MICHAL MRAZ

Point of view

“Michal Mráz is a self-taught painter. Despite studing at the department of sculpture (studio of Prof. Meliš and Doc. Hoffstadter) at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, painting has become the main medium of his artistic expression. His earlier work focused on a microcosm of urban spaces, derelict urban areas, dark hooded figures of protagonists of a street art community who, hiding their identity just like dark knights, wander through cities leaving their personal messages in the form of tags or graffiti.

In his practice Mráz cleverly mixes together the world of street culture and high art. This approach is reflected also in his technique - a combination of traditional oil and acrylic painting with stencils. His work is formally and thematically hybrid, often combining incongruous elements into one whole.

His older as well as latest work is characterised by a multiple-level narration. The intensity of his paintings lies within the simultaneous impact of the whole on the eye of a viewer; that restlessly wanders from one motif to another. The restlessness, or some kind of inner uncertainty related to an impossibility to grasp (decode and understand) a seen reality oversaturated with visual noise refers to themes present in Mráz`s new series of paintings: his fascination with globalization, with society based on principles of consumerism ruled by systems controlling our knowledge as well as the life of an individual in public and private sphere alike.

Furthermore, he draws inspiration from conspiracy theories, which he further mystifies and uses his own artistic modification and re-contextualization of selected visual motives to disturb the system based on the grounds of financial control. His iconography comprises of different visual components such as newspaper and magazine photographs (mainly LIFE magazine), film shots and internet.

Mráz remixes and combines these motives adjusting them to his own subjective and artistic account with an ambition to provide a critical reflection of the state of society. In his paintings a criticism of current socio-economic systems, a financial crisis, as well as a crisis of moral values, is often juxtaposed with a similar moment in history - the Great Depression. Nevertheless, Mráz doesn`t intend to be a messenger of the apocalyptic visions.

The existing skepticism and weakness to change, or partly rectify the status quo, is in his works balanced with positive themes such as everyday pleasures of happy families living their American dream or nature. It is the latter one that the author perceives as a catharsis, a place where a man can be purged of negativities of controlled society.

Analogically to the nature of today`s reality, the complexity of the whole prevents us from capturing the big picture and we are left with only partly decoded fragments, which sometimes don`t necessarily create a meaningful, on logic based principles, narrative jigsaw. But such is the world we live in. Michal Mráz is a visual DJ remixing various motives and genres, and shifting original stories into new, often surprising contexts with endless possibilities of reading.”

Katarina Slaninova

Paris, January 2021

 


 

The disenchanted world of Michal Mráz

Michal Mráz has gained enthusiastic and promising recognition in the inthernational art scene over the past years. Although he actually studied sculpture and started as a street artist, his main practice nowadays is painting.

Since 2013, the Slovak artist has been developing a pictorial vocabulary where scenes of the everyday life merge with more political images, often derived from advertising. The density of his compositions opens a dialogue between traditional painting and the artist‘s personal world, purposely critical of today’s values.

Those images often refer to an idealized vision of a happy and balanced family: cheerful and smiling characters are set in interiors reminiscent of the 1950’s in America as well as in the Soviet era. The artist here underlines decades when women’s sole role consisted in being perfect housewives.

His paintings exhale a harsh criticism of the consumer society excesses, like those recurring plastic trash bags full of wastes. The memento mori iconography is also omnipresent : metaphorical objects – skulls, candles, compasses and mirrors – remind the viewer of the inexorable passage of time. Thus, the artist comfronts the spectator with his own way of life: excess, overconsuming and waste.

In 2019, Michal Mráz opened a new and disruptive chapter with paintings of idyllic barbecues suddenly interrupted by climate change-related incidents: Summer gardens with lush palm trees and colorful umbrellas buried under snow storms... In other paintings, one can wander in architectures in chaos and disorder, with people surrounded by rubble...

Like layers of memory, fictional images blend with photographs taken by the artist himself – including self portraits. Michal Mráz’s creative process is based on collage and montage of personal archives as well as images found on the internet. He creates his own stencils applied with spraypaint onto the canvas, in addition to motives painted with oil and asphalt stains.

