Bela Kolárová

Seekers of Lice I, from the series Make-up Drawings

1976

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Not on display

Artist
Bela Kolárová 1923–2010
Medium
Paper, cosmetics, nail polish and artificial fingernails
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 557 × 385 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Danica and Eduard Maták and the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2015
Reference
T14481

Summary

Seekers of Lice I, from the series Make-up Drawings is a drawing on paper made with colour cosmetic products and everyday elements including nail polish and artificial fingernails that are attached to the paper with glue. The work was made by the Czech artist Bela Kolárová in 1976. The individual elements are arranged on the paper in the form of a grid, made by four horizontal rows and three vertical columns that divide the composition into twelve small groups. Each group is arranged in the form of a square and is composed of circles made by powder and blusher, short horizontal lines drawn with eye and lip pencils, and marks of nail polish applied either directly onto the paper or onto the artificial fingernails that are stuck to its surface. The colours of the nail polish are based on various shades of red. The lip pencil lines vary from beige to pink to red. The face powder is in different shades of beige, and the blusher is in tones of pink. The eye and eyebrow pencil lines range between shades of grey and brown. Seekers of Lice I can be displayed individually or as a diptych with Seekers of Lice II 1976 (Tate T14482).

Together with Seekers of Lice II, Seekers of Lice I is the first work in the series Make-up Drawings, which Kolárová developed in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Before she started working on this series, Kolárová was already using everyday objects such as fragments of tools and measuring instruments, beer caps, matches, hairpins, strands of hair, paper clips, clothing fasteners, safety pins, buttons and razors in some of her works from the 1960s (see, for example, the glass works from her Dishes series of 1966, T14483T14486, and Solution for Clips 1969, Tate T12877, an assemblage of paper clips that forms the shape of a larger paper clip). The artist employed these everyday materials either to create arrangements on paper or to make photographs. In a text written in 1968, Kolárová explained how her interest in mundane objects came about:

Sometime at the beginning of 1961, as I was browsing through a photographic publication, I was struck by the following sentence: ‘The entire world has been photographed!’ I don’t recall whether it was Cartier-Bresson or some other photographer who had made this statement but, up to this day, I remember the feeling of despondency which these few words prompted in me … Gradually I began to perceive a world which, in fact, was left out, unnoticed by photographers. A world so negligible and everyday as if past the merit of being photographed; small things, indispensable for our life yet taken for granted so that we hardly notice them in spite of their great number, things which, to our annoyance, assert their existence at the very moment of their demise.
(Kolárová, ‘One of the Ways’, 1968, trans. by Jitka Martin, reprinted at http://www.ravenrow.org/texts/45, accessed 15 June 2016.)

The use of cosmetics in Seekers of Lice I, as well as the representation of female body parts (faces, lips, breasts) in some of the other works from the series (see, for example, Today and Every Day Semaphores of Lips 1979, Olomouc Museum of Art, Olomouc), point to concerns about gender identity and the role of women in society in the 1970s and 1980s. Art historian and curator Marie Klimešová suggests that while ‘Czech art in those years was hardly interested in feminism’, it is nevertheless ‘worthwhile to reconsider Bela’s work from this angle, even if she herself was largely unaware of these discourses’ (Klimešová, ‘In Conversation: Alice Motard with Marie Klimešová’, trans. by Boris Kremer, in Raven Row 2013, p.28).

Further reading
Bela Kolárová, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, Prague 2006, reproduced no.75.
Bela Kolárová, exhibition catalogue, Raven Row, London 2013.

Natasha Adamou
June 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

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