Angel In Overalls Is Now A Czech Mate
Saturday June 8, 2002
To Czech refugee sculptor Vladimir Tichy, demolisher Max Douglas is an angel in overalls.
Called in to gut and refit a seventh-floor Wollongong office, Max found himself unable to swing a sledgehammer.
There, in the abandoned boardroom of Integral Energy, was a dramatic hand-carved mural - four-and-half metres long by three metres high.
All Max knew was that someone called Tichy had carved it in 1974 as a monument to electricity - and it was too beautiful to smash.
``It was mindblowing," said Max.
``I didn't want to see it go to the tip, or bits of it end up on the back of someone's barbecue."
Amid the dust and disbelief of workmates, Max took 120 hours of his own time to painstakingly chisel each of 795 tiles free of the brickwork.
``Some of the guys were saying, `just knock it over, it's just bricks and shit'," Max said.
Which is exactly what happened to at least four other Tichy murals in Sydney - one in Centrepoint Tower, two in Australia Square, and another in a Telecom building.
And that's why Mr Tichy, 76, of Hornsby, had a bit of cry when he heard Max had safely stashed each carefully-numbered tile in milkcrates in a locked warehouse.
``It is marvellous, marvellous," Mr Tichy said.
``He is the first person who has stepped in to save my work. Others, they have just been knocked down - without even a phone call."
Told that the Illawarra Mercury had tracked down Mr Tichy, Max got teary too, but he was delighted to hear he was driving to Wollongong to meet him.
``When someone has done so much to save your work, it is your duty to come to see him," Mr Tichy said.
Their meeting was so enthusiastic Max now calls him ``Vlad the Glad".
Mr Tichy won a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Brussels in 1958 and silver at the Prague International Exhibition of Ceramics in 1962. He had pieces in the Moscow and Prague museums and had exhibited in London, Venice, Milan and Berlin.
But arriving in Australia after fleeing the Soviet invasion of 1968, Mr Tichy was unknown.
One former student said ``he came to the wrong country - if had gone to the US he would have been famous".
Publisher of the magazine Ceramics, Art and Perception, Janet Mansfield, said Mr Tichy was undervalued.
``At the time he was working and making these murals, he was an example to the rest of the ceramic arts community," she said.
``He was a leader in Australia.
``One has to applaud the demolisher."
In the early '70s, Wollongong architect Keith Baker stumbled on his work and commissioned murals for Dapto RSL and St Paul's Catholic Church at Albion Park.
Then came the ``electricity" mural for the new Illawarra County Council building in 1974.
The mural stood undisturbed through the privatisation of the industry and numerous management changes until recently, when Integral Energy sold the building, washing its hands of the artwork's fate.
The new tenant said it had to go but Max said no to the sledgehammers. He won the support of the building's new owner, who let him take his time salvaging it.
``When you see it in its entirety it is mindblowing," said Max, who runs Coastwide Building Repairs and Maintenance at Corrimal.
``It's part of the heritage of the Illawarra," he said.
``It had to be saved. Too much creative talent had gone into it."
Now Vlad the Glad and Max want it rebuilt.
``It should not be here stored in milkcrates," Max said.
``It should be put outside on a wall so people can look at it and appreciate it."
Wollongong City Council cultural services coordinator Amanda Buckland agrees, as does Wollongong City Gallery director Peter O'Neill.
And to avoid being known forever as Philistine Energy, the mural's former owner is considering how best to help. It has sought the advice of the city's cultural broker Sally Gray.