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MONIKA IMMROVÁ’s artistic statement has several distinct, vividly blending levels – sculptural plasticity, architectural spatiality, graphic linearity, and the meaning of scale and proportions. Her expression opens up, through its material diversity, into a wide variability, but at the same time it is subordinated to the artist’s idea of the existence of a basic order.

In the last few years at a number of exhibitions by Monika Immrová we have repeatedly met with RELIEFS of a markedly geometrized morphology. Although some of them came into being as the result of a specific architectural collaboration begun in 2012, this expressive format was also present at the very beginning of Immrová’s career as a sculptor. The topic of the assignment resulting from this collaboration had in fact been present in her works for a long time, namely in her effort to achieve quality, or her desire for a universal, timeless, accurate and perfect form.

The above-mentioned architectural collaboration provided an opportunity for Immrová to create a relief as an organic part of a building made from monolithic exposed concrete, House with Vaulting, designed for an attractive location in Prague in the Malvazinky villa district. The relief was cast as part of one of its outer walls, and it was to represent the symbolic protection of the whole house. Thanks to this, Immrová arrived at themes of strength, positivity, stability and solidity that can also be interpreted as purity, clarity and structured character, aptly symbolized, for example, by the form of the crystal, a crystallized form.

In addition to these reliefs, however, the artist developed her work in another autonomous direction. At the very beginning she experimented with the light-reflecting possibilities of a folded paper surface. Subsequently she created a number of reliefs out of pasteboard, concrete, plaster, and later cast iron, where the composition of the whole was based on the relation of the central shape (or its absence) to the expressive possibilities of the composition of its setting. As early as the first phase of this process, Immrová explored the meaning of symmetry, the role of the center, the repetition of a formal element, and rhythm. In this process, the aspect of the relief’s depth and thickness in relation to the effects of light became clearly visible. In addition to a series of folded papers, this gave rise to a number of blind embossed prints. The expressive power of her pasteboard reliefs (e.g., the series Territory of the Square, 2013; Articulation I, II, 2015) consisted in their fine distribution of scattered light. In her concrete reliefs (such as Articulation III, IV, 2015) Immrová demonstrated the ability to handle a generous form; the concrete brought with it a kind of special, stabilizing containment. It is therefore natural that smaller-size plaster versions were to come. The artist modeled several so that the structure of their surfaces and lines remained ostentatiously raw. The original, centrally-situated, basic geometric form of her pasteboard and concrete reliefs, based on which the compositional set of slanted surfaces and lines was developed, gradually transformed in her plaster reliefs into a point that opened up different possibilities for the conception of the whole. The original square form, the stabilizing element, became represented by a single point, an element symbolizing initiation, the beginning. For example, in the plaster relief Center III (2018) it is positioned in such a way that the lines emanating from or directed towards it give the impression of rotation. All these experiences seem to culminate in the cast-iron versions of the reliefs, where the subtle treatment of the expressive light-related possibilities reappeared with convincing power.

It was mentioned in the introduction that Immrová had been dealing with reliefs since her studies when she felt the need to transform pencil drawings of structures into objects with mass and volume. These paper reliefs from 1995 and 1996 were of a different character, determined by the choice of different materials and processes.

Immrová often compares the spatial effect of reliefs to architectural niches, which also have the ability to expand space. In her work on the relief for the House with Vaulting, she was primarily interested in the visual and the physical experience of matter. She decided to design a relief for a place that everyone must walk by and with which everybody will inevitably be directly confronted. The relief thus becomes an object for observing the changes in the play of its surfaces, lines and light-reflecting possibilities from different perspectives.

ARCHITECTURE – in general, a sense of SPACE and MASS – has always played a paramount role in Immrová’s perception and creative focus. An illustrative early example is her installation from 1996 for the Sýpka Gallery in Vlkov – two walls lined with bricks. In 20th century sculpture, we have a strong tendency to perceive brickwork primarily as a minimalist module through which the artist creates an environment for a physical and mental experience. In this early installation, however, the brick referred rather to its original role as a building element, because Immrová has always been inspired by her interest in the built environment and the building process, as she mentions, for example, in an interview for Revolver Revue in 2014: “I am curious as to how an individual architect grasps a problem and solves it. I like to walk through the spaces that architecture creates, I am interested in the effect of the materials used, in light. I like houses.”

