stalo – nestalo se
it happened – it didn’t happen

In the post-factual era in which inconvenient truths are countered with alternative facts, science suddenly finds itself in a crisis of justification. In the echo chambers and lie factories of the digital space, facts become fiction and vice versa.

In Richard Nikl’s “soft diagrams”, digitally rendered paintings from printed layers and painterly touch ups of which four are on display in his presentation at stone projects, the artist gives a certain softness to seemingly hard facts. In the form of graphs and mind maps, it is an attempt to grasp the outlines of flapping ideas without shapes.

Referencing Parametricism, an architectural style based on algorithms and flowing forms, Nikl’s paintings are composed of curves, sticks, grids, holes, cells, roots, fibers, and bubbles. Along the brain like structures text is horizontally and vertically spread, connecting lose fragments and words like synapsis. This psychological layer is resolved by one or the other cartoonish Shrek moments: warts and pimples from monster stories and fairytale frogs sit on the surface and look at you.

The text snippets are quoted from Czech literature, opera, and theatre, among them the writers Ludvík Vaculík and Václav Havel, both civil rights activists against the communist regime of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and 1970s. Nikl works with original language, mostly his mother tongue. Through the variety of typefaces (including the handwriting of the artist) the text turns into an image, all the more for an international audience.

As a counterpart, Nikl partly makes use of a visual language translatable to anyone: Since the rise of emoticons (“smileys”) in the 1980s and 1990s, the design and range of pictorial representations have significantly changed over time: Whereas back then typographic approximations were reduced to a minimum by using characters like 🙂 or 🙁 in order to express humor, a mood, or simply to safe time, today’s emojis have become hyperrealistic symbols of various genres. Unnecessary details like shadow, reflection, depth, and perspective make up pictograms which are as complex as approachable. Their cuteness and playfulness give them a certain lightness and easiness and turns a fire or a cloud into an object that is truer than true. A similar effect applies to the colors of the paintings: following the color scheme of diagrams and charts, they consist of gray or nude tones combined with accent colors that make it a joyful experience – somewhere between scientific logic and childlike play.

🐸 Open the door, my princess dear,
Open the door to thy true love here!
And mind the words that thou and I said
By the fountain cool, in the greenwood shade.

It is the beginning of a process at the end of which there is not always a frog waiting.

nádech – výdech – opakování
inhale – exhale – repeat

Miriam Bettin, 2022

Richard Nikl, Untitled, 2022, acrylic, ink and varnish on canvas, 70 x 120 cm, asanace / redevelopment, balvan stagnace / the boulder of stagnation, sliznice jednodimenzionální / one-dimensional mucosa, tolik osvobodivé radosti / so much of a freeing joy, primitivní diagnóza / primitive diagnosis, primitivní léčba / primitive treatment, v podstatě nepřekračujeme rámec soudobých zvyklostí v oblasti všeobecné výměny neštěstí / in fact we do not exceed the framework of the current standards of the general exchange of misfortune, slibme si, že si už nikdy nenecháme asanovat své duše a že je nebudeme už nikdy asanovat druhým / let’s promise each other that we won’t ever let our souls get redeveloped and that we won’t redevelop souls of the others, přirozená a centrálně nenaplánovatelná pestrost života / natural and centrally undesignable diversity of life, já proces hnití do přírody nezavedl / I didn’t implement the process of decay in nature, pan hlavní projektant vás prosí, abyste přestal hrát, anebo abyste aspoň nehrál tak smutnou píseň / the main project manager is asking, if you could stop playing or at least you don’t play such a sad song, (Václav Havel, Asanace, 1987)

Richard Nikl, Untitled, 2022, acrylic, ink and varnish on canvas, 70 x 120 cm, stalo / it happened, nestalo / it didn’t happen, svět chimér / world of chimeras, dnes / today, věci pravé / true objects, kamenné / stone, kožené / leather, dřevěné / wooden, maximálními definicemi snažím se orientovat ve vlasti a trápím se pomyšlením, že mé přesné popisy můžou v lidech vyvolat pochybu, že snad to přece jen není takové / while attempting by the fullest definitions to give them their bearings in their country, I worry that my precise descriptions may cause people to wonder whether the things may, after all, not be quite as I have said, čeká mě dřina psaní / dreary job of writing awaits, (Ludvík Vaculík, 1926-2015)

Richard Nikl, Untitled, 2022, acrylic, ink and varnish on canvas, 70 x 120 cm, zavřít oči a upadnout do nářečí, pak je otevřít a ujmout se slova v obecné češtině / to close eyes and to drop into the dialect, to open eyes again and to speak in standard Czech, otec si svého syna tak nepředstavoval, a kdyby o tom mohl rozhodnout, nikdy by mu synovství nepřidělil / when a father discovered that his son was not as he had envisaged him and, had he been able to, he would never have acknowledged him as a son, listina souhlasu / a register of agreement, louka / meadow, funus / funeral, (Ludvík Vaculík, 1926-2015)


Exhibition views, Richard Nikl: Factspawn, stone projects, 2022. Photo by Tomáš Souček. All images Courtesy: artist and stone projects