Although the painter Tomáš Kubík was born in Pelhřimov, (the Czech Republic), at the end of the twentieth century (born Oct.15th, 1977), his mental roots go back to the sixteenth or seventeenth century Italian and Flemish art. This affinity does not mean that he is a typical “fuddy-duddy” walking around in Renaissance costumes and criticizing the present world. His experiments with mixing various historical styles are not due to an artistic uncertainty. It is rather the artist’s mental tie to the attitudes of the Mannerists, who focused on the relationship of individual parts to the whole Artwork.
I would like to recall one quote from the sixteenth century, which sounds surprising in today’s quest for originality. Tintoretto is said to have written on the door of his studio: “Michelangelo’s drawing, Titian’s colours”. In the sixteenth century, painters tried to take the best elements from each work and combine them in an even more beautiful painting of their own. But what a Mannerist could take for his pride, would not be so attractive in today’s quest for originality. It is hard to imagine a contemporary artist writing on the door of his studio: “Lucien Freud’s drawing, David Hockney’s colours”. This would seem to ridicule his art in eyes of the others. Everything must be completely unrepeatable in our time.
Kubík has his own concept of artistic style, where an artist with perfect technical skills can become an experimenting art historian. His art is a laboratory of styles and objects in mutual tension and thematized pictorial illusions. This is his home to which he keeps returning. He is not afraid of Tintoretto’s ideas of imitation, or spicing one style with another, while putting both into a new context. In this context being a Postmodernist, or Mannerist, doesn’t make such a big difference. Today, no one is surprised by Japanese soup and a Viennese dessert in the same lunch, if the end result is well-balanced.
Tomáš Kubík got into the Václav Hollar High School of Fine Arts, the best institution in the country providing young artists with first-class drill in technique. Young Tomáš was painting and drawing from morning to evening, according to a live model, according to plaster casts, he tried all possible graphic techniques.
Thanks to his drawing skills, Kubík was readily accepted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU) where he was assigned to the school of classical painting techniques headed by the renowned Prof. Zdeňek Beran (1996-2002). This period was crucial to his artistic development. Professor Beran gave him the opportunity to use his extraordinary technical equipment and his natural inclination to study old masters, while at the same time he stimulated Kubík to approach the very nature of the academic tradition, which he saw in very unusual perspective. Professor Beran did not share the canonical view of art history. He had his own, very persuasive vision of the “Hussite painter”, a warrior of God with a brush instead of a mace. The brushstroke must unveil the general clichés of beauty and reveals to the viewer the raw truth. Beran hated weak modernism especially in its conformist form of late socialism. Among authors, he despised the pro regime modernists of the seventies and eighties, but surprisingly, he also despised even the state aesthetic of prewar Czechoslovakia. On the contrary, he promoted several lesser known artists and retrograde academics, which constantly provoked his colleagues. Beran believed in a type of image decomposition which was different than what the Cubist and Modernist movements were offering. He deeply admired the Baroque masters. While considering ridiculous the Marxist interpretations of the 1950s, he believed that the Baroque painters struggled with the church to achieve artistic truthfulness. In doing so, he created an entirely alternative idea of the development of modern art, where the Baroque Art, Structuralism and the Informal formed one common art-style cluster. Beran saw the contemporary enemy of art in consumerism. He liked to preach against that which so often marked the success of his students’ academically “perfect” canvases. He criticized the commercial successes of his pupils which he saw as their seduction by the glitter of money. In this way, Beran a peculiar polarity of nineteenth century academism and radical nihilism in his studio, a strange mixture possible only in a post-Communist country. While this polarity was very fruitful, it also created significant tension with the leading professors and other art studios at the Academy. However, it also instilled a strong bond amongst Beran’s students at the Academy.
Professor Beran fully supported Kubík’s enthusiasm for old masters. In his first year, Kubík was involved with still life painting. The theme of apples and glasses of compote on a blanket under the title “Study of decomposition” (1997). It was depicted in five different versions, following the gradually rotting of the fruits to their overall decomposition. Thus ushering the “classical” still life format into complete annihilation. In the creation of still lifes, Kubík concentrated on the symbolism of the traditional vanitas with its typical muted colors. (drying agave, onion, basket study). Even then, we can observe some of its typical features: painting of complete image cycles, which follow one theme in many successive versions, chiaroscuro and introverted tension between individual objects. It is noteworthy that the works of his early years at the Academy were repeatedly exhibited alongside his mature work. This was mainly done because his technical bravura exceeded the mature works of many of other hyper realistic painters. Even then, professor Zdeněk Beran was pushing for radical gestures in the creation of chamber genres, which were incompatible with the artistic character of Tomáš Kubík. This inability to be more provocative revealed a more intimate and enclosed world of objects and characters in Kubík’s art, accompanied by an emphasis on the relationship of isolated parts.
Beran’s studio was a traditional painter’s workshop in terms of strict work discipline. Kubic uses predominantly live models in his works. He believes that the dynamic nature of the model/artist encounter lets him reveal subtle realities not accessible from a photograph. With a firm basis of technical mastery, he gradually began creating larger compositions.
