Martin Skalický by Martina Mrázová
Martin Skalický is one of the most interesting figures in the world of contemporary Czech sculpture. His work is characterized by an untraditional approach to figural sculpture, which through material transformation, experiment, and a controlled chance updates and expands on its possibilities.
He combines unusual materials with traditional methods of work in the sculpture branch – he stuffs and forms textiles impregnated with a two-component resin into the forms of historical sculptures and, the originally soft, and amorphous material with its history and aesthetic qualities hardens up and extends both its history and the aesthetic qualifies.
The principle of Skalický’s work consists mainly in bridging a variety of counterparts and paradoxes. His works combine the past with the present, durability with fragility, beauty with ugliness, serious, existential expression with humor and irony, but also systematic, conceptual work with the work of a pure chance. The result is aesthetically impressive, refined, and expressive, in the forms of monumental sculptures with a wide range of meanings and connotations.
Formally, his work follows one of the tendencies within the Czech sculpture, which we can observe ranging from the relief referenced assemblages of František Hudeček (Faidros and Socrates or About Beauty) and Vincenc Makovský (Woman with a Vase) dating back to the 1930s through Eva Kmentová’s sheets impregnated with plaster to the statues from the laminate and resin by Kurt Gebauer and Michal Gabriel, under the auspices of whom Skalický had studied.
This trend is characterized by an interest in shaping non-traditional, non-sculptural materials with emphasis on the human figure as a basic means of artistic expression. It was primarily the generation of Czech Postmodernism where the shapes and influence come from that lead to Skalický’s work being based on combining various symbols and ambiguous meanings.
The origins of Martin Skalický’s current approach can be traced back to 2001 when he created a historicizing plaster portrait of his future wife, which he complemented with a white textile undershirt. At the same time, the sculpture as a whole appeared compact and at first glance, it was not noticeable it was in fact made of different materials. However, Skalický took a break from his work with textiles for several years, and his subsequent work evolved in two parallel lines, which were based on one source – his interest in the human body.
One line led to a hyperrealistic perception of figures, which he and Radek Nivnický began creating even to respond to orders of various museums and alike institutions. The other line involved Skalický combining aestheticised ornamental structures with certain subversive content. Thus, for example, cycles of the so-called Pornaments (2002) or Engraved Drawings (2004) came to life, in which naked human bodies taken from porn magazines are hidden behind the aesthetic effect of the first impression. Certain premonition of his future work with sewn textile can be seen in the relief drawings of potato chips in the cycle Vices (2003). The portrait of the bust from the Masks series (2003), created from pasta, rice, spices, etc., appear to be the forerunners of his contemporary textile-based sculptures.
In 2012, there was an important turning point in Skalický’s work – it was back then he started working systematically with textiles. He sewed simple shapes from various fabrics and impregnated the resulting soft molds with polyurethane foam. He enclosed the shapeless expansive mass within fascinating objects, the final shapes of which he was only able to define vaguely and by rough stitching. This is how works such as Václav, Leoš, Rudolf, and the Fox were created. Those represent some kind of monuments to the icons of Brno culture. The Man with the Kundoš, for instance, reflects the problematic relationship between art historians and artists. This series, called Materialized Exhalation (2012–2015), has so far been concluded by the exhibition mor.amor.ge in Blansko (2016), – the title being an abbreviation for “morphologically amorphous geometry”, referring to the way these works were created (initially defined by a drawing line, then sewn into a certain shape, which was subsequently deformed by the impregnated mass).
The technique that Skalický is currently developing has its origins in 2017, when he left the studio in Zbrojovka, Brno, shared with other artists, and set up his own studio in the area of the former agricultural farm in Veverské Knínice. The establishment of an independent studio is thus associated with a radical transformation of his work.
In the same year, at an exhibition in Bechyně with the distinctive name Restart, he presented for the first time a series of sculptures created by shaping and fitting textiles impregnated with resin into historical sculptural forms. This is not just a mechanical transformation of the form and multiplication of the old form with non-traditional material. In a surprising way, Skalický combines his original training in the craft of art plastering with his purely artistic interests. Filling of the old form with new content, new interpretations that move traditional symbols to the present has become the founding principle of his work.
