Michal Gabriel came on to the scene in the early 1980s and became one of the most strikingly postmodern artists. Postmodern expression was inherent in Gabriel’s work both in his first spontaneous phase of neo-expressionism, as well as in the second eclectic phase of reflected expression. From the beginning of his artistic activities we witness his absorbing narration of stories through the specific means of sculpture language. The fact that clay, paper, wood and a wide range of other materials can change in his hands into a sensitive and meaningful means of communication had for Gabriel a fascinating appeal and decisive influence. At the same time, however, he explicitly distances himself from “reckless” expression of spontaneous modelling: “... this material (paper, textile, wire) does not allow me to do what clay does: I don’t work with it that easily and so before I start working I have to know for sure what I'm going to do and not start with the notion that what ever isn't clear I'll just replace with modelling." (M.G.)
Following his strong neo-expressional fairytale figures of bird-men and other creatures of the unbound imagination modelled predominantly from wire and multi-coloured paper, his free sculpture language calms into wooden, ceramic, bronze and laminated sculptures and acquires gravity. The spontaneous and yet concentrated sense for the expressive possibilities of each detail is enriched by the need to tell an exciting story. Egyptian Girl (1985), Bird (1987), Scribe (1987) and Pegasus (1988) are examples of Gabriel’s artistic development, in which a spontaneous neo-expressive narrative gradually is gradually complicated by reflection on the expressive possibilities and specifics of the sculpture language.
After 1986 Gabriel, like other artists of his generation, began to realise that the hitherto communicativeness and comprehensibility of neo-expressionist stories is limited to the social group of generation types and interest in the possibility of a universal pictorial language and in the mystery of the communicability of personal expression moved to the foreground.
Compositions that the artist creates using a sensitive understanding of the composition of forms from “public" shapes such as biscuits, plastic doll moulds and moulds of other children’s toys express this tension between personal decision-making of the work and manipulation with provocatively impersonal nature of certain elements. In large sculptures created from tree trunks, the organic world of wood and of the sensitive sculptor's chisel that becomes familiar with the material contends with the impersonal nature of geometric shapes and language codes such as the alphabet (Strom 1994). The fact that in life various “language systems” exist side-by-side is reflected by compositions joining different materials and different “sentences” in one whole ( ).
Reflection on social co-existence in works, in which doubt is cast upon the possibility of assuming a single dominant position of perception, is related to this. The content of such a sculpture message is not an expression of a personal position identical with itself, but is the product of personal experience that alone can be understood as a fragment of the whole. The non-culminating nature of a sculpture composition is a sensitive expression of the impossibility to culminate personal experience, however deep it goes, since with the increasing depth of personal experience the experience of the social individual distances itself from the other pole that is communication and the agreed language system. Michal Gabriel also expressed his social experience verbally in a text at an exhibition at MXM Gallery in 1993 in which he describes the experience of falling off a cliff: during the fall he feels as if he's getting smaller. It’s as if the person falling experienced it through the eyes of another person observing the fall from the top of a cliff. The artist expresses here the experience of irreconcilable tension confirmation and denial of the dominant “I” position.
A similar tension between the identity of person experience and the experienced aimlessness of language systems is also expressed by the glass boxes in which objects are assembled so that their content and spatial arrangement prevent an understanding from a single view. Another variation of essentially the same tension is in the bronze landscapes. The bronze, sensitively damascened surface offers an adventure of a rich, distinct shape that evokes the infinite development of the personal imagination, but also shows its other, veristic, unimaginative side when we realize that the rich shape is the actual casting of a shrivelled pumpkin.
In his work since the end of the 1990s we see in Gabriel’s work the maturation of all previous phases of artistic experience in an organic synthesis. The works show the certainty of sculptural form that can reliably transform organic floral and faunal shapes so that in the tension between reality and its sculptural variant the specifics of both contexts emerges in the foreground, encouraging the view to reflect on the fact that human understanding is a complicated, never-ending adventure.
One other important characteristic of Gabriel’s work is worth mentioning. That is of creative freedom that provides the impetus for innovation and non-traditional sculpturing. In the beginning that was wire and paper, live polychromes, glass applications, laminate, objets trouvés, walnut shells and many other original materials and working methods. Often at exhibitions there appeared objects that brought to mind installations rather than sculptures. But these expressive means and non-traditional approaches were always subjugated to the sculptor’s view; meaning the artist who, as it was emphasised, works with reflections on the relation of the human body to its surroundings. The use of electronic elements in the sculpture is enabled by an awareness that in its relations to the universe the human body is a medium in which all possibilities are potentially contained. Organically among them is the use of electronic light and moving lighting effects, as well as the incorporation of the digital transmission of an image to the sculpture.
