Petr Malina

CITY TIME, Galerie kritiků, Praha /march 2015/
Radek Wohlmuth – City Time
Petr Malina paints in the same manner as others look. However, there are various types of looks and they testify to various things. In Malina’s paintings, the surroundings are captured above all clearly, realistically, and with certain disengagement. It is exactly the low threshold of emotional engagement which suggests that the paintings have been created by a professional observer. Their value does not lie in the uncovering of details for which the paparazzi strive. Petr Malina is careful and concentrated in his painting but the topics are represented in a general way, almost without detail. It may therefore seem that, despite the obvious link to reality, his paintings hide more than they show. This is enforced by the fact that even if he depicts specific places with specific people whose behaviour is conditioned by specific events, the paintings are mainly filled with nondescript facades of anonymous houses and people who in many ways represent the living reflection thereof.
If we take into account the fact that Malina knowingly chooses the topics of his paintings and his brushwork is not arbitrary either, we have to state that it is probably not the exact depiction of reality he is concerned with, but rather that reality serves as a means of recording other types of information. The object of his interest might be one of the qualities a look (as a tool that is able to capture similar street situations) can offer – fluidity. It seems that rather than to description, Malina is attracted to the unseizable secret of a common everyday moment. A moment which is over before anyone is able to realise it rationally. This is a viewpoint from which one can perceive the reference to time and topicality in the title of this exhibition, which also openly articulates another common denominator of his paintings, i.e. the city.
The city is an endless topic that is constantly up to date – a fascinating architectonic labyrinth, endlessly multiplied by windows and shop windows, a cultivated concrete jungle which continuously changes its form. These days, man often feels closer to the city than to the original nature where one paradoxically feels more endangered. The city is a volatile sum of repetitive elements – geometrizing lines, areas, masses and edges, and that is how it appears in Malina’s paintings. Even his “constructivist realism” which can be perceived as the first stage to abstraction is in a way urbane. It is predominantly obvious when he focuses his attention on a narrowed segment of a façade. He zooms in at a detail that loses its support when out of context and becomes a free composition. This process, which unobtrusively leads to minimalist non-objectness is emphasized by the fact that Malina paints from digital images. Thus, there is a double distance between his paintings and reality, since their direct model is not the objective reality but an encoded data file.
It is similar with Malina’s depiction of people. The focus on human figure is obvous from the format of his paintings which often exceed those depicting only architecture. In Malina’s artwork, people are not a mere façade. They often represent the major topic of the paintings and all the attention is fixed on them. Despite this, they usually have neither strong individual signs, nor are they the driving forces of action. They are standing, going somewhere, making phone calls or texting. They do not act aimlessly yet it is complicated to decipher their stories, which enhances the ambiguity of Malina’s oils. Despite their topic, they are primarily not the depictions of places and people, but predominantly represent visual schemes we are all familiar with, and thus can be self-identifying in both viewpoints – i.e. from the observer’s position as well as from the position of the observed. In this respect, the art of Petr Malina may be considered as the art of portrait / self-portrait. Yet at the same time, his artwork still remains a diary of the experienced moments which capture the pure perception, mood, atmosphere, the seed of a possible story – simply the moment. Through his paintings, Petr Malina teaches us to take a fresh look – around us and namely at ourselves. That is the main level – hidden but present – of his paintings.
Radek Wohlmuth
CITY TIMES, City Gallery Bratislava, Bratislava, Slovakia /march 2013/
Roman Popelár
When contemplating the paintings of Petr Malina, we cannot overlook two phenomena that are ever-present in them: the feeling of solitude simulated by an ostensible serenity and time that inexorably flows through this serenity. His approach to painting and the themes of his paintings are extremely close to that displayed by the American painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967). While Hopper’s subjects were primarily people captured during everyday activities in a contemporary landscape – environment, Malina shifts the “Hopperesque” approach to themes and their elaboration: first, this is colour reduction of the area, and he then leaves out details that complete or further define the environment. Therefore, the only remaining common element is a person with all the attributes of the given period, such as fashion, technical achievements – lifestyle. The realism of Hopper, on which the work of Petr Malina is partially based, becomes more abstract, geometric elements stand out more, the landscape becomes indefinite and thus less substantial. Malina is primarily interested in relationships: the relationship of a person’s dissociation from the environment in which he finds himself, the relationships of people create the stories of his paintings. These are usually cold, people are rushing, or they are closed into their own world.
