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The Artist and Musician

Karel Machálek’s “Soft Metal” sculptures belle the gravity of the materials from which they were created. Just as metal smiths in ancient times were considered to have magical powers, Karel combines the magical powers of the smithy with the force and heat of his imagination. 


Karel came into the metal arts early, but his journey to Unalaska and artistic recognition would take years.


Born outside of Brno, the second largest city in what is now the Czech Republic, on September 3, 1958, the last of four brothers he graduated from a five-year program in Meta Trade School in Brno, where he first began to experiment with metal art projects. Soon after graduation, in 1979, Karel and brothers Dalibor and Petr escaped from then Communist Czechoslovakia, to live briefly in Paris, with its stimulating art and music scene. Six months later, Karel moved to Los Angeles and was employed by a tool-making company. For the next six years, he enjoyed Southern California, immersed himself in photography, and began to think more about metal art.


In 1985, Dalibar and Petr persuaded Karel to join them in Unalaska. He worked as a foreman for Magone Marine, a local marine repair and salvage company, for the next five years and, together with Sharon O’Malley, fathered daughters Mika and Kaia, who now attend college in Oregon. In 1990, Karel opened his own business, Alpha Welding and Boat Repair, and once again, began to work on metal art projects. In 1994, Marie Stehlik, a Czech friend he had met in California in 1984, moved to Unalaska, and two years later, Karel and Marie were married. 


Several years after he arrived in Unalaska, Karel began a long-standing collaboration with the artist Mike Rasmussen, who was best known as a painter, wood sculptor, and printmaker. Their partnership would expand their combined artistic visions and culminate in an impressive exhibition of their work, held in 1993 in the former Marco Roller Rink, which is now the Zueger home. 

Almost all of the approximately 40 sculptures featured at that show were figural, from Giacometti — like abstraction to portraiture. The show included large wall masks, “Dancing Goat Man,” “Aleut Dancer,” “Square Head,” and “Mr. and Mrs. Thin.” Clearly Karel’s string abstract sensibility melded well with Mike’s primitive realist aesthetic, as evidenced by the productively demonstrated at that exhibition.

A selection of these collaborative pieces included in “Aleutian Soft Metal,” enables us to better appreciate Karel’s artistic range and muscular finesse. Such a selection also allows us to recognize that many new works are essentially an organic expansion of his geometric roots, sometimes surprisingly puzzle-like (such as “Medieval Gizmos”) or enlivened with inner light (such as “Stainless Steel Sensation”). If we look closely, we can see that traces of realism inform the new work, as in the intricate “Marlin at Night” sculpture and perhaps  more subtly in the monumental “Metal Sun,” with its orchestration of available light. Another of these works, “Passing the Time,” blends the geometry of abstraction with a startling portrait of impact. 


As an art history teacher once suggested, “Realism can be invoked by reference,” and in “Alaska Ranger Memory,” a sculpture which embodies material from the last vessel, Karel articulates the elegiac. Such new works attest that Karel continues to push his expertise and demand more from his materials. In this first full exhibition of his sculptures, Karel does demonstrate the magic of the old smiths. He has conjured the hard scrap materials of the Aleutians into “Soft Metal,” breathing works of art.


Jerah Chadwick, local poet

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