Alexander Sadlo was born in the small village of Tulcik, Slovakia (then part of Czechslovakia) on 13th December 1927, the youngest of three boys. His mother (a Slovak) was a nurse during the first world war, and his father (a Czech) became the local postmaster. Alex considers his childhood to be quite idyllic, with lots of freedom to play and roam in the forest and swim in the streams. He showed a precocious talent for drawing and playing an accordion, having watched his father paint and play the clarinet in a local band. Attending church every Sunday was a strong ritual, and the Eastern Slovakian churches were heavy in icons. (This could be seen to influence his later figurative works, especially his enamels). His mother was often called upon to attend to people in the village when they were not well, when horse and carriage was the normal mode of transport. In 1939 following the occupation, the family were evicted from Slovakia and settled close to his father's family in western Bohemia. Alex spent his youth there, culminating in an apprenticeship in theatre set design in Plzen Theatre.
After the war ended Alex attended Prague School of Graphic Art, where he practised design, many printing techniques, life drawing, and of course art history where he was exposed to the work of the modern masters. In 1948 he was expelled for political reasons from art school and not able to compete his fourth year, as he was known by the other students not to support communism.
Alex had to say goodbye to his beloved mother and brothers and in 1949 he escaped into Austria with two friends. Eventually they found their way to a refugee camp in Austria and after about 8 months, Australia accepted him as a post-war migrant. There was a strong movement to increase the population of Australia at that time. Via Germany he went by sea to Western Australia. When invited to settle in Adelaide by the officials, to work for the government for two years, Alex accepted, along with a group of new friends.
Life in Adelaide
Alex lived in the tented refugee camp near Adelaide railway station, tasked with cleaning the area. He made money cutting his friends hair as the short back and sides that was common with local men was not at all favoured by the new Europeans, who spent a lot of money and effort on their sophisticated appearance - commissioning hand tailored suits for example. Adelaide of the early 1950's was quite a shock, with early pub closing, little entertainment, and considerable suspicion from the local people, except some supportive ones. But the group friends looked after each other well, and they loved the weather, beaches, outdoor life and the horse racing! After quite difficult years settling in, learning English etc, and looking for future accommodation, Alex eventually joined a house rented by his friends. Over the years, they all took different directions and Alex remained in one room and corridor of that house for twenty years. Here he began his major creative period.
Alex has never needed fine studios or facilities in order to produce and invent ways of working. He used a shed in the back garden as his studio, and his rooms became filled with paintings. He really enjoyed the companionship of friends and many people paid him a visit. Alex deeply appreciated Aboriginal art, before it was influenced by European ways, and their use of stripes influenced him, he often said. He became an early member of the contemporary art movement in Adelaide and exhibited with them and with the Royal Society of Arts. His interest in depicting 3-D and optical effects in painting began during this period, and he made studies of colour wave lengths and the human eye. In 1956 he took a job for six months in an Italian ceramics factory, painting religious figures. This taught him a lot about glazing and firing and apparently he was able to improve the output of the factory using his ideas. This experience was formative to his great love of using vitreous enamel on copper, for their permanence as vibrant colours, throughout his life.
Experiments in optical illusions and movement began during this period and his paintings became quite large, colourful and semi-abstracted, which were not easy to sell in 1950's Adelaide. So he also began to make jewellery, using enamel on copper, making brooches in beautiful colours often featuring iconic-like faces. These sold quite well, usually to other artists at parties. He also went back to a craft he developed as a child - carving apricot seeds. Gradually he learnt to cut, polish and carve opals, and to make jewellery by finding natural Australian forms like gumnuts, and using electro-deposition techniques to enclose them in gold and silver. This was a very fertile period for him towards making great strides in the crafting techniques for setting stones, and he is seen as a pioneer of contemporary jewellery making in Australia. Many of the pendants and rings were large and bold and set with many opals. His carvings were sought after by opal dealers, who wanted Alex to move to live in the opal fields in the Australian center, but he resisted the temptation as he mainly wanted to paint. The jewellery making supported his painting, along with one large win on the races! Around this time Alex also began working with quite large enamels, with beaten copper borders, and fired using open propane gas fires. He continued to live modestly, with no material possessions other than his works and tools.
It wasn't until 1968 that he accepted the idea of having a one-man exhibition - of paintings and jewellery. The show was well reviewed, several pieces of jewellery were sold and the show led to purchases by the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Australian National Gallery in Canberra. In 1969 he met Gaynor Robinson who was studying sculpture in the evenings at South Australian School of Art, when she visited his studio home with a friend to commission some jewellery. She became a partner in art, creating stone sculptures in his studio and garden, and they shared an exhibition in 1970. They married in 1972 and travelled to England, where they settled after an extensive travelling period to family in Czechoslovakia, even though it was still under communist rule, and other European countries.
Life in England
In England Alex has continued to work on his ideas of depicting movement and 3D in his paintings. For three years he worked on a series of abstract collages, using pre-fabricated stereoscopic picture cards, and experimenting with holograms. His series of abstract 'dimensional' oil paintings was created during mid 1970's. All of his works take a long time to finish, because of his meticulous, detailed painting technique. Meanwhile he had a prolific output of jewellery, more often made around finely detailed miniature paintings, similar in style to his large paintings. Gaynor took these to London jewellery galleries and they sold well. He also worked with a London company to create bespoke enamel boxes, usually depicting family portraits. Alex developed these into a fine art, using a small kiln in his jewellery studio in Slough, Berkshire, where in 1982 the Sadlos bought an Edwardian cottage that had sufficient room for 3 studios. Meanwhile, Gaynor developed her role as a practitioner, university educator and researcher in the field of occupational therapy and occupational science. She has been active in international developments in Europe, and is now honoured by her role as visiting professor at Charles University, Prague.
During the 80's and 90's Alex continued a prolific output of enamels, jewellery and paintings. Alex and Gaynor set up a ceramic studio where they collaborated on many joint works. He has exhibited in several countries over the years and had some one-man shows, the last notably a retrospecitive at Farnham, at Life the Gallery, showing large figurative paintings, big enamels, jewellery and ceramics.
Now aged 89 Alex is not working so prolifically. But both he and Gaynor really enjoy the overwhelming experience of regularly visiting the major collections of art in London. They appreciate the support and company of their friends and family, in many countries.