Another painter whose work the artist openly espouses is Alex Katz (1927), or more precisely, certain features of Katz’s work. Both of their works feature that coldness, places bordering with the inclemency of the environment or portraits. However, Malina, in relation to Katz, is more frugal: foremost in colours. Katz allows emotions to stand out using a combination of cold and warm colours. Malina’s paintings are dominated by earthy and cold tones, which further intensify the cold and solitude. His paintings characterise the era in which we live, in which we move. And it is movement that is another important element of the figural paintings of Petr Malina: his people are in constant motion. They are hurrying, on a real or virtual thoroughfare, in relation to their environment. His paintings are a typical example of a scaled down photographic record of reality.
The City Times exhibition points out these facts; the contrast between romance and reality, the difference between calm and unrest, to a time that gives rhythm to life. The nature of the towns and places that the painter visited changes. City Times is a time for places, a time for people, a time for reflection, a time for retrospection.
Roman Popelár
ČERNÝ PETR, Aleš South Bohemian Gallery, České Budějovice /june 2006/
Petr Vaňous – Position between remembrance and memory
Painting personalism of Petr Malina is often marked as an idyllic one. Calms motifs and simple forms are prevailing. Painting are well-arranged, clean and clear. The author is an observer, who travels to watch his motifs. The element of time penetrates between the motif and picture. This element works as an element of a distance from displaying. Strange environment opens itself for Malina, it seems to be in more compact composition than the places which he knows very well and which he does not keep distance from. The author likes selecting motifs, where there are large clean colourful planes – sea, park. Similarly, in the figurative scenes there is a decisive relation between the figure and its frame. Choice of composition is bound to the photographs taken “in site”.
Malina expresses himself in the image files, who scope is different. He himself speaks about “the long-term immersion into the topic”. At the older works author’s concentration upon human figure and its environment prevails, in younger works it is possible to watch a swing to the free landscape. Human figure is here either equal to the landscape from the point of contents or it is restricted to the only staffage, possibly it is completely eliminated. Variations of the motif or the landscape framework (scale, colour etc.) are also frequent. Malina’s pictures are characterized by the consistent formal stylization. Scale plays an important role at the final pictures. More expressive smaller paintings correspond with the expressed emotion, while distance and sense of precisely conceived painter’s form is more important at the larger formats.
“Border areas” are a big topic for Malina. Next to the sea motifs, where the border of land and continuous water surface is taken, it is mainly image file from the London suburb. Slow transition between the body of a city and its suburban landscape is observed. Symbolically, this transition is also watched even in the image by the use of means of transport, which link both seemingly “separated” worlds – e.g. airplane, car. In another plane the “line of division” is observed on the plane of the sky itself, where there is a gradual light transition of day into the night and vice versa. Similarly, as well as the landscapes Malina is also addressed by the gallery space itself – this “life for itself”. These are the places, which have its own distinctive character. This is transmitted by the author into his pictures including the visitors caught in various snaps. Final images are paradoxically the exhibition represented at the exhibition.
The last works indicate a kind of self-reflection. There are stylized self-portraits, for their reading within the framework, where they are set, is important. View is turned up. This is not only a record of the distant landscape cut somewhere abroad, but the presence of the author is confessed. There are some confirmations of the visited places. Author’s “ego” penetrates into the context of painting. This self-confirmation takes place both in free space and in closed spaces. Selection is targeted. These are visited world-famous galleries and museums. Malina is portrayed here as a cultural tourist, who arrived here to admire his favourite painter such as Alex Katz, Edward Hopper or Luc Tuymans.
Petr Vaňous
THREE PLAYERS, Brno Gallery, Brno /october 2005/
Jan H. Vitvar
The paintings of Petr Malina are all too attractive to avoid problems with a certain part of the Czech stage of graphic art. The reason for it is the apparently innocent fact that few people would refuse to hang his paintings into their living rooms. At first sight the pictures do not disquiet, they do not provoke, you are free to meditate in front of them, admiring the dexterity of their author. And this is just not “in”. Let us leave aside the question to what extent such approach may be irrelevant, much rather stating that Malina’s pictures are not that very pleasing.
