Miroslav Tichý was born in 1926 to a gentlemen’s tailor and he has lived in the Czech town of Kyjov for most of his life. Having shown an interest in art from a young age, it was only natural that as a young man he should study at the art academy in Prague(AVU). Although he didn’t complete his studies and left after 3 years, Tichý continued to work as a painter. Not before spending time, however, in the army which was the inevitable result of his departure from the academy. It was around this time that he began to have problems with the authorities arising from his defiant and rebellious nature.

After his initial incarceration in a military prison and then in a mental hospital,Tichý returned to Kyjov and continued to paint and draw. Although he made some attempt to establish himself as an artist, and had some limited success, at a certain point Tichý decided to "drop out" of the art world altogether and from this point on kept his art secret and out of public view. It should be noted that although he didn’t do public exhibitions of his paintings, drawings, and photos, he did show his art to some of those who visited him.

Tichý not only rejected the art world, but also the conventions of normal society. At a certain point he began to neglect his appearance and refused to change his clothes or bathe himself. It wasn’t long before he took on the appearance of a homeless tramp which put him on the fringes of society and in constant conflict with the authorities. Some have argued that he did so to protest against the Communists but it seems clear that if a protest was his intention, then such a protest was not against a certain form of government but against humankind in general. Needless to say, the authorities continued to incarcerate him for his idiosyncratic appearance and behavior.

It is at this time, at the tail end of the fifties, that Tichý begins to take photographs. Using low quality cameras and some that he makes out of refuse and any material at hand, Tichý moves around Kyjov taking photographs, primarily, of women. Deliberately embracing chance and a haphazard manner, Tichý’s photos are often blurred and over exposed which adds to their poetic quality. By developing the negatives in a kettle and printing them in the moonlight, the element of chance is not only enhanced but wholeheartedly embraced.

Tichý also began to neglect his living quarters and, as he claims, began his attempts to "perfect chaos." He embraced disorder and his house was soon overrun not only with books, paper, objects, and "garbage," but with rats and mice. It is in this chaos that the photos were stored and, after years of "neglect," they are covered in dirt, ripped and now bear the marks of time. While Tichý speaks of repairing his damaged paintings, he makes no such reference to the photos. Either it was his intention that the photos be so altered or it is indicative of his outright disregard for them. Either way, this "damage" is part of the art and, except in extreme cases, conservators refrain from "repairing" the photos.

Much has been made of Tichý’s choice of subject matter and some say he was enchanted or entranced by his models. Tichý himself has never expressed such ideas and speaks more of form and classicism than of any sort of "love" for women. If an artist is going to concentrate on one type of subject matter then it is clearly the safest and most classical one of all - the female form. Scholars have rightly included Tichý’s work in the so called Bathers series and it is more useful to interpret Tichý as an artist than as a voyeur. It is thoroughly consistent that the "last classicist," as Tichý calls himself, should focus on the female form as his starting point.

Much attention has been paid to the erotic qualities of Tichý’s photographs. It should be pointed out that any photograph of a scantily clad young woman can be deemed erotic, but that there is nothing lurid or pornographic about his photographs. Tichý also took a lot of photos away from the pool and of all sorts of women, young and old, heavy and thin. He also took photos of children and, more rarely, men. Although the public swimming pool was one of his favorite places to work, Tichý did not limit himself to this location.

In Tichý’s universe of females, especially in his paintings and drawings, we can see his preference of shapely or "Rubenesque" figures. His drawings, at least in later years, reflect an even more erotic quality than his photos and women are often seen wearing lingerie and assuming risque poses. The most outright erotic or sexual photographs are the ones that Tichý shot from his television screen. His photographs of life in Kyjov could only be erotic to a point and he wouldn’t have had the chance to photograph naked women in his meanderings through Kyjov. So he found another way.

Tichý’s approach to his equipment is similar. He preferred to use material at hand or material that he found in the refuse container to build much of his photographic equipment. He made use of everything in his environment and, like many of his generation, he was reluctant to waste anything. He has also lived on small sums of money for most of his life and he had to learn how to economize. He went through a lot of film and photographic paper which was not a free commodity. In the late eighties when he was offered the chance to earn decent money from his art, he rejected it so it is not surprising that he also rejects it at this time. His art has benefitted from his poverty and is marked by an inventiveness that comes and is heightened by a need to improvise with what is available. Paper towel rolls held spectacle lenses, bottle caps acted as nobs. He had the opportunity to acquire more expensive cameras but chose to use low quality ones or adapt old ones or even create his own.

Tichý continued to have problems with the authorities. Because he would appear at May Day festivities dressed as he was in rags, which the authorities took as provocation, Tichý was in this time normally taken to the mental hospital. It should be noted that Tichý, though he was often taken to the mental hospital, was never held for long periods of time. He never saw himself as mentally ill and at no time did he go to the hospital voluntarily. At one point he was arrested and spent some time in jail awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault, but all this was eventually dropped and it became clear that it was a frame job. There were no witnesses.

It can be argued that Tichý was at this point already a performance artist. His costume of rags and a disheveled overcoat and, later, the Mickey Mouse watch, served not only to distinguish himself as a madman outsider, as a sort of fairy tale figure, but it also lent itself to his photographic expeditions. When considering his photographs it is useful to bear in mind the appearance of Tichý and whether or not the subject is conscious of his presence. Some women are smiling while others frown. Many of the women are completely unaware of his presence while still others strike poses for Tichý.

