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How They See - Issue #35: Petr Malina on observing the ordinary and extraordinary world


How They See

March 13 · Issue #35 · View online

How They See will allow you to meet artists from all over the globe and understand their perception of art.

Published irregularly.

The modern world requires every person to be “extraordinary” and every activity to be “special”. The best artistic commentary to this distorted idea I have found, to this very day, are paintings done by Petr Malina. As subjects he usually chooses regular people, performing ordinary activities. Sometimes normal buildings or landscapes. A pure celebration of reality and ordinary life.
I couldn’t help myself to quote him in this editorial: “In fact, everyone is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Likewise, most activities have their irreplaceable importance”.
You can learn more about Petr Malina on his website or Instagram.

The first thing I have noticed, while looking at your works, is that you are a very skilled observer. Where does it come from?
I enjoy watching the world around me. Whether I walk, take a tram or a car, I observe the surroundings, the city, the landscape, the people. I enjoy watching, observing the surrounding situations, phenomena, people that we pass at first sight and are on the periphery of our view. We take them for granted and we no longer pay attention to them. However, on closer inspection and observation, we find that they deserve our interest because they hide an important essence, it is a missing link in the mosaic.
Edward Hooper or Alex Katz? Your paintings are often related to the work of those 2 artists and you have even commented on that in your works: “Alex and me” and “Edward and me”. Whose works means more to you?
That can’t be said, they both have an irreplaceable place for me. Both are connected by an interest in figuration, realistic vision with strong colors, but it is also a painting with a certain pictorial abbreviation and abstract vision. For me, Edward Hopper is such a founder of modern American painting of the 20th century, a similar personality as Manet was for the Impressionists. Alex Katz is probably one of the last pop art artists to live today. And while in the beginning, he was a great painter, but working in the shadow of artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and others, today he is a living and creative legend. And the connection with them, of course in the beginning, was a strong inspiration for me. And since the accusation of one Czech theorist from the imitation of Alex Katz appeared in the past, I decided to answer this first-line accusation by making a self-portrait captured under the letters of Alex Katz from his exhibition. It was an open commitment to a similar view of the matter, an admitted mental relationship, but certainly not of first-rate plagiarism. I think it is natural for painters and artists in general that it is based on some inspiration, influence, however, paintings eventually arise in some contemporary context, thought tension and the thought iconography itself can be completely different. 
In the end, I also realized Edward Hopper and Neo Rauch, who were also important to me. The theme of the self-portrait had several layers in it, it was a classic painting theme, here shifted by the context of confrontation with these artists. I also enjoyed the slightly parodied fanfare, which is not very common in art. There is also a personal story hidden in the paintings, I authentically visited the mentioned authors on their retrospectives.
Petr Malina, Alex and me, 165 x 250 cm, oil on canvas, 2005
Petr Malina, Alex and me, 165 x 250 cm, oil on canvas, 2005
You have started with a very idyllic representation of the world in the “Good times by the sea” series. 20 years later, I can’t help myself noticing that this idyllic has shifted into melancholy or at least the world in your paintings is more gloomy.
It is important to mention the context of the series of paintings Good Times by the Sea. They are inspired by photographs of my cousin and his wife from their honeymoon in Crete. At first, for me, it was just photos documenting the honeymoon. However, after a certain period of time, I was fascinated by their colors, the very theme of their stay by the sea, and the figuration itself, and I needed to paint them. A whole series of paintings was created, which did not have only the original meaning of pictorial fascination. There was a commentary on it, as well as a certain element of irony over human existence. 
In contrast, in a series of paintings from recent years, I draw on my photographs. Whether it was paintings inspired by the city and urban motifs, several series inspired by the gallery environment. And while in the past, if I had to describe it simply, I worked with a desire to create an idyllic pictorial world supported by strong colors, my current paintings more reflect the surrounding world, which is more complex, less unambiguous, more mysterious and probably darker. Of course, I’m older too, which brings with it more experience, more context, ideas, and also a less radical and less original view of things. Therefore, perhaps the melancholy sound.
For me, looking at your works is an experience similar to meditation. Do you think about specific emotions, you want to evoke in the viewer before you even put first marks on the canvas?
No, I don’t work that way. It is important for me that the motif I want to work on excites me in a way, so that there is a secret, an energy in it, so that I can spend my time with it and want to process it as a painter. I don’t think about the viewer in this respect, I don’t try to meet his needs. Of course, I hope that once the paintings are completed and exhibited, they will find their viewers who can appreciate them.
To that meditation, maybe it’s something that is stored in the images themselves and radiates from them. The process of their creation could be compared to a certain meditation, there is a deep concentration, and when you get to work alone and ride a certain wave of flow, the painting process is automatic, and you only more or less regulate it.
Subjects of your paintings are usually regular people, performing ordinary activities. Sometimes normal buildings or landscapes. I think it is a good commentary on the world we live in, that requires every person to be “extraordinary” and every activity to be “special”.