At least in the recent period of time. Year ago, when he started over-painting some found photographs from his childhood and borrowed snapshots of his relatives holidays, some sort of the author’s search of a dreamy paradise can have been present. But just the effort to touch something otherwise unachievable by this brush was rather depressing. Today Malina belongs to the elite of our present day painting (the most visible evidence was his successful independent presentation at the Gallery City Prague – Galerie hlavního města Prahy). Things that used to be unaffordable for him are by far more accessible all over sudden, including travelling abroad. The most fruitful seems to be his experience from England on whose islands he created extensive photographic material as models for further pictures. After having visited the London Galleries, he painted a series of portraits of visitors strolling before the works of world’s masters, after having walked in the streets, he produced a set of dawdling pedestrians, flying clouds, landing and leaving airbuses.
Whereas his former sceneries, especially seashores and riverbanks may have awakened melancholy due to the fact that such distant idyll was withheld continuously by various problems, the same feeling here is invoked by the melancholy of the paintings themselves. Malina tries to highlight things that are almost always left unnoticed, although they may be spectacular. And quite recently his view-finder (he keeps rather strictly to the optical frame of his photographic models) has caught environments leading the author to unexpectedly strong gloom.
However, Malina is not overcome by melancholy. By the way, he invented a special joke for this exhibition, to tease another circle of his critics. By offering his self-portrait at the entry to the Viennese Katz exhibition, namely for those who reproach his work for the alleged excessive proximity to the paintings of Alex Katz, he does not leave any doubt that there is a link, at least this one.
Jan H. Vitvar
ARTNOW.CZ, Mánes Gallery, Prague /july 2003/
Petr Vaňous
Petr Malina’s art can be described as idyllic. He draws his themes from his own experienced reality. He works with elements concerning two areas of human existence – experience and memory. His paintings thus naturally embody elements of intimacy and privacy. Malina expresses himself in series of paintings whose extent varies. He himself speaks of “a long-term submersion in a theme”. Photographs are used to assist the preservation of memory. His paintings are formally pure with clear content. The artist focuses on capturing the more pleasant aspects of human existence connected with rest and relaxation, which his choice of background relates to – cottage regions, city parks, beaches, the sea. In his earlier work, Malina predominantly concentrates on the human figure; in more recent works we can see his inclination toward landscapes. The human figure is either shown as equal in content to the landscape or is relegated to mere pageantry, or left out altogether. The paintings also contain variations of motifs or landscapes (scale, colour, etc.). Malina’s paintings characterise a thorough formal method, resulting from a system the can be summed up as follows: photography – watercolour – painting. The first step is the watercolour interpretation of the photograph. The watercolour simplifies the photographed subject and, in its technical essence, preserves the formal spontaneity of the visual recording on a drawing and colour. Then a transfer of the motif from the watercolour to the canvas is carried out. Scale plays an important role in the final painting. The more expressive smaller paintings better correspond to the conveyed emotion, while the larger formats gain an emphasis of distances and a sense for a precisely conceived form of painting.
Petr Vaňous
SUMMER AT LIDO, City Gallery Prague – Municipality Library, Prague /november 2002/
Karel Srp – The Remains of summer
A lone woman at the seashore, a recurring image which became an obsession and returns whether she was actually beheld or merely dreamt, developed into one of the characteristic motifs in Petr Malina’s latest collection of paintings, simply entitled Summer on Lido (2002). The collection was created from year-old records and experiences acquired at the popular summer tourist resort. Malina first captures the original visual experience through cursory photographs, which are succeeded by numerous watercolours that provide him with an initial painter’s feel for the terrain - a colourful and compositional starting point. Only then does he decide whether to compose the painting or not. Malina adheres to an extremely steady work schedule, similar to that kept by other artists. This not only allows him to at any time revive his original perception, but, above all, maintain the distance from it necessary for a free rendering of the painting – his primary interest. In contemplating the painting itself and the overall organization of the free cycle (often formulated with regard to the space in which it is to be first exhibited), Malina intellectually reassesses a standardising impression, which is so fleeting that it quickly dissolves and is lost in memory.
