained at the Prague Academy of Art, in the late 1940s Tichy initially tried his luck as a painter and drawer. Yet the totalitarian conditions and his own personal experiences alienated him more and more from the official artistic and cultural scene. Tichy withdrew completely before one day beginning to take photographs. Day in day out using simple cameras he had for the most part assembled himself, he pursued the female part of his Czech home town. For thirty years. Time and again Tichy would stand by the fence of the swimming pool watching the girls. Gradually beginning to neglect his outward appearance he grew a beard, his hair became long and matted, his clothes nothing more than rags. Most children were afraid of him. They thought his cameras were just dummies, and that in reality he wasn’t taking any photos at all. His apartment resembled that of a chaotic handyman. It had no heating. In winter it was damp and cold. The pictures, drawings, and photos were just lying around, going moldy. Yet none of this was of any importance to Tichy because it was the idea of something that seemed to interest him more than actual circumstances. Tichy, who was born on November 20, 1926 in a small village in Moravia, has now become more accessible, no longer driving off curious visitors with an axe. He gave up photography in the late 1990s. The ball was set rolling when a few years ago a friend from his youth convinced him to stage his very first exhibition. Since then people have shown an interest in the old Samurai«.

The out-of-focus, unsteady, crumpled, under or over-exposed photos, which are full of finger prints, developers’ streaks and liquid, have something of the products of a clumsy dilettante about them. And the obsessive, erotic character of his entire oeuvre and his peculiar way of life initially put Tichy in the realm of artistic outsider. Yet the work cannot be categorized, it is conceptual, atmospheric, formal and in terms of content quite unique. The picturesque photographs are full of humor and irony, malice and deeper meaning, drastic elements and clarity. There is nothing comparable in the history of photography.

Last year the MMK acquirrf 80 works by Tichy for its large photographic collection. This represents the most extensive group of works by the Czech photographer in a public collection.

 

Miroslav Tichy, Untitled, undated, b/w photography, baryta paper in colored passepartout, 18 x 10,6 cm, with passepartout: 26,6 x 20,1 cm.