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In this cycle of paintings I pursued several new aspects. An interest in optical effects arose in the earlier Zig-zag cycle although, in the new works, most of the paintings were based on drawing several layers of elementary ornaments, and the subsequent filling in of the surfaces between them imitate topographic contour lines. I was particularly enthralled by the resulting lively and organic impression created by the initial composition of hand-painted geometrical ornaments, like that of a natural crystal. I started to paint it in different colours and with different degrees of saturation, from soft light blue tones to the red-white alternative which comes closest to the traditions of op-art. Although in my case there is a certain similarity with op-art at play, it is but a side-effect of a different route.
I was led down another path by paintings produced by dividing layers of waves. In their early, monochrome variant, they evoked in me effects generated by light reflecting on the water surface. In a more complicated colour composition I was reminded of the light conditions at the hot, sun-washed seaside. The choice of the colour range and the laying of the paint were intuitive. Again, I was both genuinely pleased and mischievous – it was “just” a reflection on the water surface and “just another” pleasing painting. After a long string of untitled works, these were given names – “Bari-Bari” and “Bali”
Halfway through these paintings I began to mull over the possibility of a different painting technique, better suited to thin lines, sharp angles of pointed shapes and two-dimensional painting that I had tried earlier on small formats. In the inaugural paintings from this cycle, I replaced painting with brushes by incising lines into a foil using a scalpel, whereby the foil had been pasted onto a clean canvas, then I applied the paints and removed the remaining foil. At first I believed that the technique would make my work much easier. I was proven wrong. Nevertheless, when experimenting with different materials suitable for sticking onto and removing from the canvas one of the feasible alternatives was paper sticky-tape. The drawing was carved into the tape and the whole chequered surface painted with different colours.
The origin of art: The discrepancy between physical fact and psychological effect The content of art: Visual formulation of our reaction to life
The measure of art: The ratio of effort to effect
The aim of art: Revelation and evocation of vision
Some of the paintings that Petr Kvíčala had on show in the Brno ARS Gallery in October 2005 may have struck the viewers as something of a trip through a time-warp to the 1960’s. The works were rich in op-art visual effects and colour schemes usually attributed to the art and design from that decade. Kvíčala’s lines became pronouncedly geometric and increasingly precise, numerous and dense and whether intersecting or running in parallel, they kept the eye permanently occupied. When viewed from a particular distance some of the parallel lines merged into surfaces, while others split into isolated lines.
The difference between the background and the figure was blurred, the paintings had the air of a randomly produced work while exhibiting an impulpable sense of orderly arrangement and repetition. The suggested relationship with op-art may raise the following questions: Are the works by Petr Kvíčala a continuation of the line stemming from 1960’s modernism? How can we come to terms with the fact that for over two decades he has been exploring a narrowly delineated method of painting which, while permanently varied, in principle is continuously repeated?
Kvíčala’s work evinces the logic of development, an orderly inner arrangement and clear rules of execution. Although this is impossible to see in his current output, Petr Kvíčala has been profoundly influenced by his affinity with nature. His beginnings were punctuated by attempts to express nature’s principles using the medium of visual art but in the second half of the 1980’s the artistic means employed became extremely unorthodox. His creative aspirations from that period were typified by the limitless merging of various disciplines: he created texts inspired by what he had experienced in the landscape and drew simple sketches of fields. At the same time, he was a member of several ensembles dabbling in minimalist music and musique concrète whose productions crossed the boundary between theatrical performance and animated sculptural installations. Just as a musical composition develops with time, so his visual output from that period revealed an effort to investigate the phenomena of transformation and time. It can in fact be approached as graphic sheet music for the events in nature through which he hoped to capture the continual repetition and rhythm of natural processes. An abstraction of these principles, using the medium of visual art, gelled into an original variant of ornamental art which he later adopted as the staple theme of his work. Occasionally, the ornaments are informed by, without being derivative of, historical or folk patterns used as pure inspiration. The orderly inner arrangement of Kvíčala’s work is determined by employing lines approached as ornaments. Of these, the undulating line – a rhythmic painterly gesture in time –is featured most often. The lines are combined and composed according to clear pre-determined rules or algorithms which nevertheless may produce unexpected results.
At the turn of the 1980’s and 1990’s, Petr Kvíčala’s work seemed to display an affinity with the broad stream of post-modernist Czech painting as hinted at by the clear colours of his paintings, which enclosed colour surfaces within boundaries and used archetypal-geometric elements. Today, such a general classification is less justifiable.
