Oldrich Kulhanek

Oldrich Kulhanek

Printing, painting, illustrations


* 26. 2. 1940 in Prague
† 28. 1. 2013

I began my art studies at the Art School in Prague, where I took my leaving examinations in 1958. From 1958 I studied at the Prague College of Applied Arts in the studio of Professor Karel Svolinsky.

1964 The years of apprenticeship I spent there provided the basis of my artistic career. In 1964 I finished my studies with a diploma work, a book of verse by Vladimir Holan entitled Dream. I made six colour lithographs which were printed at the school workshop of the printer Vaclav Vejvoda. Part of my diploma work was a series of collages for Morgenstern's Gallozvs Songs.
1965-67 Between 1965 and 1967 I made my first series of drawings and a series of five lithographic stone-engravings. From 1967 I devoted myself to line engraving. This period lasted more than twenty years. At that time I began participating in group exhibitions. In 1968 I had my first independent exhibition with my friend Jan Krejci at the Galerie mladych (Youth Gallery) in Prague.
1971 In 1971 I was arrested by the StB, the Czechoslovak Secret Police, and accused that with my prints of 1968-1971 I had disgraced the representatives of communist countries (by which they meant the face of Stalin that appeared in several of my prints), thus also committing the crime of sedition. This accusation, like many others, was simply fabricated by Secret Police agents. In my case, filed as "Kulhánek and Co. no. 3T80/72", my co-accused was Jan Krejci, which meant that it was one of the first instances of the communist genocide of creative human spirit after the Soviet invasion of 1968. After a month in jail I was released, but for two years afterwards I was interrogate every fourteen days. This Kafkaesque situation lasted until 1972. Despite the fact that the articles of the law according which we had been accused were amnestied by the president, on the 5th July 1973 a trial took place at the Local Court of the Prague 10 district. At this outrageous farce, like a scene out of Hasek's Good Soldier Schweik, eleven of my prints (Make Up, Hurrah, Fill Ye Up Then the Measure of Your Fathers, Temptation, It Will Be Ever More Difficult to Get Out of This, Day of the Innocents, Back, Super, Nude and Apocalyptic Dream) "sat" in the defendants' box together with nine works by Jan Krejci. We both stood as witnesses to the accused. The prints were sentenced by the judge, Petr Stutzig, to destruction. Through an indiscreet disclosure by one of those presiding at that trial, we later found out that our condemned prints had in fact been spared destruction, i.e. being burnt. The gentlemen of the court kept the prints for themselves - in other words, they simply stole them. I then realized that one' s situation in life, even if a tragic one, never lacks a touch of humour - although, it is true, usually very black humour. In the 1970s I was completely banned from exhibiting, collaborating with publishers or being given access to publicity.

Nevertheless I continued in my work, resolved not to play the role of persona non grata. My work found its way to the free world through illegal channels. For example in 1971 I was represented at the exhibition "Hommage a Durer" in Nuremberg, staged to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of Albrecht Durer. My print was shown under the pseudonym Ulrich Bohm. This was one of the most curious episodes. Thanks to a series of friends in Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, the USA and France, I didn't lose contact with the European art scene even during my darkest years. I came to know what the solidarity of intellectuals means. At that time, no one knew the about the subsequent governmental and quasi-governmental committees and subcommittees set up to support individual people suffering persecution. In my case, support came from ordinary decent people, including Leo van Maris, a university professor from Leyden, Ank Loen, a lyceum teacher, Luc Sanders from Belgium, Helmut Wilhelm from Aachen, Anna Boonstra, a gallerist from Utrecht, Armin Alfermann from Solingen, Jens Erich Schumann from Berlin, Jana Claverie from Paris, Jacques and Ann Baruch, gallerists from Chicago, Johan de Muynck from Belgium, Chris Verhayen from Antwerp, Jacques Ludovicy, Rudolf Broulim, Walter Humplstotter from St. Polten, Boby de Gendt from Belgium, dr. Norbert Hillebrandt, dr. Werner Daniel, dr. Arnold Hausweiler, PhDr. Ivana von den Driesch, and many others.

