At the moment I am trying to be more expressive, while still quietly talkative – this is how Pavla Malinová (aka Malina, a Czech word for “Raspberry”) describes her latest pictures. Large paintings are full of hidden hints referring to Czech modernism, world art brut or space antique. The colouring is soft, sometimes even monochromatic, at other times distinct, in some places even insolently acid. Stylized figures immerse one into another or at least try to touch each other. Inflatable balloons suddenly turn into parachutes and when passing a white cloud they become empty eyeholes in a human skull for a while. We look for double-double-double meanings but all we find are clots of colours, tangles of shapes and swollen non-committal beings.
A couple of days before I went to see Malina in her studio I happened to see a documentary about Kubrik’s film “The Shining”. The documentary only features fans and admirers of Kubrik’s most famous cult film who recall the impressions they had shortly after seeing the film in the cinema for the first time, analyse different scenes and pursuing bizarre theories. One of the theories is based on a book written by Wilson Bryan Key in the 1970s discussing subliminal perception and advertising. We watch scenes in very slow motion, frame by frame. The main character enters an office to shake his hand with the hotel manager sitting at the table. The manager stands up and walks around the left side of the table towards Jack. Shortly before the handshake we can see the manager standing close to the edge of the table, almost touching it. At the moment of the handshake the manager saying “Nice to see you!” turns a little so that we see him from the side. For a brief moment, the paper holder on the table turns into something that looks like an erect penis sticking out of his trousers. At the time of its publishing the book evoked a lot of interest. What became a hit were supposedly retouched photographs of ice cubes in which, when closely observed, one could discover various sexual insinuations – from camouflaged naked bodies to sexual organs to a hidden writing “sex”. Other favourite subliminal messages included a standing man with erection hidden in the front leg of the camel on the Camel cigarette pack. Dubious conspiracy theories about advertising agencies got in Key a welcome academic ally. His authenticity and seriousness was underlined by the preface written by Key’s elder colleague and friend, the icon of media theory Marshall McLuhan.
The documentary reminded me of Malina’s paintings full of ambiguous shapes. She also sometimes composes her figures and forms on her canvases and paintings in a kind of double-meaning optical puns full of more or less hidden sexual symbolism. With a bit of imagination, horizontal and diagonal stripes in the background of her paintings remind us of phalluses of the men standing in the foreground. In some other paintings the lines coming out of the eyes illustrate the looks of the two people standing face to face pointing unmistakably at the other person’s intimate parts. Colourful geysers and fleshy bottoms do not require any commentary. Some people will find sexual symbolism anywhere they like, as the case might be with Rorschach inkblots. However, the difference is that in a projective test our subconsciousness creates all the images itself, while inkblots remain nothing but inkblots. Towards the end of his life, Wilson Bryan Key admitted in an interview that distinguishing one’s projections from reality was becoming more and more difficult. The reason, he stated, was the fact that our mind could make out fantasies look much more attractive than the surrounding reality.
In addition to ambiguous colourful shapes and figures, the paintings by Pavla Malinová actually offer something more: with certain degree of persistence they capture the crude reality of feelings and emotions. They depict the humdrum of everyday life and uncover the unattractiveness of dreams. It is not only a subconscious play, but also a conscious play with our perception. The man hidden in the camel’s leg might have never existed.
Text: Jiří Havlíček