Bedřich Dlouhý is a romantic by nature and a confirmed weaver of mysteries. He began his creative work in the 1950s, when he co-founded the Šmidra group. The group organised various Dada happenings, unofficial works in opposition to the communist ideology of that time. These events included Malmuzherciada (1954 Prague and the exhibition on Střelecký Island in Prague in 1957). This Dada performance became the core of the Šmidra Group (the group acquired its name in 1957). Other members included Jan Koblasa, Karel Nepraš and Jaroslav Vožniak. The group’s performances were a student prank, a Dada gesture and a manifestation of resistance, not only to the official situation at that time, but to all conventions. From the start the happening-based soirées and meetings of the Šmidra Group were characterised by absurdity, weirdness, the grotesque, parodies, black humour and sarcasm rather than pure creativity, and Dlouhý was an active participant.
Around 1960 Dlouhý was influenced by informel. Gradually his characteristic style took shape, featuring the processing of the legacy of surrealism and romantic symbolism, the poetics of which Dlouhý combined with the expressive resources of pop art. His pictures and objects were imbued with the absurd grotesquery always to be found in his work. Since the 1960s he has create many assemblages. In these objects he managed to transform the banality of ordinary items and the magic of cast-offs and unnecessary items into his own vision of a world of Kafkaesque complexity. Assemblages comprising scraps of reality torn from the original context were combined in later works with the sleek painting techniques of the Old Masters accomplished with great virtuosity to the smallest detail.
In certain works Dlouhý ironised the ubiquitous world of advertising. With its references to consumer society these works hinted at pop art, but the overall impression is more of an individual poetics, filled with a sharp, creeping humour and making reference to the eternally powerful inheritance of Dada.
In the 1970s, he focussed on painting as well as objects made of plexiglass cartons. One of his works was a “portrait gallery of banality”, drawing on the iconography of fashion magazines. He placed the models in a banal environment and gleefully set about transforming the portraits of these beauties into paradoxical spectacles with a critical subtext. He also created large-scale drawings of various items accompanied by built-in light sources. Thematically speaking these were everyday items promoted to subjects worth of artistic depiction, again with a large dose of ironic humour.
Around 1980 Dlouhý took this subject into painting. He created a series of grey pictures in which everyday items emerge from the grey surface. He then returned to figural themes, again inspired by models from fashion magazines. He ironised female beauty with his typically grotesque approach.
From midway through the 80s onwards, Dlouhý again moved in the direction of assemblage. Complicated formations result in which he paraphrases the beauty of classical painting (this involves almost literal quotations from the works of the Old Masters Vermeer, Rembrandt and Caravaggio) and in which he combines virtuosic painting with bulky items which are either real or imitate various objects. Dlouhý is close to Verismo in his painting technique. In the 80s and 90s he created monumental objects of walls and since the end of the 90s the central theme of his painting has been the self-portrait.
Bedřich Dlouhý is an outstanding artist and is fully capable of painting like an Old Master. However, his realism is always violated by a strange element (the Šmidra “aesthetic of the strange” never disappeared from Dlouhý’s work). This can be a real item possessing some curious quality which is incorporated into the painting, or a detail which doesn’t logically belong to the painting. Irony, absurdity and the grotesque have a permanent place in Dlouhý’s work.
Bedřich Dlouhý, Autoportrét V. Text: Jiří Machalický. Galerie Montanelli, MuMo, Praha 2010.