The Strange Case of Miroslav Tichý

Miroslav Tichý has died, aged 84.

Tichý was a reclusive Czech artist who was rescued from his self-imposed oblivion by a friend, Roman Buxbaum. Exhibitions, books and a website, tichy ocean, have put the artist forward in his last years.

Tichý was a sort of artist maudit, a species of outsider represented by the Bohemian artists Soutine and Modigliani, although Tichý took their marginal lifestyles to new levels, living alone in squalor and refusing contact with society. He had trained in the art academy in the 1940s but lost out to the conservatism of the Communist regime which allowed no formal experimentation whatsoever. The Stalinist regimes of postwar Europe required absolute obedience to their ideology of material progress and social uniformity. On the eve of a daring public group show with other radical artists, he succumbed to mental illness and withdrew from mainstream life for ever.

Tichý lived in the small town of Kyjov, now in the Czech Republic. He haunted the streets and parks photographing women, only women, with curiosity and wonder. Garry Winogrand’s street photographs of women in his book Women are Beautiful describe a similar fascination with the feminine Other. Tichý sometimes shot through fences and trees, an effect that reinforces the peeping tom aspect of his work but also poignantly symbolizes his status as one who lives on the other side, out of reach of the object of desire. Looking the way he did, it must have been unsettling for the women. But for an alienated and abused subject of a Communist regime one can forgive his obsessive romantic longing, especially one which did no harm and resulted in a body of artistic work.

The technique he evolved, if it can be given such a lofty name, was all of a piece with his dishevelled appearance and lifestyle. He crafted homemade cameras out of found materials, toilet rolls, discarded tins, even grinding his own lenses from pieces of perspex! His darkroom was a courtyard on a moonless night, developing film in a bucket. His prints, which show developer stains, scratches and other signs of decay, are a study in entropy.

Tichý is a reactionary in the truest sense of the word. While Yuri Gagarin was conquering outer space, Tichý was making cameras out of wood. He put himself into reverse, moving backward against the ideology of progress. Disorder seems to be his agenda. Other laws apply here. The world of chance and chaos constitutes a ferment in which material matures, to be brought back to the surface changed and worn by time. – Roman Buxbaum

I am a prophet of decay and a pioneer of chaos, because only from chaos does something new emerge. – Miroslav Tichý



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