Painter Mikuláš Medek, born 95 years ago

Mikuláš Medek - 'Hádka' (1956-1957)

The communists banned him from staging exhibitions. Today, he is considered among the most important Czech painters of late 20th Century, and his works sell for millions.

Painter, graphic artist, illustrator, poet. Medek was a man of many talents. While early on he dabbled in expressionism and cubism, it was surrealism and existentialism that most fundamentally influenced his work. He later began to move from figuration into abstraction and became a key figure in the movement known as “l’art informel”.

The life story of Mikuláš Medek is one of conflict – between a free spirit and a communist dictatorship. In the early 1950s, the reality of the Cold War, Stalinist terror and loss of perspective seeped into his paintings. In later works, such as Spící IV (Sleeping IV) from 1957 or Nahý v trní (Naked in the Thorns) from the same year, the motifs are gradually abstracted and geometrized.

Mikuláš Medek | Photo: Czech Television

Medek had a special relationship with vibrant colours. He considered green and brown “spills” and “dirt”. On the contrary, he loved red and blue, considering them as absolutely the most perfect. To these, he added traces of gold, which he said then looked like metal, blue made of iron and silver, red made of gold.

He also gradually incorporated wheels and levers, simple machines evoking the world of technology, into his paintings. But Medek’s paintings also had a spiritual dimension, and he authored great works for church interiors. Among his most famous adorns an altar in the Moravian town of Jedovnice – a bluish cross with a yellow sun in the centre. In addition, Medek also created illustrations for Březin’s poetry and a number of other books.

Mikuláš Medek - 'Nahý v trní I'  (1954) | Photo: Private collection/National Gallery Prague

Mikuláš Medek was born in Prague on November 3, 1926 into the family of the writer, legionnaire and general Rudolf Medek. He was the grandson of the impressionist painter Antonín Slavíček and brother of the journalist Ivan Medek. He died following a serious illness on August 23, 1974, at the age of just 48.

His work became known to the public at large only after the fall of the communist regime. During Medek’s life, the painter was blacklisted on the index several times. He was barred from exhibiting his work and the publication of his monograph forbidden.

Jedovnice church | Photo: Farnost Jedovnice