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This new cycle went on show at the exhibition at the Václav Špála Gallery of the artists nominated for the Chalupecký Award. I transported the paintings to Prague in an old, borrowed car, most of them strapped to the roof rack. During installation the inadequate interior lighting in the gallery was discovered to seriously compromise the intended effect. I had hoped to create a pure installation of white canvases, exhibiting shining, handwriting-like red and black marks rooted in the landscape and arranged into entities of a higher order. The overwhelming white evoked silence, while the simple graphic effect, elementary composition and brushwork articulation imbued the paintings with concentration and a degree of aggressiveness. Unfortunately, the weak yellow lighting worked against my intentions and it was too late to return for the expressive red paintings. I think I was in a mess.
Jiří Valoch, Ornament, No Longer a Crime, 1992
Paintings and drawings by Petr Kvíčala introduced a new quality into the domain of geometrical art, based on the artist’s recognition that an element traditionally considered or perceived to be “ornamental”, may be as justifiable a point of departure for an autonomous pictorial composition as, for example, an elementary geometrical figure in classic constructivism or its combinations in systemic art. Kvíčala approached ornamental elements as if they were elements of a geometrical painting. He is, therefore, an artist who works with the language of geometry without slipping into the category of constructivism, post-constructivism or geometrical art, having represented its most substantial part for many years. However, for Petr Kvíčala, ornamental elements are more than a repertory with which (and from which) he can materialize a pictorial configuration. His obsession with ornament goes even deeper – in a logical and matter-of-fact manner he thematizes ornament itself and the ornamental nature of the final composition of the work of art.
When we mention the ornament as theme, in his works it is taken for granted that the other essential characteristic will be repetitiveness, as it is the recurring repetition of elements, or their linear arrangement, that is the basis and a precondition of an ornamental effect. An isolated element is unimportant. What is important is a succession of several elements, including those merged into a single stroke or mark. It is only by this repetition that the ornament is constituted, and becomes ornamental. The repetitive arrangement brings Kvíčala closer to the territory of minimalism, in particular minimalist music,
or that part of it which builds upon the repetition of a given sequence or its gradual transformation following a specific rule.
In minimalist music the sequences are not generally repeated without any change at all. Composers often work with minute variations within the opening pattern or with its phased modifications. Similarly, in Kvíčala’s works we do not find ornament in its “pure” form, free of personal touches, i.e. as a genuine geometrical construction of selected elements. Individual, spontaneous style through which the elements are articulated is as important as the selection of the initial elements and their repetitive composition in two dimensions (from time to time – when he makes three-dimensional objects or sculptures – in space as well). It can be stated that the fundamental relationship in the artist’s oeuvre is between
the impersonal, attribute-free form of ornament felt as an underlying “watermark” and its actual authored articulation in the process of drawing and painting. Although the latter respects the basic characteristics, in detail it diverges depending on extent to which the realized work reflects the incomparable individualistic nature of each of the processes.
The fact that Petr Kvíčala strives to thematize ornament as such becomes most obvious when several types of ornamental configuration meet on the painting’s surface. The “sample sheet” that results visualizes the equivalence of different principles of composition and their shared quality – as what they have in common is their very ornamentality = a work of art discloses the essential characteristics connecting all the possible compositional structures and the unique individuality of each painting. As was mentioned above, Kvíčala actually “avoids” a constructivist approach, he does not even paraphrase it or treat it with irony, as some of the post-modernist artists of his generation do. He simply takes a different road, having discovered for himself ornament as the other possible geometrical art, the roots of which reach much deeper than the historical avant-garde of modern art. Ornament is an inseparable part of people’s culture from as early as the Neolithic Period while its primeval forms can be traced back even to the Paleolithic Period, such as in the form of various rhythmically repeated marks, which undoubtedly served an aesthetic function, although probably simultaneously – and maybe primarily! – were also a “utilitarian” component of a ritual or a record of a natural phenomenon directly related to the ritual. One of the important aspects
of Kvíčala’s work is establishing relationships with the earliest forms and functions of ornament and, hence, people’s cultures distant in time and place in general. The artist creates a temporal/spatial continuum and forges a bond with different cultures. He enables us to realize the correlation and inseparability of human presence itself, regardless of individual differences conditioned precisely by time and place. It is hardly a coincidence that the most frequented motif and method
