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.
Barčík's (1928–2004) creative works are faithfully described in Bohumír Bachratý's review on IV Mikuláš Galanda Group exhibition using the term rational reduction of shape (in. Výtvarný život. 6/1965, p 204). This simplification of shape is realized in geometrically definable outlines, which corresponds also with refined colour solution in mellow and unobtrusive tones (B. Bachratý).
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.
White Head (1980) by Andrej BarčíkTuriec Gallery
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.
Sitting Nude (1958) by Andrej BarčíkTuriec Gallery
“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.
Bending Nude from Behind (1984) by Andrej BarčíkTuriec Gallery
Sitting Nude from the Front (1984) by Andrej BarčíkTuriec Gallery
Nude with her Leg Folded (1982) by Andrej BarčíkTuriec Gallery
The drawings of nudes from the back by Andrej Barčík and Milan Laluha demonstrate the formal difference in depiction of a human figure in accordance with the objective of this presentation. Laluha differs from Barčík's position of reduced shape unit in marked
Nude Woman (1962) by Milan LaluhaTuriec Gallery
Laluha arranges figural compositions of drawings out of longitudinal strips, tubes, cylinders and twisted rectangles. Instead of a subtle and specific contours, he created spatial paintings of shades, shapes, and thick edges of female figure corporeality.
Nude Woman II. (1963) by Milan LaluhaTuriec Gallery
The formal aspect of Milan Laluha's (1930–2013) production is based on the solution of the problem of matter—that is fundamental for the artist (see BAKOŠ, Ján: Recenzia k IV. výstave skupiny Mikuláša Galandu (Review on IV Mikuláš Galanda Group exhibition). In: Výtvarný život. 6/1965, p. 210.). It is important to realize that Laluha does not use the traditional composition of the defined geometric figures, but creates a kind of steps—radial and concentric areas with marked three-dimensionality. This arrangement is so peculiar that it became the “sign” of this “Galanda Group member”, or as defined by the prominent art critic in Slovakia, Oskar Čepan, some kind of “Laluha's painting pattern”.
Auntie (1963) by Milan LaluhaTuriec Gallery
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.
“For their professional quality, authentic testimony and open attitude to a man and the world, the works by the artist Rudolf Krivoš (1933) became an integral part of the Slovak fine arts of the second half of the 20th century. Using lively brushwork with expressive result, the artist in his works captures figural motives, arranges the reliefs in layers, and protects the world of textures with glaze, later depicts a man with the paint that becomes a live medium, trickles down freely, and works. The story of human fate, existence, situation, absurdity, humbleness, and defiance in the tensions between instinctiveness and rationality constantly unfolds.” KUBÍKOVÁ, Klára: Rudolf Krivoš. Bratislava : Slovenský Tatran, 1998, p. 17.
Man with Cage (1962) by Rudolf KrivošTuriec Gallery
Figures in Landscape (1963) by Rudolf KrivošTuriec Gallery
Fighters (1958) by Rudolf KrivošTuriec Gallery
Red Balloon (1946 - 1964) by Rudolf KrivošTuriec Gallery
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.
Detail of the Red Balloon
“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.