On the one hand, Jan Kotík was destined to enter the art world thanks to his father, Pravoslav Kotík, a well known artist and graphic designer. On the other, he was part of a generation that anticipated the political and social changes wrought by the 20th century.
Kotík spent years gaining an apprenticeship at the Müller’s print shop, where he studied typography. His relationship to art was hugely influenced by a meeting with Vincenc Beneš, with whom as a boy he visited an exhibition of work by Bohumil Kubišta organised by his father in Mladá Boleslav in 1928. In 1935, he entered UMPRUM, where he studied with Professor Jaroslav Benda, and after completing his studies he became a member of Group 42 during the Second World War. The group’s municipal and suburban leitmotif [The World We Live In (J. Chalupecký, 1940) “And when we said “world”, we meant mainly the city.”] influenced the pictures he painted during the 1940s. After the group fell apart in 1948 he moved from figurative subjects to gestural abstraction (Eva Petrová), balanced by his early typographical experience that harmoniously moderated the expressive content.
Thanks to his father Kotík was an active participant in contemporary debates from childhood and absorbed the ability to address several disciplines and theoretical standpoints. From 1947 he was the head of the specimen workshops and studios of the Centre for Folk Art and Craft [Ústředí lidové a umělecké výroby, or ÚLUV]. After being investigated in 1952 for his contacts with the group of surrealists gathered around Karel Teige by the secret police, he gave up all leading positions (Petra Příkazská). He was the editor of the magazine Tvar / Face for the first three years of its activities. As well as working as an artist he was also a designer. His first work involved installing the exhibitions organised by ÚLUV for the Prague specimen trade fairs. From 1950 to 54 he processed metallurgical glass at the Škrdlovice glassworks with Emanuel Beránek. The work Dóza na kávu / Coffee Pot, made of topaz glass, belongs to this period (1952). He made carpets in the workshop headed by Ludvík Másl and also designed earthenware vessels. He began publishing texts and theoretical essays in Tvar in 1948. A good example would be Period of Sight / Údobí zraku, published in 1957 (pp. 1-2). In the same year he had a solo exhibition in the gallery Československý spisovatel / Czechoslovak Writer. A year later he participated in the world Expo 58 in Brussels, where he was represented by a glass mosaic entitled Sun-Air-Water / Slunce-vzduch-voda. After the invasion by Russian forces in 1968 he availed himself of a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) study trip and remained with his wife in West Berlin (Petra Příkazská), where he became an ethnic outsider among German artists. His peregrination and multidisciplinary background led him to experiment in art. He became a visual researcher, something most apparent in his conceptual, experimental works from the 1970s. He moved from painting to objects, which he later took apart. At the end of his life he had arrived at the point of formal reduction.
From autumn 2013 to spring 2014 the National Gallery in Prague held a retrospective of his work.
MLADIČOVÁ, Iva. Kotík (1916-2002). In Publikace věnovaná českému malíři Janu Kotíkovi. Praha : Národní galerie v Praze, 2011. ISBN 9788070354735.
KOTÍK, Jan. Neúplný kompas - Jan Kotík. Köln : Index, 1986. 108 s. (čeština) - Květoslav Chvatík o Janu Kotíkovi a českém moderním umění Ivan Bystřina v rozhovoru s Janem Kotíkem.