Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Czech graphics of the 1970s

In the 1970s I remember a great deal of interest in the west in writers behind the iron curtain, but almost none in artists. It was just assumed that all artists in the Eastern bloc were producing soulless socialist realism or figurative kitsch. So it has been fascinating for me to acquire work by what seems a representative sample of Czech printmakers from that decade, all published in the Danish art revue International Grafik, edited between 1969 and 1980 by Helmer Fogedgaard and Klaus Rödel. International Grafik was an altruistic labour of love. It published almost exclusively woodcuts, wood engravings, and linocuts, printed from the original blocks or plates, in a numbered edition of 1000 copies. No doubt many important artists are unrepresented in its pages, especially those who specialized in etching and engraving, but there are enough artists here to at least get a flavour of the currents of Czech art at this time. All of the Czech artists contributing to International grafic were doing so from inside the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.



International Grafik no. 30, 1980
(This was the final issue, entirely devoted to the Czech artist Miroslav Matous)

The first surprise is that in the decade after the brutal suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, Czech artists were not retreating into safe figurative images on socialist themes, but were instead diving headfirst into experiment and abstraction. These are not cowed voices, but confident and progressive ones. Maybe in the period of “normalization” that followed the overthrow of Alexander Dubček’s reformist government there were too many other people to police, and the graphic artists somehow operated under the radar of government surveillance. I’d be very interested to hear from anyone with memories of the cultural atmosphere of this time.


Jaroslav Vodrázka, Wood engraving
International Grafik 17, 1973


Jaroslav Vodrázka, 3-colour linocut
International Grafik 17, 1973


The graphic artist Jaroslav Vodrázka  was born in Prague in 1894. He studied at the School of Applied Art, and then at the Academy of Visual Arts under Max Svabinsky. Jaroslav Vodrázka himself became a professor of graphics. He produced wood engravings, linocuts, etchings, engravings, and lithographs, and was always interested in exploring new printmaking techniques, using materials such as plastic and plexiglass. Although he lived until 1984, Vodrázka remained rooted in figurative art, creating images of peasants, landscapes, and religious scenes.


Jaroslav Sváb, Achse
Linocut
International Grafik 6, 1970


Jaroslav Sváb, Grafik
Two-colour linocut
International Grafik 6, 1970


Jaroslav Sváb was born in Hodonin in 1906. His work veers from severe geometric abstraction to curvaceous Art Nouveau-influenced patterns based on organic forms, including the human body. Sváb is known for his linocuts and wood engravings, including engraved bookplates, and also as a designer of dust jackets for books. He died in Prague in 1999.


Josef Weiser, Frühling
Linocut
International Grafik 20, 1973


Josef Weiser, Linocut, 1971
International Grafik 20, 1973

The graphic artist, art teacher, and art theorist Josef Weiser was born in Switzerland in 1914, but moved with his parents to Moravia during WWI. In 1933 he became a teacher, and from 1950-1958 was a professor of art education in the teacher training college in Olomouc. Subsequently he became head of art teaching at the institute of advanced education for teachers in Olomouc. Besides his original graphics, Josef Weiser is also known for his bookplates. Weiser, too, remained a figurative artist; in the linocuts published by International Grafik, the predominant motif is that of a rather idealised young woman. He died in 1994.


Olga Cechová, Die weisse Figur
Woodcut
International Grafik18, 1973


Olga Cechová, Die schwarze Figur
Woodcut
International Grafik 18, 1973

The graphic artist Olga Čechová was born in 1925. She studied at the school of applied art in Brno from 1941-1944 and at the high school of applied art in Prague from 1945-1950. Here she was invited join the exclusive society of Czech graphic artists, Hollar. Olga Čechová was also a member of the avant-garde group Trasa. Her boldly expressionistic woodcuts seem to me to have a strong feminist message.


Ladislav Rusek. Linocut, 1969
International Grafik 4, 1969


Ladislav Rusek, Linocut, 1965
International Grafik 4, 1969


Ladislav Rusek, Scherzo
Linocut
International Grafik 21, 1974

The printmaker Ladislav Rusek was born in Olomouc in 1927. He studied at the university, where he was eventually to be made Professor of Graphics. Ladislav Rusek was particularly fond of the linocut, though he also produced wood engravings and etchings. His work was influenced by Jugendstil. Rusek is particularly known as an engraver of ex libris. His engravings tend towards abstraction while retaining symbolic forms and human figures.


