By Alena Laufrova, translated from Czech by Katerina Kyselica | I visited Vojtech Kovarik in his studio in Kolin, a town in the Czech Republic that lies 34 miles east of Prague. Surrounded by a complex of industrial buildings once occupied by TESLA, the former Czechoslovak electro-technical manufacturer, we looked through his prints and discussed his methods for making them, as well as the circumstances and surroundings of their creation. Kovarik employs a systematic approach to printmaking, basing the printed images off of photographs. For me, the ways that Kovarik’s prints visually portray realistic scenes are indicative of his thematic influences and means of personal expression. When I interviewed Kovarik, I was curious to find out why he chooses to work with large-format prints and what he finds satisfying in the complex printmaking process.
Vojtech Kovarik, Hospital, 2006, linocut, 53 3/8 x 106 1/4 inches (135.5 x 270 cm), photograph by the artist.
Alena Laufrova (AL): How did you arrive to working with large-format, raster-based linocuts?
Vojtech Kovarik (VK): In the very beginning, there were two series that I worked on simultaneously but they had nothing to do with each other. One involved large-format linear linocuts, while the other series consisted of color screen prints. I used screen printing for reproduction, basically reproducing my photographs as industrial four-color prints (CMYK). However, throughout the process, I always managed to make some mistakes, like placing the raster of each color in the wrong direction, or using a different sized raster for an image. I also ran into the issue of shifted colors, among other mishaps. Later on, I didn’t have any access to a place where I could do screen printing. It’s a relatively expensive technique, especially if I were to do it all by myself. Then, the idea of creating a raster by carving it out in linocut came to mind [laughs].
AL: The procedure is quite laborious; I would say it is even drudgery.
VK: I start with examining photographs and separating the image into colors: —three basic shades plus black for the drawing. Then I carve four matrices with the raster and print them. I therefore apply the method of screen printing into the linocut technique. It’s kind of a printing joke [laughs].
AL: Another artist may feel intimidated, or wouldn’t even think about making prints this way because of the hard work it requires. Is the fact that the method is so labor-intensive important to you? Is the work part of the creative process?
VK: I certainly enjoy the fact that I have to spend so much energy and time working on my creations. But it’s not all just about the labor. When I look at another artist’s work, I do not only consider the fact that it’s labor-intensive. One brushstroke, for instance, can carry the same weight as a month of meticulous work.
AL: But the fact that the method you describe is labor-intensive affects the result of the work, regardless of whether an observer is aware of it or not. Its contribution is present.
VK: Of course. On one hand, it is indeed a technical raster image with small or large dots. On the other hand, the raster in linocut form is made by hand and therefore none of the dots have exactly the same shape as the others, so I can work creatively. I can enlarge or reduce the raster. I can also deform it, making it wider or narrower. Sometimes I do make weird shapes to help myself when the original image is more detailed than the size of the raster.
AL: What’s the format of the color separation sheets?
VK: Usually the sheets are of A4 size, which I enlarge and use to draw on the linoleum in order to have something to follow. All four matrices are identical in the format of the basic drawing. I also draw auxiliary lines, making a grid, in order to maintain a uniform direction on the raster. When you’re carving and you are in the middle of the large linoleum, you can’t see the edge and you can’t tell whether you’re carving straight or not. The lines help.
AL: I’m guessing one needs to have technical mind . . .
VK: It’s my attempt at trying industrial reproduction by hand [laughs].
AL: What brings you satisfaction?
VK: This whole method brings me maximum satisfaction [laughs].
AL: The curiosity to see the result is what keeps you going?
VK: I have to be excited about the theme I’m working on in order to keep going. Now I work on black-and-white prints, but when I was working on color prints, each print I made took me of a quarter of a year to create. In the beginning, I wasn’t even sure I could finish one print. I thought I wouldn’t have the patience to carve out four colors. I was afraid in advance of having to work on the same motif for the second, third and fourth time. And then I realized that each color excites me a bit more than the previous one—that even though the same image is created again and again, it’s always little bit different.