The freshly opened iron curtain made it possible to study abroad. Kubík could now practice his love of the Baroque Art. He was influenced by the famous exhibition of Rembrandt’s self-portraits and Caravaggio’s great canvases combining religious pathos with the realism of rustic human types. He was also captured by Michelangelo and the Belvedere torso. Direct experience with the masterpieces East Europeans could not see for the whole generation culminated in the first major milestone of his work, which was a series of self-portraits combining the psychology of Rembrandt, with Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro and realistic detail. At first glance, Kubík is caught by the contrast between neo-Baroque theatrical gestures and psychological insecurity, or the ironic self-inspection of characters reacting to the outside world. The viewer reads various counter intuitive, nonverbal signals, which end up in total uncertainty and surprise. In his interpretation of traditional patterns, he tries to portray a person as a container of classical European painting, but he fills these formally perfect boxes with inner doubt or emptiness illustrated by an internal depression. A series of self-portraits resulted in canvases, where Kubík repeats the self-portrait several times in a kind of deaf-mute emanation, studying his own face in an intricate lighting mode. The author displays consciously the ridiculousness of narcissism, we are confronted daily by the constant consuming of “selfies” with different backgrounds and in unusual disguises. This influx of self-portraits culminated in a major work, a self-portrait with a figurine (2001). Here, Kubík uses Tintoretto boxes with artificial lighting containing various objects. It is noteworthy that he discovered this technology for himself and thus automatically changes the style towards Baroque tenebrism, which happened once before in the sixteenth century.
But Kubík is not only inspired by the past. Of course, he also studied contemporary artists such as Francis Bacon or Lucian Freud. Oddly enough, both artists reflect Baroque painting as well. In addition, Kubík was influenced by the aesthetics of film and photography. Along with the baroque inspired tenebrism, he developed a hyperrealism-influenced style focusing on the human figure. Two important cycles belong to this style period. It is a series of various acts (2001) and a series of personal relationship compositions (2000 – 2001).
With ambitions to cope with the contemporary art scene and new media, Kubík switched to the studio of Milan Knížák, where he had to confront artists with totally different views. He studied there between 2002 and 2004. This transfer was initiated by Professor Beran himself. In the post-revolutionary years, the Academy was guided by mutual respect between Zdeněk Beran and Milan Knížak. There was an unwritten agreement between the two main studios of the Academy on the mutual permeability of their schools, so that students get what the other studio could not offer. Professor Knížák liked to lead students to precisely such artistic positions, where they felt the least comfortable. He believed it was necessary for well-rounded artistic development. Knížák saw and appreciated the perfect technique of realistic painting by Tomáš Kubík, but he successfully stimulated him to experiment much more. For example, he forced him to paint exclusively from his memory. It was a good training, because, in doing this, Kubík gained an overview of contemporary tendencies in visual culture. He worked with non-conscious and artistic spontaneity. Although later Kubík considered this chapter of his artistic development as not persuasive enough, it was of great importance for his personal development and therefore it cannot be completely neglected. His final work from the Academy, the closing masterpiece, had monumental dimensions and it was thematizing a style of another famous Flemish artist, Pieter Brueghel the elder. In the middle of the painting we see a video camera recording the large scene in the manner of the famous Flemish primitives. The music clip like details, the fragmentation and the play with banality provoked criticism of this work, and eventually the author himself turned away from it and returned to the bravura of classical techniques.
Already during his studies, Tomáš Kubík had attracted the professional notice evidenced by a number of important awards. In 1998 he received the Fine Arts Academy Rector’s Award for the painting “Self-Portrait in Vermeer Style”, which is exhibited in the Rector’s Office. In 2000, he received the Minister of Education Award for outstanding results in the study and creative activities in the field of Fine Arts. Another substantial success was the victory in the competition for a representative portrait depicting the Rector of the Charles University. His portrait was selected by the commission as the best and it now resides in the unique portrait gallery the Charles University. From the portrait, we can feel a certain amount of self-confident academic narcissism, complemented by the traditional symbols of university sovereignty. Confirmation of this young artist’s qualities was the purchase of the painting “Scenes from Life in the Wedlock” by the National Gallery in Prague in 2004. The work is exhibited in the permanent collection of the National Gallery in Prague. Another success of his early career was a solo exhibition of paintings and drawings in Miami, Florida, at the Design Lab Gallery in 2006, where all the exhibited paintings were sold to major American private collections.
During his studies, Tomáš continued to work on book illustrations and, last but not least, pedagogical activities between 2012 and 2018, when he led an evening art school in Prague.
While he shared the experience he had gained over years of study with his students, he finally returned to his own Art. The work of recent years was interrupted by purely practical reasons, the starting of his family and the birth of his son. His recent works have acquired a more intuitive character when compared to his academic works, combining elements of photorealism with traditional painting techniques. Kubik benefited from his creative hiatus and he has now taken the most persuasive part of his work and developed it further. He has been participating in art exhibitions again in recent years, and he took part on a large overview of European figurative work with his “Mary Magdalene”, recapturing the famous Caravaggio theme from the collections of the Doria Pamphilj family. (Figurativas 2019, MEAM Museum, Barcelona).
