Kamila Stanclova on Inspiration, Dreams and the Scent of Wood


By Katerina Kyselica | Dreams may seem like a mirage. For Slovak artist Kamila Stanclova, who works in painting, printmaking and drawing, dreaming is almost like breathing. I was invited to peek into Ms. Stanclova’s intimate world of art making that turned out to be as expansive as her imagination. The studio occupying the entire top floor of her and her husband Dusan Kallay’s family home in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, was bathed in the abundance of soft daylight. The realms of literature and visual arts interlace in the practice of Ms. Slanclova, who was trained as a printmaker and book illustrator. Her command of printmaking is breathtaking, as if she were born to make prints.

Kamila Stanclova, The Catcher in the Rye, 1979, color etching, 23 5/8x19 5/8 inches image size (60x50 cm), 30 7/8x25 3/4 inches paper size (78.5x65.5 cm), edition of 100, printed by the artist, photograph by the artist.

You studied printmaking at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava in the atelier of Vincent Hloznik, an icon of modern Slovak printmaking. How was he as a teacher? Vincent Hloznik was a great artist, printmaker and painter, and a wonderful man. He treated us, the students, as equals. He valued creativity and hard work, and he was also capable of understanding and encouragement. Hloznik wasn’t apathetic towards the social changes that happened in the former Czechoslovakia during the turbulent years of 1966–1971. His project assignments were always interesting. In 1968, after the invasion of the former Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact Army, we were assigned a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak Republic, which was a clear message towards the establishment. Hloznik also challenged our technical skills, asking us to work in and practice a variety of techniques. As a result, we learned different methods of lithography, stone engraving, linocut, wood engraving, drypoint, mezzotint and, of course, intaglio. We appreciated and enjoyed his sharing of his own practice with us. Hloznik was an amazing role model for his work ethic and diligence.

When did you exactly come to work in printmaking? As a teenager, I attended a vocational school where I studied printmaking. But I wasn’t accepted right away; too many children wanted to study printmaking. I was already interested in the medium at that point. Although I drew as a child, drawing was never my passion. By the end of high school, I knew I wanted to study printmaking with Vincent Hloznik at the Academy.

So, you learned printmaking techniques in high school? Only the basic techniques, drypoint and linocut.

From your prints, etchings are probably the most recognizable to the public and the collectors. However, you work in number of other techniques. For instance, here I can see a lithographic stone with a drawing on it, ready for printing. You also practice wood engraving, and you created many linocuts, including your intriguing and quite extensive master thesis, back in school in the 1960s. Yes, the master thesis included seven linocuts exploring the theme of the French Revolution. I was inspired by Peter Weiss’ book The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, a paraphrase of a comedy and drama. I made four individual linocuts and a triptych. The project also contained an artist’s book with poems by Robinson Jeffers, for which I chose wood engravings, along with Days and Dreams, a series of 15 color lithographs, and four etchings entitled From My Life. I enjoy using different printmaking techniques. I feel like I could come to a deadlock if I were to use only one technique.

Kamila Stanclova discussing her printmaking journey in her studio in Bratislava in summer 2015. Top image: Stanclova's lithographic stone with an image ready to be printed. She often exploits scraped lithography in her work. Photographs by Katerina Kyselica.

I’m surprised to learn that you don’t draw much, outside of printmaking, despite the fact that your prints reveal imageries woven from intricate networks of lines. I have always been drawn to painting rather than drawing. When I print linocuts, I often work based on ink wash drawings, which I then transfer onto linoleum. I would say that I do painterly printmaking.

How do you feel about wood, for instance compared to linoleum? Do you prefer one to the other? They are both materials used for the same technique, relief printmaking, and the prints they yield may seem alike in appearance. I might have inherited my love for wood from my grandfather who used to be a wheelwright—he made carriages, coaches and sledges. I like wood and cork linoleum, and I really enjoy engraving them. Both materials have a characteristic scent, which in the case of wood is quite noticeable due to its preparation for use as a printing plate. For wood engraving, the material must be soaked with oil and polished with shellac. The shellac gives the wood its distinctive fragrance. I engrave in pear wood, based on ink wash drawings, and because I want the image to retain a painterly expression, I must copy the drawing almost exactly—otherwise I wouldn’t be able to create the half tones.

What about etching? When I etch, I draw directly on the printing plate, without any preliminary drawings.

Why is that? Do you explore something different in etching compared with other techniques? I actually don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. The works I create in linocut and wood engraving are different. Also, I use cork linoleum, which has a different density, and the content of cork causes the edges of the cuttings to appear frayed.

Does your family history reflect in your work? For instance, in the print The Old Moving House (1982), I noticed the text “Michal Stancel, Wheelwright” written on the facade of the house and some portraits. Are they family portraits? I created this print based on my dream about our home in the city of Kremnica right after my aunt died. She lived there. I drew the home as a mobile house because I wished to have it here in Bratislava with me. I added my grandfather with a wheel on the side of the image, as well as my grandmother with her children—my father and his older sister. The brother of my grandfather is also in the story; he left for America. Only two old photographs remained of him. Once I discovered an old seal that my grandfather used for his trade as a wheelwright. The print shows a wheel in the center with a compass; in the four corners there is a square, an axe and my grandfather’s initials. The seal is made of a yellow metal, so it looks like gold. Such a precious little object, with a tiny holder for better grip. I like it very much. You can find its impression in many of my etchings. When I use the seal, I first ink it with rainbow colors—yellow, red and purple. After I press it, I apply black and brown, the two standard hues I use for etchings.