AL: Do you have a clear idea of what the finished product will look like when you work with multiple matrices?
VK: No, I don’t. Of course I have some vision but it’s not all that clear. If I knew the result in advance, I wouldn’t enjoy the process. Originally I worked only with the multiple color plates based on my screen printing experience. I thought that working only on one black-and-white plate with a raster would be boring and not hold my interest. I was attracted to the process of printing using multiple plates, when the rasters shifted. I was interested in the effect of colors, what the result would be, and how identical (or not) the print would be to the original motif.
AL: In your work, how much of it is reason and how much is feeling? Is there room for, let’s say, spirituality? Or is your work about visually transcribing reality?
VK: The feeling and emotions affect the choice of the theme. What I choose to depict is a matter of intuition or inclination.
AL: And then?
VK: The process of making is more technical; it’s rational—but not entirely so. On one hand I engage in a technical activity when I create a regular raster, using some series of dots, an approach that could perhaps feel “cold” since it’s so mechanical. On the other hand, making the matrices by hand seems like nonsense; therefore the method cannot really be justified by reason. It’s just addictive [laughs].
The technical process is inherent to printmaking. I don’t like it when the technique is pushed aside, or when it’s not considered important. There are art historians who refuse to consider techniques; they are only interested in the image. Yet, in my opinion, both the technique and the image are connected—particularly in printmaking.
AL: Technique can sometimes act as a servant to the theme and artistic expression, but at other times it becomes the central focus.
VK: But the technique determines the means of expression. The means of expression require a particular technique, which in turn carries the means of expression. For example, mezzotint was invented when printers needed to reproduce half-tones. As a result, mezzotint prints have a soft gradation—it’s a given nature of this method. Artists can submit to an established technique or choose to challenge its nature. But the technique is still there whether it is accepted or suppressed.
AL: Let’s talk about themes in your work. The imagery of factory halls and other industrial spaces seems to represent the environment in which you work.
VK: Well, it is not completely true that I only base my work on industrial spaces. They are not that interesting to me, so I don’t insist on them as a theme. I don’t travel around the industrial cities to find subjects for my work. On the contrary, I’m interested in the environment that surrounds me, and because I work in a particularly industrial space, my prints show it. I don’t intentionally search for industrial spaces. But since that’s what surrounds me it thus becomes part of my intimate space...
[This interview appears in full in the print and digital editions of Celebrating Print, Vol.1, No.1.]
Vojtech Kovarik, Garage, 2014, linocut, 52 3/8 x 104 3/8 inches (133 x 265 cm). Photograph by the artist.
A full version of this interview In a Space Where Each Dot Matters: Vojtech Kovarik on Reality and the Raster by Alena Laufrova appears in print edition of Celebrating Print, Vol. 1 No.1, published in October 2015. Translated from Czech by Katerina Kyselica.
VOJTECH KOVARIK (b. 1976 in Kolin, Czech Republic) received a Master’s Degree from the Department of Drawing and Printmaking at the the Faculty of Fine Arts, Brno University of Technology (2003). His signature monumental linocuts have been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and have received several awards, including the prestigious Vladimir Boudnik Award (2007). In 2001 and 2013, Kovarik participated in art symposiums in Mikulov and Ostrava, respectively. His prints are represented in private collections and in the National Gallery in Prague. Kovarik currently lives and works in Kolin.
ALENA LAUFROVA is a Prague-based visual artist, poet, curator and writer. She received a Master’s Degree in printmaking and illustration at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (1976). Her prints, mixed media works, paper objects and art books have been exhibited in the Czech Republic and abroad in solo and group exhibitions. She has curated several exhibitions in the Czech Republic and abroad, such as the traveling exhibition Spiritual Dimension in Czech Printmaking (Prague, New York, Milan). She is a board member of the Hollar Association of Czech Graphic Artists, and a regular contributor to Grapheion magazine. Alena Laufrova is Advisory Board member of Celebrating Print.
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