Obviously, rather than making post-modernist quotations and providing a symbolic content to the paintings, so characteristic for the painters from the circle of the Tvrdohlaví group, Kvíčala was more interested in probing the possibilities of the painting medium itself.
The strict order that Kvíčala consistently adheres to seems to contradict the call for artistic freedom and creativity and the aspirations of modern art to permanently push back the boundary. In brief, Kvíčala does not offer unending novelties that would disregard artistic tradition and the previous phases of his work, but instead he offers perpetual repetition and variation. Although it might not be obvious at first glance, repetition is one of the fundamental principles of modern art.
The history of twentieth century avant-garde art abounds with artists trying to liberate art from the yoke of the existing rules, simultaneously conceiving new sets of rules, often more restrictive than the preceding ones. Once the artists had shattered their fetters they immediately started inventing manacles even more sophisticated, rendering any movement impossible. Kvíčala’s ordered lines of ornaments produce an effect similar to the grid, a concept which helped many modernist artists reduce visual art to its original foundation, its elementary level. Piet Mondrian, Josef Albers, Sol LeWitt or Agnes Martin used the grid to create a non-hierarchical pictorial surface without reference to traditional methods of depiction. The painting was thus brought back to “square one” which is also perceivable in Kvíčala’s ornaments, often compared to prehistoric or primitive art. Rosalind Krauss noticed that, for visual artists, the grid is a means of suppressing the traditional vocabulary of painting, although it is bound to lead them to repetition which seems to be contradictory to the trend of modern art to come up with something new every time. “But in saying that the grid condemns these artists not to originality but to repetition, I am not suggesting a negative description of their work. I am trying instead to focus on a pair of terms – originality and repetition – and to look at their coupling without prejudice; for in the instance we are examining, these two terms seem bound together in a kind of aesthetic economy, interdependent and mutually sustaining, although the one – originality – is the valorized term and the other – repetition or copy or reduplication – is discredited.”2 Krauss concludes that originality and repetition are closely related, are mutually inseparable and, if looked upon without prejudice, are of the same value and importance for twentieth-century art.
The principle of using ornament and repetition is not exclusive to the artistic repertory of primitive people or modernist painters from the mid-twentieth century. It is a natural tool of contemporary artists. They need not necessarily be veterans of op-art or minimalism, such as Bridget Riley, who successfully continues to conceive of new ways for contemporary abstract art. Petr Kvíčala is one of those who, at the turn of the 1980’s and 1990’s, reinstated ornament in a way other than by picking up where abstract painting of the 1960’s had left off. Inspiration of artists like David Reed, Sue Williams and Karin Davie, is more far-reaching, global and universal. They study the principles of ethnic art, calligraphy or Baroque ornamentation, while being equally attracted to urban graffiti and the increasing possibilities offered by new media. For them, ornament is but one of the ways to substantiate contemporary painting without returning to illustrative narration or modernist purism. Petr Kvíčala also straddles the divide between the ornament of folk architecture and geometrical aesthetics, occasionally evoking the output of computer programming. Ornament is his method of linking apparent contradictions; ornament is his expression of general, vital principles and the rhythm of the world around him.
Escaping the eye of many an art critic or curator Petr Kvíčala contributes to the continuing rehabilitation of the hung painting. Regardless of his passion for experiment and testing new procedures he always finds canvas and acrylic paints to be his most suitable material. He worked his way to reducing a painting to its essentials – it is something communicated through the eye, capable of providing visual pleasure and, at the same time, rational satisfaction from the composition of what we observe. The paintings by Petr Kvíčala are interesting to look at. As opposed to some examples of conceptual art, they communicate something hard to describe in words. They can be perceived with the eye and often exclusively in physical confrontation with the original. Although lacking in traditional narration, story content and emotional self-expression, his works are endowed with painterly qualities and unlimited future potential. If we believed him to be malicious, he might have seemed, for over the last twenty years, to have been stubbornly demonstrating how to make paintings telling no tale using only undulating lines. Kvíčala is also easy to be misinterpreted from a different angle of view. However, his paintings are not just pure formal abstraction. His ornament is a reflection of a higher, or even a cosmic, order. It is a universal principle unifying the present and the past, the high and the low, the natural and the human.
1 Josef Albers, Origin of Art (1964), Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz (ed.), Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, Berkeley, University of California Press 1996, p. 107.
2 Rosalind Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge, the MIT Press 1985, pp. 157–162.