A human figure and a man's face are the anthropological constants in the development of the fine arts. The need to depict life in its diversity motivates to the most peculiar expressions of human imagination and creativity. In modern art and also in the chapters of the national arts of Central European region, figurative production remains to be important. Besides irrelevant abstractions and conceptual tendencies of Postmodernism, a man and his shape, figure, and its appearance are an endless source of information about the period and its style, social values, cultural priorities, political ideologies, and religious traditions. We can observe three different approaches to the depiction of a man in the example of works by three significant personalities of modern art in Slovakia: Andrej Barčík, Milan Laluha and Rudolf Krivoš; held in the collections of the Turiec Gallery in Martin. In the following presentation these three members of the important artist's Skupina Mikuláša Galandu (“Mikuláš Galanda Group”) (five collective exhibitions: 1957 – Žilina, SR; 1959 – Bratislava, SR; 1962 – Bratislava; 1965 – Bratislava; 1968 – Berlin, Germany) do not represent any group production program but they are solitary and have individual creative approaches to portraying a man.
Rational linearity dominates both the frontal portraits and the following drawing of a female face. Human physiognomy is minimalistically indicated in a practically naive plan of the frontal view of the portrayed person. The sex of both of them is distinguishable in their faces only by the hairstyle convention, while their features are constantly limited to elementary outlines. In general the stress laid on the contour is a characteristic feature of Modernist drawing and linear painting. Think of the arrangement of geometric figures by Cubists and Futurists, tremulous line of Expressionists, as well as trivialization of body masses and formal composition of objects in case of Modern School of Paris. And it was the very reflections of Chagall's simplification and Rousseau's naiveness are clearly present in Barčík's works.
Unlike the earlier faces the White Head, roughly sketched female head, from 1980 has a specific feature that allows the head to drop the sexless anonymity of reduced shapes. The very slight details of stretched cheek contours, narrowed lips, nose and eyebrows extended subtle line together with round eyes narrowed in a dreamy expression highlight the power and effect of a drawing in modern art using the least of means of expressions.
“A drawing always incorporates abstraction, essence of shape appearance we perceive by eyes. Therefore a drawing can be rightly designated as more or less abstract, spiritual artistic means. While painting always tries to provide a complete, closed image of the reality, or just its made-up natural section, a draftsman does not try to render a picture, but the picture's spiritual vision—visual message”. In. LEPORINI, Henrich: Umelecká kresba (“Artistic Drawing”). Martin : Matica Slovenská, 1944, p. 6.
Comparing to Barčík's works, the content framework in the works by Laluha reveals a new
aspect of inspirational sources for modern depiction of a man. It is a social aspect of the persisting link between Slovak art and country, traditional rustic themes. The motif of working women in their typical rural clothing and scarves on their heads is already formally solved in the pattern of geometric shapes mentioned above. So contrary to the straightness of the line and anonymity of the bodies in Barčík's studies, Laluha presents himself with his pattern of the plastic surfaces reminiscent of Slovak Modernism's classic themes, as it is known with Galanda, Fulla, and Bazovský. The motifs of a man and nature, working man, and generally a man in the dynamic connection to the environment around him.
In comparison to the existing positions of a man in Barčík's and Laluha's works, Rudolf Krivoš is more philosophical. The rational side plays a key role in his expressive works with elaborated texture. He subjectively defines the limits of corporeality and also humaneness. Before he conveys a message about a man, Krivoš defines the limits of the man. Organic structures often inherently offer to him the possibility for analyzes of both the surfaces and interior parts of living matter. Here a man is dehumanized, painted into a corner of impersonality and loss of identity. At some other time the relief of his painting and coating material is pervaded and filled by the content highly human. It is not a specific man, that one is always too abstracted into expressive gestures, but the objects surrounding him become his attribute—they identify him. These indications of themes, such as balloon, are often the initiators of particularly contrasting moments in paintings, and these, in contrast to the corrugate texture of figures, provide smooth and symbol-pervaded traces of complete contents.
“Naturally, the new figuration represents not only a single stream, within the contemporary
production, which follows the line of studying a man and inner dramas inside the individual.
In contrast to Surrealism, fantasy, Informel painting, the new figuration has a certain peculiarity: it solves problems more publicly. It views its own drama not only individually, but on the social basis. Not only as the crisis of feelings, but as the crisis of values. Therefore it is more affected and public, even when mocking public, and more collective where the collective is criticized. It is critically humanistic.” NOVÁK, Luděk: K estetice nové figurace (“Towards Aesthetics of New figuration”) (1967). In: ŠEVČÍK, Jiří – MORGANOVÁ, Pavlína – DUŠKOVÁ, Dagmar: České umění 1938-1989 – programy, kritické texty, dokumenty (“Czech Art 1938–1989 – Programs, Critical Texts, Documents”). Praha : Akademia, 2001, p. 317.
Mgr. Miroslav Haľák, PhD.