A masterful contemporary painter and printmaker, Miroslav Pomichal lives and works in London and Slovakia. The artist’s impressive oeuvre is distinguished by a sculptural treatment of the picture plane. Architectonic impasto like gestural forms translate into cubic expressiveness reminding one of the work of artists like Philip Guston as well as classic forms of modernism such as Russian Constructivism, Cubism and the gothic armature, broken lines and kinetic energies of German Expressionism. A highly collectible contemporary artist, Pomichal was selected for the 2014 Saatchi New Sensations exhibit and his work is found in the Ingram Collection of Modern British Art as well as select private collections.
The painter works and lives in London today, and often returns to rural Slovakia to find aesthetic inspiration. In an extensive body of both graphic and canvas work, Pomichal’s accomplished vision of structure, form and colour are a network of pictorial symbols laid out in a complex and robust style.
In the various series of paintings depicting emblematic symbols, landscape, urban vignettes, and scenes of conflict, black lines crisscross the surface of each picture, allowing a sense of disruptive narrative. Abstraction is interspersed with the use of myopic symbolism, a trope of Expressionist painting concerned with the issues and tragedies of modern life, and particularly the tragedies of war. The monumentally concrete armature of the legacy of Expressionism is punctuated dramatically by a sense of dramatic storytelling and a commitment to the spiritual side of humankind as well.
The artist also works in prints and recently collaborated on a book entitled The Picture Book of Ehrenfried of Entenbeurgh with the Invisible Print Studio, telling the story of a philosopher vagrant, and revealing the artist’s interest in what he calls “the gothic impulse…. laced with unreason, inter-connectedness, hypertension, anxiety, and feebleness of excess. The essence of ‘the Gothic impulse’ is schismatic and blasphemous, as well as anagogical and divine.”
Rosa JH Berland
The World’s Fundament in a Tale of Painting – Beata Jablonská, 2017
It is not important to know to what extent Miroslav Pomichal’s life is defined by his double home. One thing is certain; he is rich in an empathetic sensitivity of the pilgrim also thanks to it, a pilgrim who feels at home in a number of cultural environments. Slovakia and Great Britain are equally his home. He moved to London with his parents when he was 8 years of age, and even if he never lost touch with the country of his birth, it was above all the cultural background of London that steered his life’s journey. His path to art was far from straightforward, something that is clear from the data in his biography. At first he spent years in educational institutions specializing in the teaching of art history, then law, perhaps in order to saturate his restless yearning for knowing and learning. But slowly he began to realize that his interests were shifting away from the hoarding of knowledge towards a fundamental need to experience ‘knowing’ directly, in the flesh – through making. And thus something that is cardinally human, and yet often hidden from us. As he has remarked once, somewhere, his path to art seemed like a river that slowly and meandering sought its own channel, one that perhaps has finally been found.
Encountering Miroslav Pomichal’s paintings for the first time, they immediately and unavoidably impress with their striking expressive technique, their sharp and unbroken colour tones, the dynamic rhythm of their brushmarks, or their thick layering of paint. The visual memory of anyone briefed in art history brings up the opening chapters of European Modernism, particularly Fauvism, Expressionism and Cubism. He made the decision to be a discerning artist, one who already knows that an image is not ‘born’ in emptiness, from nothing, nor from the precocious ego of the painting master. Making is knowing, espousing and creating from the already existing and present, it is the spiritual piercing of an infinite recovery, the strange metabolism of art. And yet he grasped that he stood on the thin ice of closed and perhaps enervated systems, which often beguiles into superficial decoration, or into the easy confidence of tried and tested Postmodernist appropriation. He chose the language of expressive painting principally for reasons linked to the atavism of painting itself, with its innate genetic setup, in which he saw, as he himself noted once, the possibility of its power to “reach beyond the medium, beyond itself”. It is precisely this urgent physical-spiritual need that pushes him very close to the first avant-gardists, to their nostalgic yearning after a lost and vanishing world with its solid and established values. He says that he understands the avant-garde rhetoric of destructive (revolutionary for some) purification, euphoria from approaching change, and the undermining of erstwhile social, political, but also aesthetic status quos. But he is not alone in this understanding, since the living and present limb of expressive painting, whether as an embodiment of the conflict of collectivist utopia, or as individual angst, appears continuously in the history of Modernist, Postmodernist and contemporary art of the 20th and 21st centuries.
