Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Expressive Jaroslav Vodrazka - from the Czech Republic

I recently came across this artist's work while on a search for eastern European printmakers, and I felt compelled to share this artist's story and his work....  

Czech artist Jaroslav Vodrazka lived during several chaotic upheavals in eastern Europe in the 20th c. He was born in Prague in 1894 during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Surviving the period of peace between the two World Wars was short-lived, however, once the Nazis invaded and occupied Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Further, their endurance of the Soviet forces which separated the eastern block countries from the west placed an enormous hardship upon countless artists and creative individuals. Those artists that didn't lose their minds or limbs from military service, or lost their creative inspiration from years of oppression, dug in their heels and entrenched themselves for the duration; finding precious small pockets of time to produce their artwork, usually in secret or on the side from their other 'government-sanctioned' art.

The early part of the 20th c. saw numerous eastern European artists working under these terrible conditions. They were often called 'internal emigrees', and during the day while at their jobs, they did what they were told. They also fought an artistic 'war' of their own while they struggled to keep creative and produce artwork in virtual seclusion. The penalties for intelligence and enlightened minds was severe and swift. You see, the Nazis were not known for their sympathies for visionary artists or any non-ultra realistic imagery.

Religious themes, like Christ's portrait above,  were important to Vodrazka. The artist kept a painting of St. Vaclav, the Czech national patron saint, in his own personal library with other examples of inspiration, like a collection of printmakers Rembrandt, Durer and
Schongauer.  Vodrazka's survivning sketchbooks are full of proposals for never-realized projects about stained glass windows and church sanctuaries. 
Vodrazka was the son of a miller who married a baker’s daughter. Their family ran a bakery in Prague. The young boy showed artistic promise at an early age, drawing on sidewalks and the margins of newspapers. He studied art The School for the Applied Arts, where he studied printmaking. Soon afterward he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, where he sketched and made watercolors, even while serving on the Italian Alpine front. A Czechoslovak state was formed after the war and Vodrazka became a professor of printmaking and graphic arts. In 1923, he went to work with Svaty Martin in Slovakia, where he spent the next 16 years doing book design and typography in the previously suppressed Slovak language,(which occurred during Hungarian rule.)
On the eve of World War II, Vodrazka left his position in Slovakia and returned with his family to Prague, even though it was a Nazi-run Protectorate. While there, he settled into a life of teaching, book illustration, and print-making. 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.
From 1939 he and his wife, Ella, a writer-poet,and their son, Jaroslav, who became a noted
musician in classical organ and professor of music, lived quietly in a place of refuge on the West Bank of the Vltava River in Prague with a view of the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral, an image frequently seen in his etchings.
Vodrázka always remained rooted in figurative art, creating images of peasants, landscapes, and religious scenes. His real passion was for intimate, small-format prints and ex-libris book plates, commissioned by collectors who wanted special subjects, symbols, and scenes incorporated into these miniature graphics.
Unfortunately, Vodrazka did not live long enough to see the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. He died five years before the 1989 Velvet Revolution routed the Communists out of power in his beloved Czechoslovakia. However, the vitality and creative spirit is still evident in these prints discussed today. It is admirable that artists can work under what we western artists consider to be difficult conditions. In truth, it was just their way of life, and Vodrazka was able to teach and produce artwork even in this restricted society. His work has a beauty and depth of emotion as seen in the portraits. His respect for religious subjects is evident, and references to other western artists such as Goya, Rembrandt, Durer and even van Gogh shine through his own lines and compostitions. I was excited to find this artist's work, and hope more people will explore his oeuvre.

No comments:

Post a Comment