In fact, everyone is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Likewise, most activities have their irreplaceable importance. I am often interested in civilian topics, which are common at first glance, but if you focus more on them, you will discover their beauty. But it’s relative, because in the end you can discover beauty in almost everything and everywhere. I remember how my high school math professor dreamed up when I told him my phone number, saying it was a really nice number, which I had never thought of until then. And so do I with the themes of my paintings. 
Petr Malina, Walk, 170 x 230 cm, oil on canvas, 2011
Petr Malina, Walk, 170 x 230 cm, oil on canvas, 2011
What is so special in figurative painting that mostly occupies you through all those years?
Figurative painting hide inexhaustible themes in me. To give a small example, when I’m in a gallery or museum, most likely, with a few exceptions, I’m most attracted to a figurative theme. And it’s similar with my paintings, the figure gives the painting some deeper meaning, the story… But I also like abstract painting, and I would quite like to try it, but when I stand in front of a blank canvas, the inner theme draws me to the figure, the object, the architecture. I would also like to mention a fairly precise parallel for me. And this is the relationship between prose and poetry, which I would compare to the relationship between figurative and abstract painting. Some have hidden stories in them, and some express themselves in verse. And also in this regard I must mention that I am not looking for poetry, it is a foreign world for me, on which I can concentrate enough. On the contrary, I like novels, comics, movies, series that have a strong story. And strong and realistic images, that’s what fascinates me.
As far as I have read, before you even start painting, the first thing is a photo and watercolor sketch. Can you elaborate in more details about your process?
For the last decade, I have been working with photography, which is a model for me, a sketch that I, sometimes more, sometimes less, stick to, or I choose something from it in a collage or add to it. 
I used drawing or watercolor as the source of my paintings in my beginnings, when, on the contrary, I quite strictly rejected photography. 
However, with a desire for greater realism and accuracy, I gradually found my way to photography. Today, I omit the interphase, when I created the sketch, and I work directly with the photographic master. And it is important to mention that the first is neither a sketch nor a photograph, but some inner feeling, a tension of thought, which I would like to process visually. In the surrounding world, I basically look for the subconsciously inserted images and record them photographically. In addition, it sometimes happens when I am lucky to capture a strong image, an exceptional moment, light, movement, shadow, and I have a desire to process it as a painter. I usually take photos on a trip or a walk, it’s a spontaneous process, often unplanned, authentic and surprising. Afterwards, I go through these photographs in the studio, looking for them, confronting them with my memory and inner idea. And while there is something indistinguishable besides all the above-mentioned things, I know that this is a visually and mentally strong topic that I want to work on. And later, thanks to the painting process, the painting becomes authentic in itself.
You are also using oil paints over acrylics. Why do you prefer this medium?
I use oil paints, they suit me for several reasons. The painting process is a bit slower than with acrylic paints, the colors are also deeper for me, they can be mixed more and the process itself is more comfortable for me. I don’t work much with acrylic paints and I only use them as underpainting.
What is the most challenging part of your creative process?
The painting process itself is sometimes demanding in itself, time, sometimes physically, you have to concentrate. And, of course, the most challenging thing is that the resulting image matches your inner imagination, and it’s not easy to ever fill it. It is also important to recognize the right moment when the painting is finished. 
Petr Malina, Gas Station, 100 x 120 cm, oil on canvas, 2008
Petr Malina, Gas Station, 100 x 120 cm, oil on canvas, 2008
What is the last thing, that got you inspired?
Lately, the graffiti scene has been an inspiration for me. It is a special parallel world which, on the one hand, is very visible and transparent in the way it is presented in public places, on the other hand, most of the authors themselves are unknown to the public. It is an autonomous world, closed in on itself, has its own artistic poetics, written and unwritten rules. I walked around for a long time and didn’t notice it, but for the last year and a half I have often walked around one graffiti wall at our residence, where several very interesting pieces appeared and I started to watch it more. In the end, it forced me and I am working on the theme in my latest series of paintings. 
Can you give some advice to any self-taught artist or designer?
They should follow their inner desire, the urge to express themselves. It is important not to be afraid to make mistakes, to be wrong, to look, but to hold on, because one learns through the process itself. Only a few individuals are ingenious and full of great artists found talent in themselves only after a long time of searching for their artistic expression and initial difficulties.
What is your favourite color?
My favourite color is blue, which is evident from my paintings. I work well with it. I will give an example, if I paint a city motif and there is a distinctive blue in the sky, it will give it strength and expression. In addition, from many discussions with collectors who have my paintings, I know how much they appreciate that blue makes them calm. In recent years, my favourite color is also gray, which can have a large number of shades and different color values, which is evident from several of my series of paintings with urban or gallery motifs from recent years. For example, I like its use in architecture. However, in general, the color of the paintings changes in different periods, some periods are more colorful, others calmed down in color, which of course is based on the theme itself. And so, last year, while working on the latest graffiti-inspired paintings, I once again shifted to strong color tones.
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