1973 In 1973 I made the etching Adam and Eve, closing the chapter of my early works. That year I also made the series A Small Anatomy of Dr. S., five etchings on a theme slightly reminiscent of an "anatomical table" - Eye, Ear, Mouth, Hand, in combination with brutal scenes of torture. This series of prints was dedicated to the undying memory of the communist criminal Dr. Sommer, a Czech mutation of the Nazi "Angel of Death", Dr. Mengele. In the first half of the 1970s, I made a series of pencil drawings combined with a frottage of magazine reproductions entitled Ruzyne Jail Drawings. The entire collection of drawings was illegally exported to France and purchased for the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
1974-79 Between 1974 and 1979, I made six large etchings on the theme of Situations. The narrative content of my earlier etchings disappeared, and my composition became broadly based on representative symbols. In the second half of the 1970s, I began working more systematically on drawing. In terms of their content, the drawings from this period correspond to Situations. In 1978 I made a series of five etchings entitled Bestiarirum. It was a theme that had haunted me since the time I was imprisoned. In Ruzyne I had made the drawing Return of the Lost Son, which I managed to have smuggled out of jail.
1980 1980 was a year that in many respects opened up or determine my subsequent artistic development. The period of my etchings finished. That year I made four large lithographs, Interior I - IV. Three of them were made in the workshop of the printer Rudolf Broulim at the Prague College of Applied Arts. There, I had the unique opportunity of meeting the Nestor of Czech, or rather European, lithography, Oldrich Eiselt. For two years he passed on his experiences and his printing secrets to the perceptive Rudolf Broulim. A decisive event of 1980 was an exhibition, more precisely the Terezin'80 private symposium, that took place in the summer of that year. I was a member of a group of artists inspired by the idea of Jiri Sozansky to confront our works, reflecting the era in which we lived, with the terrible reality of the former Nazi prison.
1980s At the beginning of the 1980s I had the opportunity of making my first book illustrations. Thanks to the courage of my colleagues, editors at publishing houses, I received commissions to illustrate a series of imaginative books, especially Russian classics, despite the official ban on my work. In 1982 I made pen drawings on the Faustian theme of Temptation. My drawings accompanied a study on Faust by Dr. Jindrich Pokorny (published by Mlada fronta in 1982). The book won the Silver Medal in a competition for books on the theme of Faust (IBBA, Leipzig,1982). A grotesquely amusing fact, characteristic of that period, was that the Gold Medal was won by some East German drivel about Friedrich Engels... Faust - UnFaust. Between 1982 and 1985 I made two series of lithographs. The first was inspired by the human face (10 prints), and the second was devoted to the human hand (9 prints). At that time, I began collaborating with the printer Tomas Svoboda, in whose workshop I printed most of my lithographs. From 1982 I also printed in the workshop of Rudolf Broulim in Zwijndrecht, Belgium. From the beginning of the 1970s I printed my etchings by myself, then I printed in the workshops of Pavel Drimal and Milana Drimalova. Nowadays I collaborate with Vladmir Bujarek. In the second half of the 1980s, I created prints inspired by the work of George Orwell, who was the only figure of international literature who, by artistic means, rendered the fundamental nature of communist-fascist idiocy of the 20th century. Between 1985 and 1991 I made both Buffooneries, Great Pig Trough Feast, Successful Pig, Study of a Portrait and Who's Who.
1990s The 1990s began with the Big Bang of 1989. "I discovered America", as a Czech saying goes. In 1990 I visited the USA for the first time to take part in the Lithographic Workshop in Los Angeles. Since then, I have been to the States several times. In 1991 I led a seminar on drawing at the Atlanta Center for the Arts, New Smyrne Beach. In 1995 I was a guest at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, Texas. I subsequently made prints which included How Are You?, The Biggest One, See No Evil, Hear No Evil Speak No Evil and The Search for Identity. In 1991 and 1992 I worked on designs for the new Czech bank-notes. In 1993 I made 8 prints entitled Funny Money. At the end of 1993 I created a set of drawings inspired by The Trial by Franz Kafka. I made these drawings at my studio in Antwerp, which became my second home. During the 1990s I have made a series of drawings inspired by sport. I was fascinated by photographs taken from the finishing line of athletic races, seeing in them the faces of people who were down to their very last ounce of energy. To my mind, the top sport of today is far removed from the Hellenic ideal - it has become a symbol of violence and brutality.
1994 In 1994 I made the lithographic series Ecce Homo, comprising seven prints. That year I made drawings for Man (Clovek, published by Mlada fronta, Prague,1994).This book is being published in the middle of the final decade of this millenium; man remains my artistic object. Life in a circle, a spiral or a somersault...