Vladimir Gazovic's Carousels of Life


By Eva Trojanova, translated from Slovak by Katerina Kyselica | Vladimir Gazovic constructs fantastic realms to elucidate our understanding of the real world. The seemingly unreal visuals of phantasmal imagery and unsavory figures manifest from the artist’s astute observation of life. Through his stunning color lithographs embellished with a kaleidoscope of colors, Gazovic delivers a sharp taste of humanity seasoned with irony, sarcasm, hyperbole and ridicule. This Slovak artist’s efforts to reveal the truth have yielded a unique body of work—one that exhibits intense emotional character and transcends conventional fantasy art.

Vladimir Gazovic, Carousel of Life, 1983, lithograph,, 29 7/8 x 22 1/8 inches image size (75.8 x 56.3 cm), 32 x 23 5/8 inches paper size (81.3 x 60 cm), edition of 33, photograph by Pavel Melus.

Vladimir Gazovic constructs fantastic realms to elucidate our understanding of the real world. The seemingly unreal visuals of phantasmal imagery and unsavory figures manifest from the artist’s astute observation of life. Through his stunning color lithographs embellished with a kaleidoscope of colors, Gazovic delivers a sharp taste of humanity seasoned with irony, sarcasm, hyperbole and ridicule. This Slovak artist’s efforts to reveal the truth have yielded a unique body of work—one that exhibits intense emotional character and transcends conventional fantasy art.

Out of Vladimir Gazovic’s many prints, perhaps the title of one piece, Regarding the Need for Fantasy (1968), provides the best clue for understanding his oeuvre—as an expression of imagination used to elucidate our worldly existence. At the same time, his imagery seems to alert viewers that art goes beyond the mere depiction of the surrounding world. From Da Vinci to Bosch and Goya, along with the artists of the great periods of Symbolism, Expressionism and Surrealism, various figures throughout history have deviated from the traditional perceptions of art as an illusion or imitation of reality. The element of fantasy has appeared and evolved throughout numerous phases of art development, with the visual language and content of different works reflecting their era of creation. Several individual movements of modern art, like Metaphysical Painting, Cubism, Surrealism, Magical Realism, Pop Art and so-called fantasy art, employed imagination in myriad means.

In Slovakia, a strong and critical tendency of fantasy and imaginative art burgeoned during the 1960s, particularly in printmaking field. The key figure of the period was Vincent Hloznik.1 A leading Slovak artist of the post–World War II period, Hloznik founded the Department of Printmaking and Illustration at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava in 1952 and became its first educator. He belonged to the generation that suffered the consequences of the war as well as the ideological pressure of the subsequent communist era. The humanism typical for Hloznik’s work, which he transmuted into a unique visionary form, seemed attractive at that time perhaps because it presented fantasy as an avenue for people to overcome the constraints and burdens of daily reality. In addition to Hloznik’s contributions, Slovakia received an influx of energies and ideas pertaining to fantasy art from abroad. Artists learned about the comprehensive foreign exhibitions that surveyed the theme’s development but also provided its summary in historical context.2

For fantasy art in Central Europe, the style of the Danube School coupled with the concept of Albert Altdorfer’s magic landscape played a crucial role. By applying the techniques of the old masters, the painters at Vienna School of Fantastic Realism were instrumental in connecting these historic traditions with the practice of their time.3 Albin Brunovsky and other Slovak artists involved in the so-called Hloznik School reflected this development. Their works became an unofficial paradigm for an array of outstanding printmakers who graduated from the Academy in the 1960s and 1970s. Literature affected their artistic practice immensely, not only because they frequently engaged in book illustrations, but mainly since narrative dominated their work. They included the basic visual elements of a figure—manipulated in numerous ways—and a precisely executed, detailed drawing. The overall character of these works refers to Neo-Surrealism but also reveals influences from historical periods such as Symbolism, Romanticism and in particular Mannerism and Renaissance.

