Froissage is a method of collage developed by Czech artist Ladislav Novák in which the lines made by crumpling up a piece of paper are used to create a drawing. One major exponent of the art of froissage is Jiří Kolář.

Froissage is a unique art in which the contours of a crumpled piece of paper are used to create a drawing. Currently on display in a small gallery at the French Institute, Kolář’s froissages incorporate previously existing 17th-century French drawings to form more modern, abstract pictures. The results occasionally can be likened to early Cubist efforts to capture multiple motions and images within a single frame.

Ladislav Novak
Visual artist and poet, Ladislav Novak, born on August 4, 1925 in Turnov and grew up in Třebič, where he attended Gymnasium. During this time he was a member of a student surrealist group and established contact with Vitezslav Nezval. Graduating in 1944, he then studied Czech and History at Prague’s Charles University from 1945-1950, writing his thesis on “Rhyme and Assonance in the Work of Vítězslav Nezval.” Over the next few years he would meet the leading Czech surrealists, which was to have a lasting impact on his work. In 1954 he moved back to Třebič to take up a post teaching Czech language at the Gymnasium. He was to remain there until his death in 1999.

Though his work can more properly be placed within the vein of surrealism, both orthodox and unorthodox, he was also close to the artists of the New Sensibility of the 1960s, and drawing on Dada he was instrumental in advancing sound poetry, recordings of which he made in the 1950s, and concrete poetry. With Jiří Kolář and Josef Hiršal he formed the first Czech Group of Experimental Poetry. In the visual arts, he developed the techniques of alchemage (chemically treating reproductions of pictures) and froissage (interpreting the creased lines made at random by crumpling paper), which brought him the most recognition. Both methods gave free reign to chance.

In his lifetime, Kolář acquired a reputation as one of the most inventive 20th-century Czech artists. A member of Group 42 and the first Czech Group of Experimental Poetry, he assisted in the development of the collage techniques of froissage and confrontage. During that time, writing poems and crumpling up pieces of paper were considered subversive activities and were discouraged by the then regime. Kolář endured harassment and imprisonment, and eventually emigrated to France, where he was finally able to attain international renown for his work.

Throughout Europe, he had a number of exhibitions and a general retrospective in the U.S. Though he did not die “unknown and forgotten,” his relative seclusion in Třebič certainly had an effect on the attention his work received, especially in Prague. On the other hand, living detached from Prague’s artistic circles gave him the mental space and time to remain true to his own program and to concentrate on systematically developing his own ideas. As Novak stated: “And tomorrow I return to my exile in Trebic. But where am I at home, really? In Prague? In Venice? Anywhere where I have a table to work on, maybe only a piece of foam for a bed and a blanket, good light, a hot shower, peace and quiet for work, and someone to have an intelligent conversation with once and a while … I’m afraid I’m asking for too much.”

Jiří Kolář
Jiří Kolář was a Czech poet, writer, painter and translator. His work included both literary and visual art.

His first exhibitions in 1937 focused on his collages. In the 1960s Kolář first combined painting and poetry but he gradually turned completely to experiments in visual art. In his work he used a scalpel to cut pictures out of magazines. He produced colors in his collages by gluing on printed fragments of paper from various different sources.

His collages were intended to influence the viewer’s outlook on life; the technique of using fragments of text and images from various different sources was well suited to achieve the effect Kolář wanted, by showing the destruction and fragmentation of the world Kolář inhabited. Simultaneously, by juxtaposition and contrasting of these different fragments the technique of the collage served to create surprising and visually striking new combinations; for instance, the combination of astronomical maps with Braille writing. Kolář invented or helped to develop new techniques of collage – confrontage, froissage, rollage etc.

Since the 1960s Kolář’s visual artwork was featured regularly in exhibitions by galleries and museums, . Some of the more prominent exhibitions of his work were in the New York Guggenheim museum in 1975, and in Prague in 1994 in Dům U Černé Matky Boží.

“Like most great artists of the past century, Kolář was both an anarchist and a reactionary. In order to “make it new,” the artist must systematically reject every aesthetic tendency that’s come before; the artist can either accomplish this task via exclusion or destruction. Witnessing first-hand the steady self-destruction of European civilization throughout his life, it seems only natural that Kolář would go the latter route – picking through the debris and disfiguring all that he came across, granting his objects a novel significance that certainly would’ve baffled their original creators.” Travis Jeppesen