He first attempted and tested this technique sometime in 2011, when he put old overalls in a PET bottle. In 2017, however, he began to use forms of historical, mostly Baroque statues – angels, Madonnas, the Crucified Christ, skulls, but also, for example, Queen Nefertiti or Buddha. Each object of the heavy singular form is a paraphrase of such form, not its copy. It is a unique original piece of work that denies the original meaning of the form, intended for imitation and unlimited copying. However, textiles only take on the rough features of form. Places between fabric folds remain empty and the resulting shape is not the definitive one, it is not finished, nor completed, nor unambiguous.
The expression of the object is influenced by the immediate effect of light and shade, the angle of viewing as well as the surrounding space and context of display. (for instance in the Dominican cloister of Saint Jiljí in Prague in 2020).
Skalický once chooses light fabrics, distinguished only by subtle pink, ocher, or grey undertones evoking marble. At other times, he will use old hospital sheets, towels, or blankets, which again award the objects with new interpretive frameworks. By combining different materials, he draws bloody traces on objects and deliberately works with the aesthetics of kitsch. Skalický further grinds, cuts, or even burns his objects. He exploits all the possibilities that this way of creating opens up.
Adéla Janská & Martin Skalický – Hard Work
The Chemistry Gallery , Prague
21. 5. – 26. 6. 2021
The name of this joint project of painter Adéla Janská (1981) and sculptor Martin Skalický (1976) is ambiguous. This name represents various factors: the personal aspects of the work, the creative process itself, the need for constant self-assurance in a competitively motivated art scene, and, most of all, the very demanding situation that authors face living outside an art center. Although all these aspects concern both artists, they have not been the main focus for some time. The reasons are obvious. Neither of them stubbornly struggle over details, but instead, creation is a dynamic and spontaneous activity, where one piece flows into the next. The quality of the work is exceptional and is reflected in the growing respect and attention they arouse, as well as in their increasingly significant positions within the artistic community. At the same time, within a few years, the “handicap of separation” gradually has turned into something rather unattainable and exclusive. Although the name of the exhibition can be read in the sense of a personal story, in reality, it focuses much more on the thematic, content, and formal patterns introduced in the presented artifacts. In her new series, The Bride, Adéla Janská continues her gender-based direction of women’s view of the world, from the subjective spectrum of everyday experiences to the ideal of Beauty Queens or Slavic goddesses. The change is also reflected in the shape of the paintings. Although they are all anchored in reality, they move from individual materiality and private emotions to a traditionally accepted archetype. This space also represents a basic platform of sources for Martin Skalický and thus becomes one of the key intersections of the joint project. The original approach of this sculptor – an experienced restorer of façade elements – consists of the deconstruction of already existing plastic works. The defragmentation of the original forms creates a shift in their meaning. This author works extensively with classic references from the past. Whether they are Christian, mythological, or historical allegories, they mostly have characteristics of universal examples given by tradition or the original mission. In their work, both figuralists very often focus on the head or face as the center of rationality and the mirror of feelings. In their presentation, however, they seem to have deliberately suppressed this crucial aspect, so that it often turns into a neutral mask without expression. In Adéla Janská’s paintings, it is further emphasized by a translucent visor (protection and a barrier at the same time) set in front of the face, in which the living glitters with glass. In Martin Skalický’s faces, by contrast, the face is furrowed with grooves and folds, which sometimes deform it to the point of no expression. It is about the conflict between what takes place in front of vs behind the mask. The key categories that these visual artists are intensively addressing in the second plan are therefore inside and out. They show the contrasts, each by different means, and covertly demonstrate paradigms that extend beyond the real world. It may be showing the discrepancies between the pressure of social expectations and the instinct of self-preservation. Such tensions are clearly expressed in the series of paintings by Adéla Janská, of young women who lose themselves through the role forced upon them and represented by the ritual, costume, and mask of the bride. Skalický’s shell objects are caused mainly by a drastic change in the material – in addition to the typical textile, he does not hesitate to use cardboard or paper. They become the embodiment of the mask. On the one hand, they question the common idea of the statue. On the other hand, they unmask their original models, and it does not matter whether it is medieval piety or a detail of one of Štursa’s sculptures. If Janská crosses into the “other space” in her work through glosses and light reflections, Martin Skalický works with matter in depth and thus touches the darkness. Their intertwining exposition builds on differences in many ways but still speaks a similar language. Perhaps the hardest job is that of resisting the fate to which we are doomed. The same as accepting it, but not succumbing to it.