Michal Gabriel is not a philosopher speculating about human life; he’s a sculptor, yet his sculptures are not autotelic aesthetic artefacts, but are an expression of a sensitive human experience and of its maturation, and this gives all his works to date a clear and admirable consistency.
sculpture in public spaces - see: www.michal-gabriel.cz
Pomajzlová, A. (1987). Grotesknost v českém výtvarném umění 20.
století. Catalogue for the exhibition in Galerie hlavního města
Prahy/City Gallery Prague, Tiskařské závody n. p. Praha.
Tvrdohlaví (1987). Catalogue for the exhibition in Lidový dům, Prague-
Vysočany, Odbor školství a kultury ONV Praha 9.
2. výstava Umělecké skupiny Tvrdohlaví (1989). Catalogue for the
exhibition in Gallery ÚLUV in Prague, text in Czech and English,
Umělecká agentura SSM M-Art.
Ševčík, J. – Ševčíková, J. (1989). Popis jednoho zápasu : Česká výtvarná
avantgarda 80. let. Catalogue for the exhibition in Orlická
galerie/Gallery of Fine Arts, Rychnov nad Kněžnou and other
places, STZ n. p. Bratislava.
Olič, J. – Marhoul, V. (1990). Tvrdohlaví / De Hårde Hoveder / Tetes
Dures. Catalogue for the exhibition in Århus, Kunstbygning
and Rennes, Théâtre National de Bretagne, text in Danish and
French. Grafia Zlín.
Kolektiv autorů (1990). 40 Artistes : Tchèques et Slovaques : 1960–
1990. Catalogue for the exhibition in Musée du Luxembourg,
Paris, text in French. Art Defense, Flammarion, Paris, ISBN:
3. výstava umělecké skupiny Tvrdohlaví (1991). Catalogue for the
exhibition in the National Gallery in Prague – Municipal Library,
text in Czech and English. Ministerstvo kultury České republiky,
Ševčík, J. – Ševčíková, J. (1991). Bez distance : Ohne Distanz. Exhibition
catalogue, text in Czech and German. Kunstverein Wien.
Erben, V. (1991). „Michal Gabriel“, Výtvarné umění/The Magazine for
Contemporary Art, 1991(1), s. 37–40, Unie výtvarných umělců,
Galerie MXM 1991 (1992). Catalogue, Galerie MXM.
Galerie MXM 1992–1993 (1993). Catalogue, text Jana and Jiří Ševčíks,
Janoušek, I. – Keserü, K. (1993). Geometria Bohemia. Catalogue for
the exhibition in Műcsarnok Gallery, Budapest, text in Hungarian
and German. ISBN: 963-7550-35-6.
Lindeman, I. (ed.) – Hlaváček, L. (1993). Gabriel – Kokolia – Mainer
– Ruller. Catalogue for the exhibition in Chateau Mělník, text in
Czech, English and German. Höcherl Verlag, München.
Malá, O. – Gabriel, M. (1994). Michal Gabriel : Sochy. Catalogue
for the exhibition in Galerie hlavního města Prahy/City Gallery
Prague – Staroměstská radnice/Old Town Hall, text in Czech and
English, Studio KANT, ISBN: 80-7010-035-4.
Galerie MXM (1996). Catalogue, text Jana and Jiří Ševčíks, Martin
Dostál, Marek Pokorný, Studio Kant.
Olič J. (ed.) (1999). Výtvarná skupina Tvrdohlaví : 1987–1999. 219+(4)
s., in Czech with English resume, KANT – Karel Kerlický, Silverscreen
s.r.o, Praha, ISBN: 80-238-3836-6.
Various authors (2001). New Connection. Catalogue for the exhibition
in New York, World Financial Center, Bratislava, Galéria mesta
Bratislavy, Prague, the National Gallery in Prague, print i+i print
Bratislava, ISBN: 80-968203-7-0.
Olič, J. (2005). Michal Gabriel. Text in Czech and English, Michal
Gabriel, print Flora Praha, ISBN: 80-239-4183-6.
Olič, J. (2005). „Michal Gabriel“. IN: České ateliéry/Czech studios : 71
umělců současnosti/71 contemporary artists. Text in Czech and
English, ART CZ, ISBN: 80-239-5528-4.
Hlaváček, L. (2007). „Postmoderna a neoexpresionismus“ and
„Rozvíjení osobních přístupů nové skupiny a aktivity“. IN: Dějiny
českého výtvarného umění. VI/2 1958/2000, Ústav dějin umění
Academie věd České republiky, Academia, Praha 2007.
Olič, J. – Kudrna, J. – Jůza, J. (2008). Tvrdohlaví po 20 letech. Exhibition
catalogue, Galerie výtvarného umění/Gallery of Fine Arts,
Ostrava, ISBN: 978-80-85091-84-7.