Friday, April 9, 2010

Miroslav Tichy

Since my post on G.P. Fieret I've been meaning to write up something about another favorite but eccentric photographer Miroslav Tichy. The retrospective currently on show at the International Center of Photography gives me the perfect excuse.

Much like Feiret's story, Tichy was a reclusive, hermetic man almost eighty years old when he was 'discovered' by the art world in 2004. His first exhibition was staged at the prestigous Kunsthaus in Zurich. As written by his friend and biographer Roman Buxbaum it was "one of those fairytales that shouldn't be possible in our globalized art world."

Tichy's story is the epitome of that cliched line between genius and madness and one that is in equal parts tragic, incredible and inspiring. Born in Moravia, Czechoslovakia in 1926, Tichy was a talented young artist, studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. When the Communist regime took over in 1948, Tichy's story began to twist and turn, first in defiance of the new political order that forced artists to paint what was dictated to them and then through a cycle of mental illness that saw Tichy withdraw from normal society and become an increasingly eccentric and erratic character.

Shunned by a regime that was based on oppressive conformity, Tichy spent much of his time in psychiatric institutions in the late 50's and early 60's and was treated by a friend, psychiatrist Harry Buxbaum, biographer Roman's Uncle.

Upon his release he returned to his hometown of Kyjov where he appears to have been a kind of bogeyman for local kids and the authorities alike, unshaven and ragged and living a feral existence. He maintained a studio (in the home of Roman's grandmother) where he painted and drew and associated with local artists.

By all accounts he seems to have reveled in his outsider status taking on all comers with an air of manic defiance...

"People ask me, What are you, Mr. Tichý? Are you a painter, a sculptor, or a writer? I reply: Do you know who I am? I am Tarzan in retirement."

Tichy was evicted from his studio in the early 70's, the state having nationalized the property and his work thrown into the street. It was a trauma for Tichy who had little else in the world but his paintings and drawings, however it was also the catalyst for Tichy to begin his journey into photography.

He recalled:

"The paintings were already painted, the drawings drawn. What was I supposed to do? I looked for new media. With the help of photography I saw everything in a new light. It was a new world."

A new world is an apt description and one that puts into context how special the work of Tichy is. He is a rare photographer that has existed outside the photography world and almost outside of the process of photography itself. Hand manufacturing cameras and lenses, enlargers and splicing film by hand to fit them, the unique beauty of Tichy's work seems all the more powerful.

"Tichý has photographed people in the park and on the balconies of the tower blocks all around. That requires a powerful telescopic lens with a focal length of between 300 and 500 mm. He made one himself out of materials he found lying around. He made a system of lenses out of old eyeglasses and Plexiglas. The way he works almost brings to mind the Stone Age, but he wouldn't have managed without an intimate knowledge of the laws of optics. As Tichý relates: With a knife I cut a lens out of Plexiglas and then I sand it with sandpaper. When I asked him in amazement whether it worked, he replied: Of course it worked. When I do something, it has to be precise. Of course it worked imprecisely. That was perhaps the art, he added, laughing. Then I grind the lens with various sandpapers: first, course sandpaper, then finer and finer, until you can see through it beautifully. And then what? It needs to be polished. That isn't a problem: you take toothpaste, mix it with cigarette ash, and then you polish it. And that's what I photographed with."

Pretty amazing stuff.

Tichy's pictures, almost exclusively of women, taken surreptitiously and shot from the hip or from under the safety of his jacket are an analysts wet dream. To delve into his years of primitive psychiatric treatment in a Communist state, his obsession with photographing women, the what's and the why's of the Tichy story are not for me to begin to pick apart but there's some excellent articles that I raided for this little piece by Roman Buxbaum on Tichy here and here. He also made this documentary which in it's final version is being shown at ICP as "Tarzan Retired"


Anonymous said...

Please, do not make a political victim of Miroslav Tichy. I can imagine , for people it is interesting story, better for selling, but Roman Buxbaum violates Miroslav Tichy copyright and his story is based on mystification.

Ross McDonnell said...

I was under the impression that the Tichy story did not need any further mystification. He seems to me a genuine eccentric from the scenes of the documentary. Maybe you can elaborate and email me your version of the Tichy story?



Anonymous said...

I think, it is absolutely useless to tell the true story about Miroslav Tichy and his life. The art world ignorates it and accepts Roman Buxbaum version. Nobody is interested in violating Miroslav Tichy copyright. How can you explane that Walter Konig in Cologne in Germany produces Miroslav Tichy book without his permition? Miroslav Tichy has nothing of all Buxbaum activities.
Any discussion is useless.

Brian Tjepkema said...

Roman Buxbaum, Adi Hoesle and Oliver Pasch are the best friends o the world

Oliver Pasch said...

I can sell thr original photo of Miroslav Tichy, very cheap.
Oliver Pasch

Anonymous said...

It is very easy with Mrs Hebnarova: She sells pictures to everybody and each time she pretends it is an exception, that she is not an art dealer and does not want to sell. But actually she is living off Mr Tichy and certainly does not give him any money. Without Mr Buxbaum, She would had no way of knowing that her neighbor was a great artist. She a good seller, she makes money but she is incapable of judging or promoting the work of Tichy.
She is only looking for the monopole.

Anonymous said...

It is not so simple with Mrs. Hebnarova, first of all she looks after Miroslav Tichy for several years.It is not easy at all. For her, Miroslav Tichy is a human being and it is not important he is a great artist.She is not a dealer,she does not offer Miroslav Tichys photos, but people contact her and want to buy photo. Her prices are low, she wanted to sell the photos to people, who are interested in Miroslav Tichys photos, but they are not able to buy them on the auctions or at the galleries. But some people are very arrogant, e.g. somebody, who called himself Oliver Pasch, phoned her several times a week bothering her. He wanted to buy a photo for his daughter and so on.
Mrs. Hebnarova does not give money to Miroslav Tichy, she gives him more, the care. It can not be payed. And what has Mr. Tichy from Buxbaum activities? He absolutely does not care he is famous. But he needs somebody to bring him water when he is thirsty.
Mrs. Hebnarova does not want to have monopol.

Anonymous said...

It is right that Mrs Hebnarova sells at low price to privates but she does it also for art galleries. Therefore it is not correct towards all to say that she sells to those who cannot afford Mr Tichy's photographs at full price. She gives the charity to people, it is so generous from her part, we would cry if only we still had tears. But actually she's hindering the art market. If she gives more than money to Mr Tichy, then what does she do with the profits she makes? Because there must be enough money to pay 4 nurses that could take care of Mr Tichy, isn't it? It might be that the story of Tichy is a mystification (the art is mystification, and it is better this way), it is possible, but Madam Hebnarova has also created a mystification by telling that she is not a dealer, and that she does not take advantage of her neighbor.
She does not respect certain rules which are...

to be continued.

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