Monday 27 June 2011

Miroslav Tichy at The Wilkinson Gallery

A burlesque dancer elegantly raises her arms and thrusts her chest forward with an exaggerated smile facing an unseen audience. Wearing a corset decorated with spangles, the performer is captured from below the stage. The image is hesitantly composed and clumsily cropped. Weak exposure produces a narrow tonal range and the surface is mottled with damage. Such poor formal qualities appear to be the work of a struggling amateur. But if a wider context is ever needed, then the work of Miroslav Tichy asks for patient consideration.

Born in 1926, Tichy initially made modernist paintings during the early years of Czech communism and lived through its subsequent repressions. Resisting socialist realism and prone to mental illness, he spent much of his life in a provincial town where he instinctively documented life on the streets around him employing a home-made camera. The exhibition illustrates how Tichy furtively creates a world exclusively inhabited by anonymous women. These tentative images exhibit an erotic fascination, but any contact with his subjects is detached, for they are passive and involuntary models. The camera instead allows the consolation of surrogate intimacy.

Through disguising foliage in a park, several athletic beauties play volleyball in communal pleasure. A couple of friends in bikinis leisurely talk beside a swimming pool. In another image, a woman’s head is cropped out completely, our eye drawn down to a large heart printed on the dress below the buttocks. Tichy’s photographs enlist our voyeuristic complicity. Occasionally he is discovered looking. One woman waits on the side of a road quizzically tilting her head towards him, aware of his gaze, which amuses rather than disturbs her. Cumulatively, these works assert a masculine isolation amongst so many women recorded in secret. They also bear an uncanny resemblance to state surveillance material.

Untitled and un-numbered, these tiny prints, float delicately in their frames without mounts. Having survived rats or prosaic usage as beer mats, they are curious remnants of a marginalized life that found some direction and self-expression through resilient image making. There’s a pathos in Tichy’s ‘outsider’ status being mediated through the lens, and therein lies the value of these strange images, as the products of a dedicated existential enquiry.