Given the current reflection on the levels of content and form in Immrová’s works, it is appropriate to present a few ideas from Gaston Bachelard – according to him, a house evokes the idea of a focused existence, invites us to be aware of centrality: “The house is a body of images that give mankind proof or illusions of stability.” At first glance a house is characterized by strict geometry, but as soon as we accept it as a space intended to concentrate and defend intimacy, a transformation takes place: “Space that has been seized upon by the imagination cannot remain indifferent space subject to the measures and estimates of the surveyor. It has been lived in, not in its positivity, but with all the partiality of the imagination.” In his book La Poétique de l’Espace [The Poetics of Space], Bachelard further points to the dimension of simplicity that gives us security even as it stimulates the imagination. Immrová also arrived at a central, simple shape that defines the basis for the composition of her reliefs. However, we also see other, similar aspects in her sculptural thinking, as we are interested in her tendency to open up space in the horizontal dimension, because Bachelard reflects on the expansion of being, the immensity that is intrinsically present in us: “Immensity is the movement of motionless man. It is one of the dynamic characteristics of quiet daydreaming.” The topic of the artistic geometrization of space in general comes to life here, and the artist pays intense attention to it.

Immrová respects the natural reciprocity of human proportions and architectural laws. She is well aware of the fact that through her sculptures and reliefs she can greatly influence and bring to life the spatial and lighting situation of a particular place. She actually creates space with her sculptures. Through her search for scale, for precise proportions, and for the compositional laws of the whole, she consciously refers to the theme of beauty, which is logically related to the induced impression of balance and proportionality, a quality referred to by the term eudia in ancient Greece. Immrová has unequivocally confirmed this in a commentary on her own exhibition in Andělská Hora in 2018: “A good sculpture in the right place improves the place. Improvement means the positive. The positive of any kind is also reflected in the people who walk around the place. It just matters what environment we live in. It shapes us. So we should try to improve the places around us.”

Space and architecture are just as important in Immrová’s graphic art, be they compositions obviously based on a real scene (e.g., the series of dry point entitled Structure, 2008), or abstract sets (e.g., the series of dry point entitled Small Fields, 2017), where the lines represent volume and spatial relationships.

In her early large-size pencil drawings, Immrová focused on structure and its spatial and lighting effects, but in 1995 she enrolled in the Prague Academy of Fine Arts already with the decision to devote herself to sculpture. Her interest in the relief form has already been mentioned in detail, and a similar treatment of surfaces, lines and spatial depths can be found in her sculptures, which often reference their own character as reliefs. This is especially evident in the concrete works Lying Down II, III (2011), K2/I (2011, 2012) or Lora (2015), which testify to her profound visual, practical experience with the synthesis of organic, stereometric shapes. In them, the plasticity of the geometric shapes is organically linked to the plasticity of a figural character.

PLASTICITY, HUMAN SCALE and PROPORTION convey distinct meaning, especially in her figural sculptures Figures and Heads, but the artist perceives them more generally: “I realize that I am interested in the human scale. By that I don’t mean a figure or a realistic figure, but rather the scale that one feels in oneself, and then such things seem familiar to one because of something, one feels a connection with oneself, but it has nothing to do with centimeters or how they look, rather, it is a kind of a base that is beginning to emerge under my hands, and it is probably connected with architecture, because most architecture relates in some way to the human scale,” Immrová explains in an interview about her solo exhibition Connection, which took place in her native town of Louny in 2012. Her figural works are mostly concrete and bronze, and a few early ones are made of wood. They are the embodiment of the vertical principle. An important position in her whole oeuvre is occupied by Figure V of 2012. This bronze version was preceded by a variant made of concrete (2008), and a variant almost a third the size made of bronze (2004). Their convincing sculptural effect is based on their plasticity with a minimum of surface expression. At the beginning of this series, however, we find the wooden piece A Vertical from 2001, in which the basic proportions of the future Figures have already been established. Two III (2006) has a particularly rustic character; in its form we again find another affinity – it is in the same line as the concrete piece Edges II (2011), at first glance acting as a vertical set of elementary stereometric forms.