As a student at the Fine Arts Academy in Prague, Malina had already opted for one means of conceiving a picture remote from experimentation and a plurality of styles. This meant that he had to consciously acquire a certain approach corresponding to artistic inclinations that had an obvious tradition. Malina, that is to say, thoroughly adopted the principles of “modern” painting, sometimes narrowed down to only the most varied expression of the relationship to a surface and the suppression of an illusive dimension. The difference with Malina’s work, however, is that these aspects are not a goal for him, but merely one of the starting points serving to fixate the visual experience. Even though Malina’s themes possess a marked spatial character, they are presented with as much of a surface-like quality as possible so that the paint is asserted as the bearer of these themes. Yet not even these formal properties make up the boundary of his approach. Time has become his main theme: not time referring to an event in a painting or the slow march of time in which this event originally took place external to the picture, or even a feeling of eternal idylls that Malina had during his stay at the beach, but a rupture in time in which a surface is born from a colour and allows for free play with the space. In contrast to the preliminary photographs, colour is decisive for Malina, providing the image to surface, space and shape.
It seems as if Petr Malina’s works are constricted as much as possible with regard to formal and thematic aspects. Their semantic value focuses mainly on an original artistic statement. With Malina’s paintings, themes are not derived from the picture. His visual code therefore becomes an easy trap for viewers perceiving the painting as mere episodes, as daily or yearly repeating truisms of petty holiday “rituals”. The artist, attracted by continuance in a calm natural state of an impalpable event, avoids expression, intellectual strife, artificial inversions or concealed contents. Malina is attracted to purged and empty semantic fields instilled with obsessive motifs: one figure, a couple walking, a standing group turning to face the sea, long shadows, ships at sea, gently rising waves and clear blue skies. Continuance on the border of the everyday directs the viewer’s mood toward a longed-for experience of idleness and oblivion. His imagination is freed from the picture itself, providing the impulse for involuntary associations. Malina draws things together and associates them. The scenes represented can be transferred to any beach, even though for him they took place on Lido. The colour scheme and luminosity of this place made a strong impression on him, but he did not overly emphasize its uniqueness. The specific does not devour the general. Malina contemplates how far one can go in the using detail to emphasize the specific, but offsets the distinct with the familiar. It’s enough just to take note of the colours of clothes: for instance, the pink skirt in Mother and Daughter, the inconspicuous grey shirtsleeve of a man’s suit in A Moment of Peace, whose colour has extraordinarily strong symbolic values, or the colour of the edge of a white towel in Alone. In the series The Summer on Lido, Malina is subconsciously affected by contemporary social changes, apparent from the depiction of the family as the basic social unit (see Family I and Family II), whose unavoidable obligations include a holiday at the sea, taken regardless of the interests of the individual members. Malina’s paintings offer a view of how this surviving cultural model is falling apart and acquiring a more contemporary form of solitary individuals. As with the colour scheme, which always differs inconspicuously from picture to picture such as in the sand’s changing tonality, Malina narrowed the composition down to the essentials: a view can be carried away by the horizontal of a defining beach and sea, by the vertical of human figures, by the diagonal of shadows, wooden piers or the coast. In A Little Longer a contingency of parallel diagonals does not escape the eye. These diagonals are expressed by a shadow embodying the inalterability of time and a pier running out to the sea. In Friends it is as if a short slanted shadow in the left part of the picture corresponds with a short pier on the right. It is also apparent in all of Malina’s pictures that the sea level determines the size of the figures: the horizon runs just below the tops of their heads.
Malina’s figures are often turned with their backs to the viewer; at any rate we can’t say that they are watching something like in a German Romantic painting in which the figures tensely await a natural phenomenon or incoming ship. Instead, Malina’s figures stare out into emptiness, as if their lives were defined in contradiction to it. They are turned into groups of anonymous coloured specs, reverberating from the drab background of the empty sea. In several paintings, Malina’s expression turns almost monochrome: the ship in Sailboat is made from a grey-blue tonality and its sails catch the reflections of the sky and sea. This miniscule painting, suppressing any kind of more complicated compositions, demonstrates Malina’s subtle sense for colours. Following in the enduring painter’s tradition, Malina grasps it in a new way.
Malina’s paintings touch our personal experiences of loneliness, friendship and play. They are, however, above all about observing the picture itself.
Karel Srp