Czech by birth but Parisian by adoption Jiří Kolář was a multifaceted and multifaceted artist. Son of a baker and a seamstress, he was born in 1914 in Protivìn, in southern Bohemia. He carries out very disparate jobs (carpenter, baker, blacksmith, waiter, railway worker) but his passion for the arts never fades.
In the 1930s he exhibited his first collages in Prague and wrote some of the poems that will be published at the beginning of the following decade. His research proceeds parallel between visual poetry and art, ranging from time to time also between literature (he is the author of some books for children and essays).
In 1942, together with the art historian Jindřich Chalupecký, the sculptor Ladislav Zívr, the painter František Hudeček, the poets Ivan Blatný, Jiřina Hauková, Josef Kainar and other artists, he founded Group 42 (Skupina 42) and mainly devoted himself to poetry.
In 1953 he was arrested because some of his writings are considered “subversive” by the Czechoslovak regime. Sentenced and then amnestied, he undergoes the ban on any publication (the ban will remain in force until 1964).
His research in the field of visual arts led him to experiment with different collage techniques and to invent some of them. At the beginning of the 1950s, he created the series of Confrontages (i.e. the almost surrealist combination of two different subjects) and Rapportages (comparison of different subjects but united by a semantic basis, for example: Two Interiors of 1952, in which Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox and an open electronic calculator with its mechanisms in plain view are put in relation).
A little later are the Rolages, or collages made by “cutting into strips” the image of a famous work and then gluing it according to a rhythmic sequence or alternating the strips with those extracted from another image, for example the Basin of San Giorgio Maggiore di Canaletto and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus become the rolages Venus a Vènis.
A different technique is that of the Intercalages, that is fragments of works grafted on wings of butterflies, silhouettes of the animal world and – subsequently – in forms and silohuette taken from other paintings. Chiasmages are placed on the same line of research, in which letters, words, verses from the Talmud or from the Bible, numbers and even musical scores become fragments to be glued, superimposed, crumpled.
Almost as a negation of these techniques, which add and combine different elements, the “anticollage”, that is the Zmizìk (disappearances), works in which Jiri Koliar “cancels” the objects from the reproductions of some works. For example in the Blue Vase of Cezanne, it makes the vase disappear.
Jiří Kolář: Prague Spring and exile
On the eve of the Prague Spring, Kolář enthusiastically supports Alexander Dubček’s attempt to reform the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and realizes Hebdomadaire 67: the first collage-style newspaper that tells the story until the intervention of the Warsaw Pact troops.
In the following years he traveled a lot and received numerous prizes: in 1968 the Mirò Prize in Barcelona, the Central Committee prize of the National Front in Prague and that of the Lignano Biennial; in 1969 the prize of the San Paolo Biennial; in 1971 the Herder prize in Vienna.
In 1977 he signed Charter 77, one of the most important dissenting initiatives in Czechoslovakia. In 1980, while his assets were confiscated at home, he settled in Paris, where he founded la Revue K (Rivista K), dedicated to artists of Czech origin, like him, in exile in France.
The return to Prague
He returned to his homeland only after the Velvet Revolution (1989) which put an end to the Czechoslovakian communist regime. The symbolic and public reconciliation of the new Czech Republic with its artist, however, only took place in 1990 at the Venice Biennale, where the first work of the Poetry in knots of 1963 is exhibited: an assembly made with twine, thread, trimmings and cardboard.
In 1999, after a stroke, Jiří Kolář moved permanently to Prague, where he died in the summer of 2002. Shortly after his death the painter Achille Perilli, who was a close friend of his, dedicated a tribute to him in his Metek magazine.