Ceramic Artist - Vladimir Tichy - Part 2
Interviewee: Vladimir Tichy, Born 1926
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for The Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 12 March 2013
Transcription: Frank Heimans, March, 2013
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Now tell me a little bit about some of the work that you did when you started on your own as a ceramic sculptor. I believe that you did some work with Harry Seidler, the leading architect, and other commissions that you did.
I was working with Peddle, Thorpe and Walker - he was a very big architect - and other architects, and one was a Czech architect, I forget his name but he was very big. Actually I first started working on a mural for Peddle, Thorpe and Walker and what happened is my partner, Rudolf Dybka was very good at finding me jobs. He would promise to the customer anything that was possible, but I had to make it afterwards. He was very good to get the order, that means that he was contacting all the big architects in sydney and afterwards we were supplying to these architect sodesme designs. Also the architects were coming to our studio to have a look and when they had some jobs they were giving us the job to do. I was very busy these years, I was making the designs for one architect but I already was on the scaffold, making the final mural for other architects and in that time our tiler was laying the mural for another building. It was going like that continuously, you know.
Your business partner, was he your manager, Mr Dybka?
The Hills Shire Crest at old Council Chambers on Showground Road
Dybka, he was also an artist, he was a potter, but he was mainly filling the kilns, you know, and talking to architects and I was making the designs and I was making the work, and he was arranging everything. Actually, the studio was founded by me and Mr Dybka. Mr Dybka afterwards left the studio and he opened a studio in Melbourne, or something and I got another partner who was only running the business. Unfortunately he was not as good in running the business as Mr Dybka and he couldn't get one order, he didn't know how to do it. Fortunately I was taking clay from Norbrik for my murals and through that I met the owner of Norbrik. He liked our work and he bought us and shifted us to Norbrik and he built a big studio for me. Through his business he also had a lot of contacts with architects and that meant I again got the jobs in that new studio. The biggest job for Norbrik was at Baulkham Hills.
So your studio was in the Norbrik complex - did he build it inside the Norbrik factory?
In the area where Norbrik is. First they just made a provisional mural for me and it took them about one year to build that studio with the kilns and everything. It took one year before I moved really into that new building and that was in the area of Norbrik, close to head office. My studio, which Norbrik built was just around the production where the bricks are made, and around the kilns, it was in the middle of Norbrik's production.
Give me a bit of details about the work that you did for the Baulkham Hills Shire, which is now called The Hills Shire, because that is what they are very interested in, they would like to know me about how you did that. Tell me how you got the idea and how you executed that idea?
Actually, first I made the mural for the Council in the foyer, that was the first mural I made for Baulkham Hills. That was through a connection between our director and the architect. I don't know who decided to start building that Baulkham Hills Entertainment Centre, again, Norbrik made the bricks and our director decided that as a gift from Norbrik I will make a mural for that entertainment centre. Because the building was designed for concerts and entertainment I decided that I will make the mural like art, that means it will be about opera, it will be about ballet, it will be music and all these things. I made the design and the architect and the person at the Council in Baulkham Hills, decided, 'Alright, we will take it' and they took it, because it was a gift anyway. It was my biggest mural and it took me one year to make that mural.
How many tiles would be in that mural?
It is impossible to tell you, but one small part has maybe five hundred, six hundred tiles, so thousands, I don't know. Actually, not tiles, I will say pieces, because when I went to do this mural I had the scaffold and on that scaffold I had to put the measurement of the mural in clay, in one piece. Afterwards I started modelling and when the mural was finished I had to cut that and I had to respect the line of the design and everything. When the cutting was finished, because you had to cut it in pieces because you can't fire one piece of the mural, that means you had to cut it in pieces that are in the size that you are able to put in the kilm and fire that. That means when the mural was finished I cut the mural in small pieces and afterwards, when I was taking the pieces of the mural out I put on each piece a number. That meant it was Mural A and I started A with number one, A number three, up to A four hundred and fifty or something.
Part of the Mural depicting an orchestra
Quite a job, did you get paid for that mural, was that a commission?
I got an annual payment. In these years it was, I think, thirty thousand per year or something like that.
Give me a bit of detail about how you actually did that mural for Baulkham Hills, for instance, how long did it take you to do the design, for a start?
When I was ready to make some design I had a very good imagination, that means I sit and in my head started going pictures of designs, and then stop, I like that. I put a little drawing and again, sitting, and the design is going up, another good one. It was not difficult for that Baulkham Hills mural because already the theme was ready - ballet? Alright. If I am thinking about ballet, the Swan Lake ballet, and the theatre, Shakespeare, Hamlet, it was not so difficult to know what to do.
It seems, looking at your work that there is an influence there of perhaps cubism or some artist like Leger. Are you influenced by anyone at all?
You mean where I get my inspiration? From nature.
But your style overall?
The style is... I always like primitive art: the old Egyptians, African sculpture, all the primitives, they are doing only what is really necessary. Not big details, only big forms and things like that, that is how I work in sculptures and murals, not big details, just big form.
Part of the Mural depicting Hamlet
What about the Orange Club, what about that mural? Is there anything interesting to talk about in that one for the RSL Ex-Services Club?
That was a little bit different in Orange because there were two ladies, they were the designers, and they got the job to make a mural and they contacted another artist and he made some designs. But he was only making some drawings and he was not able to work in clay, or something, he was just making drawings. They contacted me and they showed me the drawings and he had actually nothing. He had some pyramid and I thought that he had some snail. I told them, 'Look, I will make a mural of my design', that meant I made the design so that it was the life of earth from the begining, from the Egyptian, and going to the stars. In the middle was not the God in the skies, but the Big Brain who is running the universe. That is why I made that design like that.