Vladimir Gazovic fit into this environment as soon as he graduated from the Academy’s printmaking department in 1967. Albin Brunovsky, already an internationally renowned printmaker, also worked as an assistant at the Academy during the time. Perhaps it came as a surprise that Gazovic resisted the aesthetics of his teachers to instead embark on his own artistic journey. He excelled in intaglio during his early black-and-white period, when he primarily practiced etching in combination with aquatint. Lithographs, such as Homage to F. Goya (1967), came rarely, yet they announced the next direction of Gazovic’s artistic interests.

While his early prints show a sense for line and detail, they do not focus on fabulation of a pictorial narrative. Instead, they exhibit Gazovic’s perception of the image as a synthesis of graphic and semantic factors. This impulse led to works in which rich, elaborate graphic structures are as important as figurative elements and detailed drawings.

The artist masterfully balances both components. It is fascinating to examine the equilibrium in detail, such as in Altar Wine (1968). The way that Gazovic stylizes the figures is interesting too, since it refers to Goya along with El Greco, whose visionary Mannerism certainly belongs to the pedigree of fantastic work. By fusing disparate styles and developing his skills, Gazovic established his name as a key figurative artist who pursued a type of fantasy art of the late 1960s.

Vladimir Gazovic, Altar Wine, 1968, etching, aquatint on Velke Losiny white paper, 15 1/2 x 12 3/8 inches image size (39.3 x 31.5 cm), 22 3/8 x 16 1/2 inches paper size (56.8 x 42 cm), edition of 20, printed by the artist, signed recto right bottom, photograph by Pavel Melus.

Political repression afflicted Slovakia following the Prague Spring and the 1968 Soviet invasion. Despite a certain level of isolationism in the arts, several pivotal 20th-century tendencies and movements still penetrated into the atmosphere, such as Pop Art, Minimalism, New Realism and Conceptual Art. Gazovic was not immune to the incoming stimuli. However, rather than mimicking mainstream fantasy trends, the artist processed them by selecting certain attributes and reconfiguring them into his own visual program. New Figuration transmitted into Slovakia in the late 1960s, providing alternative themes that resonated well in printmaking. Gazovic quickly introduced the style into his intaglio practice while simultaneously designing a system to tell stories. He started to split narratives into phases set in individual frames, each developing the main motif of figures, like the wings in the etching Wings and Their Servants (1969). Such an approach exemplifies Gazovic’s exploration of pictorial time rendered through fragmented sequences of action, or so-called cloissoné. The visual narratives also contain subtle allusions to the works of canonical artists, such as Durer, Rembrandt and Goya (the references become more pronounced in his later art, when they turn into direct quotations of particular pieces). Gazovic’s ability to innovate his visual language through the trends of New Figuration not only intensifies his work but also transcends it from the conventional classifications of fantasy art.

Vladimir Gazovic’s exceptional command of intaglio techniques during this early period did not go unnoticed; his prints are internationally recognized. For a series of etchings created from 1967 to 1969, Gazovic received the Herder Prize, a scholarship that enabled him to stay as an artist-in-residence in Austria for one year at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Hence Gazovic appeared from 1969 to 1970 in the atelier of Maximilian Melcher, which was furnished with large-format color technologies. Gazovic created a few large color etchings, such as Temptation of St. Anthony (1970), and gradually began exploring the secrets of color. In addition to advancing his technical skills (manipulating a sizable printing plate comprehensively challenges both the visual composition and the technical procedures), the residency offered Gazovic opportunities to meet with artists from the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism who excelled in treating color and light in the same manner as the old masters while building on the plasticity of form.