Michal Mráz’s art speaks about revolt and political commitment. It combines nostalgic images, sometimes dreary and disturbing, bathed in a mysterious and fateful atmosphere.“

Vladimir beskid

Art historian and exhibition curator

Bratislava, May 2021

 


 

Michal Mraz. The temptation of the palimpsest

At first glance, the eye struggles to find its way through the canvas. Not that the shapes are not discernible, on the contrary, these figures are familiar. But it is the profusion of information, the superimposition of treatments, the proliferation of details that create an excess of levels of reading that the eye struggles to interpret. Then, little by little, the eye settles down, the layers are revealed and the meaning imposes itself. Michal Mraz's painting is dense indeed. Apparently disparate in the techniques used, his work is based on the accumulation of layers that leads us into a double temporality: that of the realization and that of the narration.

For the realization of his works, Michal Mraz owes, in large part, to the street where he painted his first stencils with spray cans, at the beginning of 2010. He thus pulverizes the hooded silhouettes of faceless self-portraits in black and white, which mark out his journey from Bratislava, where he is originally from, to Berlin and Paris. Back in the studio, he now perpetuates on his canvases this technique that allows him to summon the aesthetics of urban art in his work. His current characters are in the shades of grey and indebted to his first urban figures. Sprayed in thin, even transparent layers of acrylic paint, they let the grain of the canvas show through. Then come the additions, with a brush or a paintbrush, of pictorial materials that give the impression of altering this first layer of the representation. Oil paint splashes and asphalt stains interfere and corrode the representation but, if they slow down its reading, they nevertheless bring its meaning. The alterations of the image introduce a distanced reading of the story that is shown to us.

Michal Mraz's paintings tell us stories. His iconography is derived from black and white photographs of a bygone era, that of Les trente glorieuses (The Glorious Thirty) which, in the Western world, brought the middle classes certain prosperity. But this American dream, which was based on overconsumption turns out, fifty years later, to be a mirage. Of his suave and naive advertising imagery, the artist shows us the artifices by deteriorating the images like corroded photographic film. Time has passed, the dream has vanished replaced by a principle of reality where waste and depletion of resources have taken over this society with fake values. Following the tradition of Pop Art and narrative figuration artists who, in their time, criticized this consumer society, Michal Mraz adds an ecological and political dimension to it. Thus, these idyllic scenes of a barbecue by the pool are invaded by a snowstorm. But in this temporal shift that is characteristic of his work, this unexpected climatic change does not blur the party but rather overlaps it. His characters from yesterday's world continue quietly to play cards, drink tea and go about their various activities in a dilapidated universe that does not disturb them because it is beyond them. This critical temporal distance then takes a political turn which allows the artist to associate the vestiges of the two rival utopias of the end of the XNUMXth century. The charge is not only directed against the capitalist society but also against the communist totalitarian regime. American icons such as Mickey Mouse and Marilyn are juxtaposed with communist symbols such as the hammer and sickle, or the typical portrait of a communist dignitary embedded in a doorway to keep an eye on his fellow countrymen. In this way, Michal Mraz puts the two opposing propagandas on the same level, denouncing their disastrous consequences for the planet. In a mise en abime that plays on his paintings, the artist paints the decay of our contemporary world by superimposing images of a society that is the cause. Modern genre scenes are the consequences of vanity, his painting speaks to us of the time that annihilates and, therefore, of the collapse of our contemporary world. His spectral characters evoke the memory of places that are now in ruins, like the memory of happy days. By inviting this iconography of old newspapers and magazines, which he diverts sometimes by slipping in his self-portrait, Michal Mraz shows a certain nostalgia - that of his childhood. There the intimate and the universal meet, personal memories and criticism of the contemporary world, with rubble as a decor. This attraction for the ruin is not without evoking what the urban artists feel for the urbex, this practice consisting of painting in abandoned and dilapidated places. The omnipresent structure of the walls is always visible in Michal Mraz's painting, as a constituent of his work. As if the wall, his first support, continued to haunt him as a memory of a past that resurfaces.

Cyrille Gouyette

Art historian

Paris, May 2021

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