I have quite a lot of murals in different buildings, for example, in Hyde Park and also in Foveaux Street, I have big murals in Foveaux Street, in York Street. I have murals all around different clubs and outside of Sydney. There are so many I have already forgotten how many.
Now in all the work that you did were always working on your own or did you have any help?
To lay a mural was really hard physically. I had to make it myself, because you have a big piece of clay and you have to join them. If your join is not good it will crack in the kiln. That means I had the boy who was putting the clay into the machine and the machine was pressing the strip of clay and he was bringing me these pieces of clay and now, myself, I had to put everything in because I couldn't trust anybody that they will join the mural perfectly. Some help I got afterwards when I cut the pieces and, again, I had to take the pieces myself because I couldn't trust anybody that they will not damage that.
Afterwards, when I put the mural down the boys were taking the things on the board, putting them into the shelves for drying. afterwards they were putting the mural in to the kiln for biscuit firing. Afterwards, they they take the pieces out again, myself, I have to put the mural together and myself, I have to make the glazing because with the colours and everything I couldn't let anybody do that. Afterwards, again, the boys were taking the mural, again putting into the kiln, firing it and taking it out. Otherwise the mural from the begining to the end has to be done by myself.
You must be physically strong because it is very physical work?
I am still fit now at 86 years old. I still am quite fit because of my training.
What other sort of works have you done, apart from murals? Did you do any sculptures and all that sort of thing?
Yes. I also made free-standing human sculptures.
What kind of sculptures have you made?
Norbrik with Bella Vista Farm in the distance
Another work I really like is in the Catholic church at Albion Park and there I have a free-standing sculpture of Madonna with a child and also a sculptured crucifix, and also sculptured a life-size statue of Jesus Christ on the crucifix, when he is buried and things like that. Also the Station of the Cross, it is an enormous work at Albion Park. I made so many during these years that I am forgetting one after another, but that one is one of my favourite works.
What happened when your studio was taken over by Norbrik, did you lose your studio?
We sold that building to some other people and they had a car repair [place] or something like that over there. We moved to Norbrik, that is why Norbrik had to build the studio for me because we sold the original studio to other people.
But didn't Norbrik take over your studio eventually, why did you have to leave that studio at Norbrik?
The owner of Norbrik got into some big problems. He was very good in ideas, but he was not good to put these ideas into practice and Norbrik was losing millions and millions of dollars. That man, Doug, he was selling because Norbrik had also different buildings around Sydney, that he was selling that building to get money. The board of Norbrik got tired afterwards with all these bad business decisions and they kicked him out and he committed suicide. The board told me, 'Look, we will concentrate on our bricks,' and also they owned that land over there and they were starting developing houses and all those things so that they were not interested anymore in my work and that meant we were finished. I left and started working in my own studio downstairs.
Downstairs in the house where you are living now?
So you have a kiln there as well?
Yes, but it is very small. When I was afterwards on my own I was a member of the Sculpture Society and we had exhibitions and I made about five or six pieces for those exhibitions.
Vladimir's signature on the mural at The Hills Centre
When did you actually retire from being a sculptor?
I stopped working completely when my wife passed away. My last work was all for her and from that moment I lost inspiration. I can't work anymore.
How long were you married to your second wife?
Nearly fifty years, and you know, that was the problem. I was discussing with her what I was doing and she was going to my studio to have a look at what I was doing. It was cooperation and I lost inspiration. Before, when I got some job I had so many ideas, one idea after another, I was not able to make all the ideas that I had in my head. after my wife passed away it was a white wall - I was completely finished. I can't concentrate on anything. I am in the garden with my birds, Marcella with the children, but life is completely finished for me.
But you have a great legacy of work behind you, you must be proud of that?
Actually, today I couldn't care less about anything, I couldn't care less. Of course, I don't want that my work is destroyed, that is for sure, but actually, quite a lot of my work already was destroyed. I made, for example, for Telecom in Pitt Street, I made a big mural in copper. I was going to have a look and they destroyed the walls and everything, everything disappeared and I didn't know about it. Afterwards I made quite a lot of copper murals for some club and one day I got a telephone call from some man who had some rubbish and he told me, 'Look, I saw some copper murals with your signature, would you like to have that?' It was in pieces and I thought what should I do with that?
Also another mural I made for Wollongong for an electric company and it was quite a nice big mural and they were pulling the building down. The person who destroyed that building, he saw the mural and he thought, 'Jesus Christ, that's a pity, I can't destroy that.' He took his time and he was pulling piece after piece down and he contacted me. He found another customer in some suburb of Wollongong and they put the mural in some shopping centre. That means one piece was saved, not destroyed completely.
Do you identify now as a Czech or as an Australian?
Look, I can't feel any difference living here, or living in Czech Republic. I feel at home here, like I was home over there, only it is much better, the economy is much better than in Europe. With my daughter many times we were talking about how lucky we were that we came here to Australia because really, Australia is still without big problems. Look at what has happened in Europe, look around Asia, look around South America, everywhere you have problems, only here we are quite happy. Alright we have the Labor Party, we have the Liberal Party, it is really not a big difference.
Well, we are coming to the end of this interview, are there any other subjects you want to talk about that we haven't discussed?
I think there were quite a lot of things we discussed. Actually, what you were coming for you really discussed. Otherwise there are millions and hundreds of things around us that are interesting that are possible to discuss, and still we don't have time to discuss them.
Well thank you very much for the interview Vladimir.