Dusan Janousek, Wood engraving
International Grafik 3, 1969


Dusan Janousek, Wood engraving
International Grafik 3, 1969

Dusan Janousek was born in 1928 in Prostejov. He studied at the school of applied art in Brno and at the Komensky University in Bratislava. He taught graphics at the Palacky University in Olomouc. His white line engravings are either human figures verging on abstraction, or completely abstract.


Miroslav Houra, Prometheus
Linocut
International Grafik 18, 1973



Miroslav Houra, Kosmos
Linocut
International Grafik 18, 1973


Miroslav Houra, Charon
Linocut
International Grafik 18, 1983

The painter and printmaker Miroslav Houra was born in 1933 in Krhanice upon Sázava. He studied at the school of applied art in Prague, and at the Karl University in Prague. He taught in the teacher training faculty at the university in Ustinad Labem. Miroslav Houra was a member of the artists' associations Okjekt and Hollar. He had his first solo show in 1960, and later exhibited in many international exhibitions. Miroslav Houra's colour linocuts are both technically and aesthetically remarkable. Of course they appeal to me because of the way they use mythology to explore cosmic truth.


Ratislav Michal, Wood engraving
International Grafik 15, 1972



Ratislav Michal, Wood engraving
International Grafik 15, 1972

The painter, graphic artist, and designer of bookplates Ratislav Michal was born in 1936. He studied at the Academy of Pictorial Arts in Prague, graduating in 1961. Ratislav Michal had his first solo exhibition in 1964. He is known especially for his wood engravings of the female nude.


Jana Krejcová, Bei Prachatice II
Linocut
International Grafik 23, 1974


Jana Krejcová, Edelmannpalast, Olomouc
Linocut
International Grafik 23, 1974

Jana Krejčová was born in Bruntál in Nordmähren in 1946. She trained in painting and graphics at the art school in Olomouc. She remained in Olomouc, working as a technical editor at the Palacky University, and creating linocuts inspired by the architecture of the town and by Czech folk art. Jana Krejčová is also renowned as a designer of bookplates.


Miroslav Matous, Linocut
International Grafik 30, 1980


Miroslav Matous, Linocut
International Grafik 30, 1980

Lastly, Miroslav Matous was born in Zdárky in eastern Bohemia in 1920. Known as painter, printmaker, tapestry designer and architect, Miroslav Matous attended the Mánes School for painting, studying under Vladimír Sychra. As a printmaker, Miroslav Matous is known for lithographs, drypoints, etchings, linocuts, and woodcuts. From the evidence of these prints, the 1960s had definitely arrived in Czechoslovakia by 1980!

7 comments:

Philip Wilkinson said...

What a wonderful range of styles! It's certainly my impression that both post-1945 and post-1968, the Czech visual arts remained vital, exploratory, and challenging, and that both abstraction and surrealism continued to thrive, as they had in the period of democracy between the two World Wars. But what the circumstances of these artists were, and how much their work was allowed to be circulated or exhibited, I don't know.

Neil said...

I hadn't connected Krejcova with Quillevic, Jane, but you're right. And staying with the women artists, Olga Cechova's powerful images of womanhood are strikingly different to the idealised nymphets in the men's work.

Neil said...

Of course, the Czech graphic arts had a very firm grounding pre-1945. A dedicated atelier for the graphic arts was opened in the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in 1910; the Hollar Association of Czech Graphic Artists was founded in 1917. So it's not surprising to find such strength and variety in the 1970s - just another reminder of how much art gets overlooked for one reason or another.

Chrissy said...

What a fantastic collection of prints you've chosen to feature! I so enjoy your posts!

Neil said...

Thanks for your kind words, Chrissy

Esa said...

Hello, do you know from this period a graphic artist named J. Pibich?
I inherited a small but interesting print and do not find any informatiuon on this Czech artist. The print is dated 1980.

Neil said...

Esa - Sorry, your comment got lost somewhere in the system and I've just found it! I'm afraid I haven't come across J. Pibich.