Miroslav Tichý

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A mistake. That’s what makes the poetry.

– Miroslav Tichý

Regarded as an outsider artist, Miroslav Tichý (1926 – 2011) initially trained as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. In 1962, he began photographing women while wandering the streets of Kyjov in the Czech Republic. Most of his subjects were unaware their pictures were even being taken but a few posed for him, not realising his makeshift cameras were real. At his peak, Tichý was taking a hundred photos a day.

Typically, Tichý would make his homemade cameras from plywood, tar, thread spools and elastic, cutting the lenses from Plexiglas, polishing them with toothpaste and cigarette ash. He developed his prints haphazardly, in the bathtub, incorporating stains or blemishes, and if Tichý didn’t like a composition, he’d cut off the unwanted parts.

He would occasionally draw on his prints to emphasise contours and decorated the margins with hand-drawn designs. Mistakes and accidents were embraced in part due to his primitive equipment but they also became an important part of the work.

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© Tichy Ocean
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© Tichy Ocean
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© Tichy Ocean
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© Tichy Ocean

I didn’t choose anything. I put it in the enlarger, and then moved it, and I printed whatever looked a bit similar to the world. That’s all.

– Miroslav Tichý

With his strange habits, wild hair and ragged clothing, Tichý looked and behaved like an eccentric odd ball, but there was more to him and his work.

When the Communists took control of Czechoslovakia in 1948, the authorities insisted that art students followed Social Realist models. Refusing to draw workers in overalls, Tichý quit his studies and joined the Brno Five. As a non-conformist with a history of mental illness, the regime kept him under surveillance, snatching him up from the streets and forcing him to spend short periods in psychiatric facilities.

No matter how chaotic Tichý’s life, he continued to make his art. He never sought fame or success because he didn’t care what other people thought. His prints were never titled, let alone catalogued, and works could be found scattered all around his home, exposed to dirt, damage, rats and insects.

To him, exhibitions were a waste of time; the world being nothing more than “a double shit”. Yet, he worked on.

Recommended Watching

Tarzan Retired (2004)

Short documentary about Miroslav Tichý’s life and work. Highly recommended.

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