Connection: Karel Malich

18 3 2024

Karel Malich (1924-2019) grew up in a small village in eastern Bohemia, whose surrounding landscape played a significant role in his future work. He graduated in art education and aesthetics at the Faculty of Education of Charles University and then in graphic arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. His early work is often classified as part of the neo-constructivism or “new sensitivity” movement. He was one of the founding members of the artistic group Křižovatka (Crossroads), which promoted objective tendencies based on universal mathematical, geometrical, and physical laws. In this vein, he created several works in which he explored the relations of lines, colours, and forms in space. His aim, however, was not purity of expression free from subjective perceptions – he transformed images of real landscapes and his inner feelings, often transcending sensory empiricism, into his abstract compositions.

The turning point in his life and work came in the mid-1970s with a profound experience of inner light, which he described as a surge of light energy coursing through his body. This experience was then repeated many times and significantly influenced his further work. Malich became intensely concerned with depicting the limits of his self and the transcendental nature of his experiences and being. In the 1970s, alongside his reliefs, he created mainly three-dimensional wire objects freely suspended in space, whose construction was initially connected by strings, and later welded together. He attempted to capture the energy and light processes in the landscape, in the studio, at the pub table, but also in the universe to portray the experience of inner light, the intersections of spatial layers, and liminal existential states. His 1979–1983 work Landscape with Eternity is considered by theorists to be one of the most important sculptures of 20th-century Czech art. The aforementioned themes appeared simultaneously in the artist's drawings in pencil, in the thick mass of tempera paints, and especially in pastel, whose vibrant colours have dominated his work since the 1990s. A unique position among his works is occupied by a series of drawings from 1996, recording the dying of his beloved mother. Symbolically and abstractly, he captured the release of her soul from her physical body.

With a distinctive artistic approach, enriched by his own inner experience, he grasped the eternal question of the true human essence within the duality of matter and spirit. In his perspective from the inside out, the world in question becomes a fiction, a delusion, and the understanding of unity with the cosmos means true self-consciousness. Karel Malich is regarded as a visionary of the new imagery that became the mainstay of Czech art in the second half of the twentieth century.