of Kvíčala’s realized works is the undulating line, being an archetype among ornaments; that it is still present in different cultures shows its significance and its generally communicative quality. Semantically, it is possible to identify some other elements the artist utilizes, above all the various forms of the spiral. In his individual genesis as an artist Petr Kvíčala seems to have followed the path(s) leading to the creation of ornaments in the cultures so remote in time. The artist’s points of departure were very concrete situations from nature. What he has been doing could have hardly come to fruition without the inimitable and incommunicable experience of the landscape, a result of an intimate knowledge of places at the foothills of the uplands at the border between Bohemia and Moravia where he lives (in Lomnička u Tišnova). I do not want to overestimate the significance of biographic data for the character of creative work but in this case Kvíčala’s roots in a specific natural environment are both extremely important and still valid as they also verify his new output, provide him with a repertory of visual experiences and morphological elements ready to be reflected in his work, although he has long given up the direct displaying of reality as perceived by the senses. This dominated his first creative phase, in which he concentrated on lyrical re-evaluations of natural details, such as individual hills, fields and even tree branches. At that time it was the work of Michal Ranný – whose life was so tragically cut short – that showed Kvíčala how to radically transform natural details and situations in order to apply the inherent lyrical qualities of a work of art. It was also obvious that this method was not permanently productive as Michal Ranný himself showed in his later drawings. Kvíčala did not know these drawings and for a period followed a path suggested by the work he knew of Ranný. The most important motifs for Kvíčala were those with a repetitive composition. He painted and drew rows of beet, the relaxed rhythm of the outlines of adjacent hills, furrows lined up one next to the other. The linear sequence of visually similar motifs became the dominant principle of paintings and it was just a question of time before the artist realized that the link to reality was no longer important and could be replaced with a totally independent pictorial composition. This happened in 1987. With integrity and determination, in a degree unusual not only for his generation, Petr Kvíčala set out to discover various aspects of ornamental composition, which became the essence of his artistic output. The beginnings were marked by a cycle that the artist titled, half seriously half ironically, “Wallpapers”.
In this cycle he employed the “writing” sequence in which he for the first time side-stepped the conventional proportions of a painting and chose an extremely long but narrow format, allowing him to fully exploit the principle of the sequential juxtaposition of individual records. The different ornamental sequences were initially transcribed into individually articulated records. Later the handwriting became less “agitated” as if the artist realized the importance of organization per se, while at the same time he “opened” up the painting making it a section of an endless continuum – ornament lost its linear sequence and was turned into a principle, organizing the surface in all directions … The “sample sheets” where in several layers the artist applied the relationships between different types of ornamental composition, introduced clear outlines delimiting the painting and individual sections – the delineating lines were made an integral part of some types of Kvíčala’s works, matching the ornamental elements in terms of colour and composition – the “auxiliary” division of the pictorial surface thus became part of the theme and provided a counterpoint to the ornaments that filled them. The most frequent motifs in those works were undulating lines of different shapes and compositional relationships, while geometrical figures, such as a cross, positioned “normally” or diagonally, and the square and triangle, prevailed in later paintings and drawings although even here they were organized into flat repetitive structures. The repetition principle was updated, for example, in the successive filling in of the initial outline with smaller and smaller elements, whereby the bearer of the ornamental effect is both the juxtaposition and the regular alternating of two colours. The latest and by coincidence most radical type of Kvíčala’s works is represented by large white surfaces, into which “his” elements are placed in several groups. The linear sequence, for many years of essential importance to the artist, has been replaced by a new, more open link between the groups or “substructures” on the surface. My selection has been naturally limited to a few substantial works without a claim for completeness as his endeavour is typified by its complexity, its constant pushing at the boundaries that are encountered during his work and going beyond them to reveal new aspects of the problem examined. Obviously, what Petr Kvíčala does, could not have emerged at any other time than in the 1980’s when the post-modernist canon enabled artists to freely reference various cultural phenomena and draw upon them. At the same time it is clear that this artist is no programmatic post-modernist fulfilling the theses of his current programme. He is a personality who has discovered (for himself) an as yet neglected aspect of geometrical art – and in investigating this problem he met up with artists who were from his generation but from whom he differs by his commitment to the “language of geometry” and the phenomenon which became his innermost theme.
He does not “change masks” but discovers new variants, new aspects and new forms of the theme. The result, at first glance, is a very radical but in reality very precisely rooted work which I find as convincing as the sculptures and installations of Jan Ambrůz or the paintings, drawings and prints of Vladimír Kokolia, to mention only his contemporaries. They are all artists who have reached beyond the horizon set by others of their generation …
Profil 4, 1992, pp. 3–4.