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Miroslav Tichý: a dissident's perspective

Miroslav Tichý: a dissident's perspective

Miroslav Tichý (1926-2011) was born in the Czech Republic and had a career that was marked by his reaction to Communism. As a young man, Tichý was a draughtsman who studied at Prague's Academy of Fine Arts. Everything would change with the Prague Coup in 1948. In 1947, Czechoslovakia had accepted the Marshall Plan in exchange for renouncing the Soviet Union. This loss of power led directly to the Communist Coup, with its knock-on effect on the arts.

Towards Socialist Realism

The change in regime saw the lecturers removed from the Academy where he was studying, with Socialist Realism being imposed as the artistic trend to follow. Anatomical study was thrown out. It was replaced with representations of the working classes in their work uniforms. Enamoured of the female form, this new situation saw Tichý depart the Academy. After being forced into doing military service, he returned home to Kyjov, then rebelled in the 60s. He became a dissident and stopped caring about his personal appearance, letting his hair grow and wearing a ripped black suit as his everyday attire. He refused to play the role that Communist society demanded of him. This led to the authorities – who considered him mentally ill – arresting him on a number of occasions.

Photographing scrap

Private property was nationalised in 1968 and Tichý was evicted from his studio, leaving him destitute. He had to give up painting, but far from being dissuaded, this new situation enabled him to express himself more creatively and freely through photography, his technique du jour until he returned to drawing in 1985. He created his own camera from scrap material (tins, wood, cardboard, etc.) and chose the women of the city as his abiding theme. He would even print his photographs on paper found in the street, hence the images that have survived seem both fragile and worn. The texture, differing qualities and search for fleeting moments, unnoticed by his subjects, make the technique used by Tichý more pictorial, much closer to his initial vocation. 

Belated recognition

Roman Buxbaum, friend to Tichý, described him as a photographer from the Stone Age and, thus, "the living antithesis of progressive thought, of the Marxist theory of history moving in a straight line". He it was who began to get the work out there into galleries, until it gained traction in the 1990s throughout the art world.

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