The set of heads in which Immrová works with general shapes is also sculpturally convincing – it is not a process of simplification, but of immediate realization. Later she added temperate ornamentation. The wooden Head IV of 1999 is coated with gold leaf. Immrová conceives of the human face as an abstract, plastic surface, in a way associated with Zdeněk Palcr’s interpretation of surfaces in a spiritual mode – he compresses the convex shape to adjust it to reflect more light. The expressive power of Immrová’s later gilded Pythia (1999), bronze Pythias (III, 2004; V, 2012) and a concrete version (IV, 2006) is similarly derived from the plasticity of surfaces caused by the effect of light. It can possibly be compared to Hana Wichterlová’s iconic sculptural work, A Bud. In her black bronze Head (2009) Immrová works inventively with applied ornamentation. The fact that it has such modest colored decoration is connected with Immrová’s real-life experience of the Romanesque Madonnas she saw in the Massif Central in France.

In Immrová’s figural works there is a recurrent tendency towards a generalized volume and shape. For her, the stimulating interface between the particular and the general has long been a key source of the creative process of establishing the final form of a work. The principle of depicting a real starting point through the seeming simplicity of lines and surfaces actually means finding the universal in the present, approaching the foundation. As regards her sources of inspiration, the artist says, “I relate to things I have personal experience with, which I know well, that I think about. Simple, clear speech is of value to me.” (2016)

An interest in the meaning of the coexistence of lines, surfaces and volumes, in the reciprocity of detail and the whole. Finding a fulcrum point in this constant variability. Immrová believes in the perfection of the form of a canonical character, in the principle of qualitative development, often interpreted as the desire to return to the original perfection created. The ethical level of work is crucial for her. She appreciates it if an artist approaches his or her work with seriousness and truthfulness. That is why Zdeněk Sýkora, František Kyncl, and the Válová sisters Jitka and Květa, for example, are inspiring for her, as well as Eva Kmentová, although she has never met her in person.

Of course, the principle of plasticity as emphasized above also appears in Immrová’s SETS OF PRINTS. Especially in the Vessels series from 2002–2004, aquatints in which luminous volumes emerge from the dark background of the image space.

The MEANING OF LIGHT is very important for all the expressive elements mentioned so far. It is no coincidence that Immrová uses a metaphorical term when, in a commentary on her solo exhibition Connection in Louny, she talks about the resulting specific quality of work, which is conditioned by the mutual synergy of a larger number of expressive elements: “For me, it’s about shape, about matter that acts in space, when it comes to a certain size, about certain surfaces that complement each other, about a certain slant, about proportions, about the overall radiance of the thing in question.” The emphasis on meanings associated with light is more pronounced, especially in her specific blind embossed prints (2012, 2015), where a combination of the sharpness of the lines defining the basic geometric shapes, the slight depth of the relief and the whiteness of the background can fulfill the idea of the perfection of form. The concise compositions are almost planar, but in the imagination they stimulate spatiality. The effect of that radiation probably comes from a similar category of perception, when speaking of the effect of the full plasticity of a work of art as mediating a living force beyond human temporality.

The VARIABILITY of light, the variability of expression through material. However, Immrová is also interested in the variability of the composition of flowers and plants in her garden throughout the year. Today an endless series of photographic records is proof of this deep interest, an archive of organic variability. The AWARENESS OF THE ORDER that is internally present and which the artist desires to make visible is in fact also a tribute to constant change, to the interconnectedness of all details and their continuous improvisation, of which we are an immediate part and to which we remain open. However, there is above all the lyrical level that was voiced in Immrová’s early reliefs made of paper. At the same time, they were one of her first realized artistic steps from a flat surface to the volume of space.

In Immrová’s oeuvre as a whole up to this day, a number of stimulating reciprocities are evident – the sensitive treatment of light in her blind embossed prints is similarly featured in her large pasteboard reliefs with protruding lines, the composition of which is of the same kind as in her prints. The treatment of plasticity in a sculptural format inspired by the human figure can also be found in her aquatints, where sculptural shapes emerge from a black surface. The spontaneous openness of her earliest relief works is interconnected, in terms of effect, with the liveliness of her linear compositions and the surface structures of her plaster reliefs from recent times. In her whole body of work there are lively relationships, also connected by the expressive elements in each individual work.

The synergic effect of these individual elements forms an original whole; in the case of Monika Immrová, the coordination with the site in which her work is placed is also equally important.

Iva Mladičová