Gazovic employed color as a vehicle to expand his visual language and experiment with the technique and technology of lithography. His decision to pursue that path proved pivotal because his lithographs introduced the medium into Slovak printmaking. Artists rarely exploited limestone matrices in a culture dominated by woodcut and later intaglio. One exception was Vincent Hloznik, who printed black-and-white lithographs in which line and plane prevail. Over the course of its existence for nearly two centuries,4 lithography was brought to light as an art medium by masters such as Goya, Daumier, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cheret and Mucha. The great predecessors, despite their renowned developments in lithography, did not discover the opportunities for applying refined color tones. We can attribute such credit to Paul Wunderlich and the technical experiments he executed.5 Using special ink washes, Wunderlich crafted glazing-like transparencies that allowed him to model the color planes. Gazovic learned these processes and gradually explored their further possibilities and finesses. He perfected the technique. The artist’s early lithographs, such as In the Office of Mr. Redon (1971), show his altered approach to working with the figure. He changed the principles of composition and introduced thematic sequencing of the image. This print, one of the first from an extensive series Homages, bears significance also for its direct quotation of Redon’s work Old Knight (1896) seen in the bottom right frame...

[This article appears in full in the print and digital editions of Celebrating Print, Vol.2, No.2.]

Notes:

1. Vincent Hloznik (1919–1998), Slovak printmaker, painter, illustrator, sculptor and educator. From 1952 to 1972, Professor and the Head of Department of Printmaking and Illustration at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. From 1960 to 1964, Rector. Hloznik created numerous print series in various techniques from neo-surreal figuration to abstraction. He later inclined towards New Figuration.

2. Surrealismus, Phantastische Malerei der Gegenwart, Vienna, 1962; Surrealismo e arte fantastica, Sao Paulo VIII Biennale, 1965; Labyrinthe: Phantastische Kunst in Deutschland vom 16. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart, Berlin, 1966; Phantastische Kunst in Deutschland, Hannover, 1968; Phantastische Malerei, Munich, 1970; Imagination: Ausstellung bildnerische Poesie, Bochum, 1978, and others.

3. The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism was formed in 1950 and included painters Arik Brauer, Ernst Fuchs, Rudolf Hausner, Wolfgang Hutter and Anton Lehmden. Art critic Johann Muschik coined the term “fantastic realism” in the late 1950s to describe their work; he later applied the description to other artists (about thirty) working in the style of fantastic painting.

4. Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder (1771–1834), born in Prague, between 1796 and 1798. The technique is based on the immiscibility of grease and water; the greased limestone repels water and accepts the oil of printing ink.

5. Paul Wunderlich (1927–2010), German painter, printmaker and sculptor. From 1961 to 1962, Wunderlich carried out experiments in lithography with tints that he created in the workshop of the renowned Parisian master printer Desjobert. Wunderlich invented the so-called snow-white color that he applied over a dark background in the manner of glazing in oil painting. In 1964, he also began to apply the method of spattering in printmaking.

A full version of this article Vladimir Gazovic's Carousels of Life by Eva Trojanova appears in the print edition of Celebrating Print, Vol.2 No.2.

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EVA TROJANOVA is an art historian, curator and art critic. She received her Master’s Degree and PhDr in art history from the Department of History of Visual Arts of Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. Her expertise includes modern and contemporary art with a focus on printmaking, abstract and constructive art as well as creative glass works. She worked at the Slovak National Gallery and later as Art Director at Gallery Nova in Bratislava. Since 2002, she has been collaborating with the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum in Bratislava. Trojanova has curated numerous exhibitions. Her writing prowess includes contributions to various publications and titles such as Vincent Hloznik (1985), Grafika cecoslovacca contemporanea (1991), The 1960s in Slovak Visual Arts (1995), Albin Brunovsky (1996), Central European Avant-garde 1907–1939 (co-authored by Julia Meszaros, 2001) and Borders of Geometry: Geometric and Constructive Tendencies in Slovak Art from 1960 to the Present (co-authored by Luba Belohradska, 2009). Eva Trojanova is an Advisory Board member of Celebrating Print.

#lithography #color #fantasy #surrealism #Slovakia #scrapedlithography #NewFiguration #fantasticrealism #printmakingtradition

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