And yet Miroslav Pomichal does not work with this historical legacy as an untouchable pearl, or a dead concept. He uses it as the source of his own painting method, which he continually pushes into contemporary social, cultural and philosophical relations. His paintings are constructed on a narrative bound to the figure; always monumental, heroic, doing, forced into a dramatic tale. Or ‘merely’ interpreting an idea readable through simple gesture or attitude. Despite the fact that his painting technique crumbles in a rhythm of miniscule brush strokes, the final form and composition always leads into an unbreakable whole. A similar focus is revealed in his print making work, but here the delicate, but always almost impulsively urgent line is liberated from the dictates of the unifying principle. For him, the surface of the canvas or paper is a map of marks of dancing lines, it is a battlefield between chaos and order, between freedom and system. It is a document of the painter’s focus on painting, on painting as a pure act – a communication between him and the world, between the mind, hand and surface.
But Miroslav Pomichal’s aim is not painting for painting’s sake, or the self-presentation of the artistic ego. He loves the discipline of a narrative that can be uttered only in paint and only in an image. It is why his figures take on the dynamicism of the deed, and fill almost the entire surface of the canvas in powerful, even affected, gestures. Always battling, dancing, escaping or just strolling through fantastical landscapes stacked up by ornamental lines. It is not a contradiction that they hearken to a clear philosophical concept, built on the dualism of the Apollonian – Dionysian conflict, the contest and interplay between emotion and chaos, and order and reason. The prints and paintings of Miroslav Pomichal are an embodiment of this struggle, or even better are manifestations of both these positions as a fundamental creative principle. And perhaps they also reach beyond the image frame into the immanent essence in every fragment of our being, always and again so necessary to establish balance in the world.
Duino Elegies at Kun Kelemen, Bratislava, February 2017
Miroslav Pomichal’s first solo show at Kun Kelemen Fine Arts confronts the themes of tension and contradiction in his work: those between surface and materiality, acceptance and struggle, abstraction and the decorative. With new urgency his work exposes the troubled relationship that the now, the notion of the contemporary, has with its own legacy and mythology. In a newly focused set of paintings and two dimensional work, Pomichal draws on the strained and hidden legacy of Gothic form as it has been weaved in and out of Western cultural concerns. In particular, Duino Elegies draws upon the possibilities contained in the eponymous set of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. With their latent chiliasm, chambered interiority, and the archaism of faith, Rilke has locked the exhilarations and true possibility of spiritual purification from before the Great War into the final, innermost room.
Pomichal’s figures literally embody similar scars and dead ends of a collapsed cultural renewal. Landscape-like, individual limbs and torso parts mutually buttress each other like the decaying, mock-organic accretions of the carcasses of medieval cathedrals. Like the punctured and damaged skin of a flayed white whale, his paintings display the forlorn formal discoveries of the last maddened idealists. A particular and abiding influence is the work of early Modernists. Pomichal bluntly recalls their belief in spiritual redemption through form which has exerted the major gravitational pull on the schizophrenic aspirations of 20th century Western civilization. For him, early Modernism also frames a gateway, like a black hole, into the form-world of ancient and medieval cultures. Pomichal’s new body of work accordingly includes the trope of the serpent-conqueror; the struggle with the dragon. This, the oldest Indo-European mythic image underwent endless mutations. Pomichal’s strugglers cite the symmetric convolutions of Scythian ironwork as well as the rigidity of Byzantine mosaics. Overlaid with the faux-wood patterns of clichéd sub-Cubism, they also emanate the two more recent interests of Pomichal’s practice: European neo-Medieval fantasy, as well as the re-evaluation of New Image (Transavangarde) painting, both of which flourished with a sickly glow in the 1980s. For Pomichal, these visual phenomena display the stirring ways in which artists continue to feel the uncontrollable urge for visual convolution and the permeation of material surface and form with transcendent aspirations. In his new body of work, Pomichal savours the freedom of such limitations.