Do you prefer any of your series? I particularly like the etchings from the series Days and Dreams. I was inspired by random moments from my daily life, from my travels, and from my dreams. One can say these works are like journal entries. I worked on the series for a few years. The first part, Days and Dreams I, consisted of color lithographs, and I later continued the theme in etching. Some prints in the series were inspired by Scandinavian literature because I enjoy authors such as Sigrid Undset and her historic novels like Kristina Vavrincovna and Olav Audunsson.

Kamila Stanclova, Dream About Flying, 1971, color lithograph, 5 5/8x5 1/8 inches image size (14.4x13.1 cm), edition of 16, printed by Frantisek Malina, photograph by the artist.

Does literature inspire all your works? My etchings are more about things from daily life, what I notice and observe, for instance when I travel. I included a dress that I bought in Amsterdam in the etching Kay van Amsterdam. Or, for some time I applied patterns of Persian rugs. Although the title of the print The Catcher in the Rye implies an inspiration by J.D. Salinger’s book, the whole idea came to me one day when I was reading the newspaper and saw an article about Salinger with his portrait photograph. I learned about his complicated private life, that he lived in recluse and didn’t like to have any company. The print is the result of all of this—a process of interweaving and composing, while also using Salinger’s stories, as I draw. The story behind the print enters the image.

What other themes occupy your work? People, their characters, relationships, also to some extent a critical view of people, and social situations in which we find ourselves. For example, Changing or Undressing the Skin and Cabaret of Life reflect on the complex situation after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 Czechoslovakia as I saw it. Before the Revolution, it was more or less clear who was who, and suddenly, from one day to the next, it wasn’t. Everyone changed into someone else.

I also often think about the meaning of life, about its mysteriousness. I have no desire to tell stories in a well-planned manner. My intention is to show the way I think and my imagination. I don’t want viewers to “read” my etchings. If viewers find their own stories in and through my work, that’s what makes me happy not only for myself but also for the viewers. That’s why I often use symbols. Sometimes they may be too subjective, but they seem right at the moment of making. One can discover the theme of roads, doors and stairs in my work.

You mentioned the series Days and Dreams. How important is dreaming for your work? How are dreams reflected in it? My dreams are part of my life more than I would like to admit. They often can’t be used because they simply can’t be drawn, despite my wishing. Why cannot they be just traced? As a matter of fact, I write down my dreams in cases when they can’t be used for drawing or painting. There are not enough written dreams to make a book. The title Days and Dreams is more or less poetic. The dreams mix with experiences from life; thanks to dreaming and imagining, such visions can take on the form of daydreams, but they can also be realized as nighttime dreams. I even keep an old book of dreams to help me read into my own. It’s a game of mine; I don’t want to believe the dreams. But sometimes things happen and a dream is partially fulfilled, and that fascinates me.

Tell me about those imaginary, biomorphic shapes that float weightlessly in your etchings. How do you arrive at the compositions? Is there something of a woman in such forms? That’s an interesting question. Once a French collector visited me, two years ago. He was looking at the etchings and said that the figures didn’t have a sex. That they looked like angels. I hadn’t thought about it until then.

Sometimes I paint figures knowing what they are. Other times I don’t think about it at all. They are truly abstract for me. They represent real, amorphous and imaginary shapes and figures, characterized by their structure. I don’t know if they are female or male because it’s really not important in relation to the meaning of the image. When I was a child, I started observing the shapes that emerged from the texture of our polished wooden bedroom furniture. I imagined all kinds of flying creatures, often flying against each other. These images stuck in my mind. The texture of wood, a wall or the earth hides in the environment, which in turn obscures the material like a secret. I can even find something in the tiles when I’m waiting at the doctor’s office. Everything in my surroundings inspires me.

This article Kamila Stanclova on Inspiration, Dreams and the Scent of Wood by Katerina Kyselica appears in the print edition of Celebrating Print, Vol.2 No.2, published in October 2016.

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KAMILA STANCLOVA (b. 1945, in Zvolen, Slovakia) is a painter, printmaker and illustrator. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava where she studied in the ateliers of Vincent Hloznik and Albin Brunovsky. Her works have been installed in numerous solo exhibitions in Slovakia and abroad as well as in international group exhibitions. Stanclova’s prints, book illustrations, ex libris and designs of postage stamps have received many awards, such as the UNICEF International Illustrators of the Year Award for the best children’s book illustrations (1996), Most Beautiful Book of Slovakia (2006), the Certificate of Honor for Illustrations at the IBBY Congress Copenhagen for the book Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (2008) and the Celebrating Print Award (2014). Stanclova’s prints are represented in private and public collections, including the National Gallery in Prague (Czech Republic), the Kunstverein Nurnberg–Albrecht Durer Gesellschaft (Germany), the Bibliotheques-Mediatheques de la Ville de Metz (France), the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art of Gallarte (Italy), the Slovak National Gallery (Slovakia), Rijksmuseum (Netherlands) and the Chihiro Art Museum Tokyo (Japan), among others. She lives and works in Bratislava.

KATERINA KYSELICA is a visual artist, designer, curator and lecturer. She received a BFA from VCU School of the Arts in Virginia and a Master’s Degree from Charles University in Prague. Her prints and works on paper, represented in private collections, have been exhibited in solo and group shows in New York, Paris and the Czech Republic. She organized and curated the Celebrating Print Exhibition (2013–2015), a survey of contemporary prints from Central and Eastern Europe. Kyselica’s articles on art, printmaking and design have appeared in Czechdesign.cz, Design Magazin, MF DNES, Celebrating Print and the Journal of the Print World.

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