Paradoxically, Kubik cared surprisingly little about the public’s acceptance of his work. He often and fondly argued with his teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts, Professor Zdeňek Beran. As his teacher, Beran did not think of the works of the past and academic tradition only as material for internal decomposition. Kubik, on the other hand, did not have that perverse love for the filth of the periphery in communist suburbs, toward which the efforts of his teacher were heading. Tomáš Kubík was thematizing other topics important for his time. The critically viewed culture of narcissism and self-presentation, self-admiration, all this was typical of the great masters of European Art.
In recent years, the author has devoted himself to several free image cycles. One of them is the „Death and The Girl” cycle (2018-2019) and the other cycle of images is reflecting Michelangelo’s work. He has been working on this project since 2019. The author freely attached a painting with the Belvedere torso, Michelangelo’s essential ancient inspiration.
Since the Renaissance era, the German art and music thematized the “Death and the Girl”. It has become a remarkable meditative knot for Kubík, based on the relationship of a smaller, plaster model of the girl’s head, and a somewhat enlarged model of the human skull. The traditional academic discipline, which introduces pupils to ancient heritage and grisaill technique using drawing according to plaster casts, serves as the basis for the meditative play of these two contrasting objects. The subjects create a remarkable tension between the impersonal plaster and the emotionally excited romantic theme. The surface of the white plaster allows Kubík to use the nuances of color lights, which together with the different positions of objects create a wide emotional range. The author uses boxes with holes and artificial lights to work on this cycle.
The Michelangelo cycle is another of the more recent projects. An important impetus for its creation was the famous cycle of nude male figures from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, traditionally called „Ignudi”. Nudes are considered the pinnacle of European humanism, they are understood as one of the peaks of the human spirit. Kubík provocatively chose contemporary human types from the fitness center, paying close attention to the culture of the body building. He repeated the poses of Michelangelo’s works, but with a different message. The man is no longer divine, his life purpose is the growth of muscles. The Divine Light is replaced by the solar studio, giving the skin a pleasant coloring. In addition to the philosophical dimension, the work also attracts by extraordinary technique, by which the author was able to solve unrealistic positions formed for an observation from a long distance on the high ceiling, as if they were real situations.
Until a hundred years ago, it was the duty of every young painter to study ancient marbles and make copies of old masters. For generations they spent hours at the Belvedere torso, copying Dürer or Carravagio. This passion is now almost inappropriate for a practicing artist. Therefore, this desire to deal intensively with the past is left for Art historians and the exceptional Czech painter Tomáš Kubík.
- 2021 Figurativas 2021, MEAM Museum, Barcelona.
- 2021 Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition, London, United Kingdom.
- 2021 Tomáš Kubík – Michelangelo in Lockdown, Solo show, Gallery Art Mozaika, Prague.
- 2020 – 2021 15th International ARC Salon Exhibition, Los Angeles, USA.
- 2020 La Art Show, Los Angeles, USA.
- 2019 – 2020 Figurativas 2019, MEAM Museum, Barcelona.
- 2019 Tomáš Kubík – Drawings, thoughts, sketches…, solo show, Strahov Monastery, Prague.
- 2019 Arista Art Spoon, Villa Baruchello, Porto Sant Elpidio, Italy.
- 2017 Fascination with reality, Museum of Modern Art, Olomouc, Czech Republic.
- 2015 Tomáš Kubík Drawings – Solo exhibition, Alina Gallery, Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
- 2004 Graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts , Veletržní palac, Prague.
- 2003 ARTTODAY Group, Gallery Nová síň, Prague.
- 2002 Tomáš Kubík – Selected paintings and drawings, solo exhibition, Gallery Design Lab, Miami, Florida.
- 2001 Painting School of professor Z. Beran, Wortnerův dům AJG, České Budějovice.
- 2000 The Academy of Fine Arts 2000, Mánes, Prague.
- 1997 The exhibition of professor Beran’s studio, Gallery U prstenu, Prague.
- Finalist Figurativas 2021, MEAM Museum, Barcelona.
- 2021 Portrait painting ‘David in Renaissance Style’ is Highly Commended by Burke’s Peerage Foundation Award for Classically Inspired Portraiture on the Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition 2021, Mall Galleries, London UK.
- 2019 Finalist Figurativas 2019, MEAM Museum, Barcelona.
- 2004 National Gallery in Prague has purchaised my painting “Scenes from a Marriage”. It is exhibited in its permanent collection in Veletržní palac in Prague, Czech Republic.
- 2001 First prise in the competition for a portrait painting of the rector of the Charles University, prof. JUDr. Karel Malý. The painting is located in Prague’s Karolinum (Charles university), in the portraits gallery of rectors of Charles University (since 1882).
- 2000 Award of the Minister of Education for Excellent Student for Outstanding Results in Study and Creative Activities in Painting.
- 1998 Award of the Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Painting “Self-portrait in Vermeer style” is exhibited in the Rector’s Office.
- 1998 Award of the studio of classical painting techniques of prof. Zdeněk Beran.
- Wikipedia: Tomáš Kubík (painter)
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