At the beginning of his career (at the turn of the fifties and sixties) Radoslav Kratina was involved in applied arts. He created many fabric designs featuring geometrically rhythmical patterns. He also designed toys in which he tested the principle of transformation within a spatial solution. Figurines and cubes were the result, which were intended to stimulate children to play in the form of adding individual elements in accordance with certain rules.
In 1963 began creating monotypes by printing various found items, for instance matchboxes, tattered pieces of cardboard, razorblades, as well as plaster dropped onto a board. The year 1964 marks a turning point in Kratina’s work, when he created his first variable relief. He filled a wooden frame with burned matches and the result was a relief the form of which could be transformed by pressure of figures and the appearance of the texture changed. In 1965 he created his first wooden variable, in which rods were divided into red and white squares. They were played in a frame in which they could be moved horizontally.
In the second half of the sixties a range of variable reliefs were created (Kratina called them variables), which developed the basic principle of the variability of elements. They comprise cork stoppers or variously formed wooden sticks, rollers or pegs. The basis is a geometric construction which allows for the creation of an infinite number of variations. The choice depends on the recipient and is essentially a question of chance. The artwork waits for the viewer to complete or change it. No one outcome is given preference over the others.
In the sixties wood was Kratina’s basic material. In the first half of the seventies he began experimenting with metal. Wood was not the most appropriate material, because it didn’t lend itself to sufficiently precise processing. The artist had always wanted to attain a precision within the order of tenths of a millimetre in order that the elements of his objects could move freely and without effort. Kratina first purchased prefabricated technical elements from ironmongers – prisms, squares, hexahedrons, rods, needles. Later he found a workshop where the workers were able to create individual metal pins, prisms and rings using his drawings. He first used iron, and later brass and light aluminium alloy. He treated the surface in different ways. In the case of iron and brass he attained a high sheen through nickel and chrome. In other works he created a rough, mat surface. Sometimes he blackened the iron. Over the thirty years he created metal objects Kratina used several different workshops, from which he ordered work on the basis of precisely described projects and technical instructions.
Naturally, the new materials changed the appearance of his works. The original relief structures from the seventies became free sculptures. Tower-like constructions began to arise and objects comprising of gushing rods. As opposed to the objects of the sixties, these new objects featured clean lines and were technically perfect. However, the principle remained the same. These were objects whose parts could be manipulated so as to change their appearance.
Radek Kratina’s work is rational. Everything is processed by machine rather than by hand. With his emphasis on the moving side of objects Kratina was close to mimetism – the number of forms the sculpture could take was endlessly variable. Kratina wanted his art to persuade the viewer to play. He offered anyone and everyone the opportunity to create the most various forms of individual sculptures.
Radek Kratina. Idea con variazioni (kat. výst.). Texty: Jan Sekera, Jiří Machalický, Jan Kříž, Radek Kratina, Josef Hlaváček. Praha, České muzeum výtvarných umění 2000.
Kateřina Rusoová, Variabily Radka Kratiny, Variabils of Radek Kratina, 2010