Admitting Totality, The Individual Approach of Ladislav Čemický to Stalinist Socialist Realism (1949-1956)
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This thesis examines the approach of Ladislav Čemický towards the socialist realism which was a method of artistic creation created in the USSR and forcefully applied to the countries within the sphere of Soviet influence around the middle of the 20th century. Ladislav Čemický was one of the very few Slovak artists who actively supported the onset of socialist realism in Slovakia, but because this field remains largely under-researched, the conclusions regarding his identity and attitudes towards the method consist of a few brief generalized notions lacking complex and critical analysis. Today, Ladislav Čemický is mostly known for his modernist pre-totalitarian art before 1948 and is considered the “father of the modern Slovak watercolour”. His monographists, all publishing before 1989, left out the era of the Stalinist socialist realism (1949-1956) without the needed critical evaluation; they all however admitted his support of the method. In 2019, for the first time, in the scope of the first general overview of the Slovak Stalinist socialist realist fine arts, Alexandra Kusá very briefly critically evaluated his art of the era, concluding that he was a successful socialist realist artist. The Stalinist socialist realism thus presents a big gap in the life and work of Ladislav Čemický, and it can be assumed that it truly played an important role but because it was disregarded in 1956 and proclaimed a mistake, it was doomed to be forgotten and never admitted. This thesis aims to re-claim this period of Čemický’s endeavours and answer the tow-fold question regarding Čemický’s approach to the foreign method: What were the attitudes of Ladislav Čemický towards socialist realism and how did he translate the method to both his theoretical and practical artistic identity during the era of Stalinism in Slovakia (1949-1956)? I closely analyse all Čemický’s activity in the period of the Stalinist socialist realism based on the critical study of the primary written and visual sources and their contextualisation in the Slovak art historical scope as well as in relation to the Soviet model which was set as an example to be followed. I study Čemický’s attitudes within his institutional involvement, his nuanced attitudes in the support, enforcement, and application of the method, as well as his individual artistic identity based on the theoretical and practical legacy. By positioning Čemický’s attitudes and artistic identity in relation to both his peers and the Soviet model, I not only show to what extent he managed to successfully understand and apply the desired Soviet example, but I also change the ever-present centre (USSR) and periphery (Slovakia) narrative. By positioning Čemický into the centre, I come to more complex findings and also uncover his interplay and modification of the Soviet method which presents Čemický in a different, more complete light than was known until this point; supporting the fidelity to oneself, to reality, and a degree of creative artistry even in the age of totality. By critically re-claiming this period in Čemický’s life, it can be concluded that he was much more than a follower of the Party-line propaganda and rather he was an honest, patient, helpful, and realistic enforcer of the method, attempting to make the process of transition from modernism to socialist realism as successful and smooth as possible. He did not blindly copy the Soviet model but rather showcased a notable degree of its accommodation, proving that he stayed true to his interests and reality even in the era of political control. Throughout the era, Čemický was a socialist ideological artist, but did not give in to the empty, completely fabricated Party propaganda.