It should be noted that Tichý deliberately obfuscates the subject’s identity where he sees fit. Although he engages in outright "peeping tom" activity, many of the nude photos are taken from the television. Although his photographic method is often intrusive, there remains a moral character to his photography. It can also be argued that Tichý never intended to exhibit his photos and that photography was for him a hobby rather than an art form.

Although he stops painting full scale canvases in the late fifties, Tichý worked on frames and passepartouts for his photos which often include pen work and design and he also sometimes drew directly on the photos. He also continued to draw on paper and used a variety of media including pen, ink and pastels. He didn’t stop these activities until 1997 or 1998 or, even, later. It is around this time that his alcohol intake increases and now, though he is no longer locked up in hospitals or prisons, he continues to have altercations with the authorities but now for public drunkenness. He is given fines which he refuses to pay arguing that there is no law against sleeping on the street.

Tichý began to get famous in the late 1980's in Western Europe when a cover article on eccentric artists appeared in the German magazine De Stern. At that time collectors approached Tichý about buying his work but he would keep raising his prices until the collector in question would realize that he wasn’t about to sell anything and that he was just playing a game. In Kyjov his fame in Germany is known only to some until Tjepkema publishes Pohadka (A Fairy Tale) which includes a five page description of an early meeting with Tichý in his house. It should also be noted that at that time many people thought that his cameras were only props and that it was all just some performance, or game, or, worse, the result of a severe mental illness. Tjepkema’s book also served to dispel this myth - at least in part.

Tichý is then more or less forgotten about except by those in direct contact with him and by some in the art world. Nothing more is published about him until 2005 when his photos are included in an exhibition of contemporary art in Seville Spain that is curated by the late Harold Szeemann. Tichý then goes on to win the New Discovery Award in Arles, France and in the late summer exhibits in the Kunsthaus in Zurich, Switzerland. Exhibitions continue and his photos are sold for large sums on the open art market but articles soon appear about Tichý’s disagreement with these public displays of his art and his claim that much of it has been stolen from him. By May of 2005, when a major exhibition opens in Brno, it is admitted by those responsible that the exhibition is being done without his consent, thus making it illegal. In Mlada Fronta Dnes, one of the main newspapers in The Czech republic, Tichý’s assumed agent, Mr. Buxbaum, admits that he has no legal contract with Tichý to either sell or exhibit his artwork.

Although Tichý is at this point known as a photographer, it should be emphasized that he began as a painter and continued to draw the whole time he was taking photographs. Tichý was prolific and in addition to creating thousands of photographs, he produced hundreds of paintings and thousands of drawings. Although some of this work is marked by a distinctive Tichý style of his own invention, his entire oeuvre is distinguished by its range of styles and techniques. Tichý bridges the gap between the classical and the modern which makes sense in light of his quote that he is the "last classicist." He even lets himself be influenced by modern classicism and in the fifties, in an almost post modern gesture, he produces paintings strongly reminiscent of cubism. Most often his subject matter is female in nature and, though he used specific women as models, they are simplified to an archetypal or essentially symbolic role. He has obscured their individual identity to the point that the portrait becomes an expression of their absolute nature. We also see a blend of classical themes with modern ones. One painting presents Medusa while another, a women before a circus. Still other paintings are still lives.

Although Tichý was in large part rejected and even ridiculed by the authorities and by regular society, he did have friends and he was often seen amongst people in the pubs of Kyjov. Although Tichý is often presented as not only an outsider but also as a loner or hermit, Tichý spoke with many people on a daily basis. Needless to say, Tichý’s chosen friends were mostly outsiders themselves. According to Tichý, the writer Veselsky was a "nutter" as were the artists Petr Cmelik and, even, Tjepkema. Tichý was by no means a loner and many people from Kyjov have spoken with him over the years.

Tichý is perhaps a hermit in the philosophical sense as his solipsism necessitates and, in this sense, he lives a life of isolation. Still, it is difficult to live one’s life according to a philosophical absolute, and Tichý is not only the solipsistic outsider of his speech but also a man living amongst men. He also claims to be nothing more than a silent observer of life which allows him to adopt different and even contrary perspectives. One minute he can speak of life in terms of illusion and, in the next, of a sort absolute materialism. In the same way he can forecast the future with the confidence of a prophet and then, just as confidently, state that we don’t know anything. He can run the range from Moses to Socrates, from Kafka to Blake.

His position as observer allows him to wear a variety of spectacles and, as he is not caught in the web of human existence, he can adopt each one equally. He speaks only of what he sees and, though he dislikes some of what is before his eyes, his philosophy doesn’t allow him to make a qualitative judgement. He never speaks of what the world should be and limits himself to descriptions of the world as it is. In this way then Tichý is not so much alone in the universe, but the dominate one in the jungle. He is the one who is free, the one who is different, the outsider looking in, God before a sea of illusion.

His use of the self descriptive title "Tarzan" is illustrative of two central characteristics; strength of mind and sense of humor. It is a humorous suggestion given that this man, an outsider locked up and living in poverty, could see himself as a sort of lord or king. It is, needless to say, said with tongue firmly planted in cheek but, like most humor, it has a serious intent. Tichý clearly sees himself as a sort of "ubermensch" and he proclaimed his status as a master artist long before he raised to prominence in the art world. As we would expect from a man who calls himself Tarzan, Tichý is self confident in the extreme. That his art is now exhibited in serious institutions and sold for high prices is confirmation of what he has known all along - that he is the "last classicist" and should be respected as such.



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