By Jiri Bernard Krticka, translated from Czech by Katerina Kyselica | Vladimir Boudnik developed a striking array of original printmaking methods that left a profound impact on an entire generation of artists living behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia. One method, structural printmaking, evolved into a phenomenon that challenges artists to search for unorthodox understandings of the materials as they go through the sequences of preparing plates.
Image: Vladimir Boudnik, The Marks of Material, 1959, active print, 16 1/2 x 11 5/8 inches image size (42 x 29.5 cm), edition of 100, photograph by Prague City Gallery, collection of Prague City Gallery.
The term structural printmaking was coined by Vladimir Boudnik to describe one of the innovative approaches he developed in 1958. Today, it is understood in a broader context as a special class of printmaking methods with a framework that falls outside the scope of traditional techniques. The word “structure” refers to the non-flat nature of the matrix surface, which retains a rough, coarse, grainy and fibrous—that is to say relief—quality. In comparison to collagraphy, a related method, structural printmaking represents a more general category. It is based on a matrix whose surface was not prepared using the polarity principle of either “height” or “depth” but rather with a whole range of “heights” and “depths.” This characteristic of the structural matrix significantly expands its printing potential. Most structural prints carry a haptic appearance as a result of permanent deformation of the paper upon printing...
The Story of Vladimir Boudnik
...Vladimir Boudnik (1924–1968) was an exceptional personality who significantly influenced a change in Czech art between the 1950s and 1960s when the communist regime kept a rigid control over all public manifestations of creative life. Although the seminal artist never received an academic degree, he graduated in 1949 from a secondary printmaking school in Prague. During his tenure as a worker at an engineering concern CKD in Prague, Boudnik had to consistently fight a heroic battle for his art to be accepted. It represented a creative direction that deviated from the ruling ideological doctrine. In addition to a long-term artistic isolation and existential distress, the artist managed to face an absolute lack of equipment, causing him to construct most of the tools, including printmaking presses, on his own.
Vladimir Boudnik in his Prague studio in Kostnicke namesti, 1967. Photograph by Ladislav Michalek.
Besides his intuition and courage to go beyond conventions, Vladimir Boudnik possessed a distinctive prophetic vision. At only twenty-five years of age, he presented the notion in his first manifest of Explosionalism, a style he founded on a principle of visual associations, in which he, among others, wrote:
“Look around! At a dirty wall, marble, the growth rings of the wood . . . what you can see is your soul . . . . Do not underestimate spills. Follow their contours with your finger, redraw them on paper . . . take charge of your inner self.”1
In Boudnik’s conception, the program of a new art, which should become a liberating expression of internal creative strengths of each individual, gains a strong human and didactic appeal.
Boudnik’s works began to stray from a figurative approach as early as the 1950s, blurring the border between printmaking and painting as the artist tested unconventional methods, particularly decalcomania and monotype. The genius was evident in his ability to transform the disadvantage of operating in poor conditions, bereft of proper technology, into his advantage. He conjured up inspiration from the factory materials, instruments and techniques that surrounded him at work. In 1953–1955, Boudnik discovered a method that he named “active printmaking.” The term “active” emphasized the process of preparing the matrix using the power of spontaneous hits by various tools. Active printmaking is characterized by distinctive traces of the tools, as well as impressions of metal filings, shavings and fragments, pressed into the matrix.
In 1958, Boudnik conceived of a method for which he gave the term “structural printmaking,” and the procedure gained a large following. On metal plate, Masonite board or cardboard, he applied nitrocellulose varnish using a brush or spatula, or by directly pouring it on the plate. After it dried, the liquid formed a structure that was sturdy yet flexible enough to withhold reproduction in the printing press. Boudnik manipulated the roughness of the matrix’s surface by adding to the varnish materials such as sand, ash and carborundum dust. Sometimes he enhanced the created structures by affixing pieces of paper or textile, bits of fiber and small objects on the matrix with fresh varnish. The artist was even able to creatively exploit the flammable character of the varnish by exposing parts of the matrix to fire as a means of completing the structure...
...This unlimited invention and preoccupation with experimentation prompted Boudnik to make more discoveries. In 1965, the artist worked with a concoction of varnish and metal filings. He exposed the mixture to an electromagnet before it dried, causing the filings to form a pattern following the magnetic lines of the force, which remained fixed into the structure of the matrix upon drying. “Magnetic printmaking” was born. Another method called “symmetrical printmaking” was rooted in the creation of a symmetrical image using two pieces of cardboard connected by a flexible joint, such as adhesive tape. As he drew with lacquer on one piece of cardboard, the artist pressed the image to the other piece. Boudnik expanded on the symmetrical method in 1966–1967 in the series Variations on Rorschach Tests.
Image: Vladimir Boudnik, The Bat, 1967, symmetrical structural print, 16 1/4 x 22 inches image size (41.2 x 56.1 cm), photograph by Prague City Gallery, collection of Prague City Gallery.
Vladimir Boudnik emphasized through his manifests of Explosionalism the great imaginative potential in the spots and cracks appearing in plaster on building walls. He later derived a similar inspiration from found corroded metal plates that he printed with minimal intervention or even without modification. This procedure exemplifies Boudnik’s mode of applying the direct impression of a found object, also seen in his “exhumed printmaking” procedure for which he used corroded plates previously buried in the ground to accelerate the oxidation process of the metal plate...
The Story of Structural Printmaking
...At the end of 1950s, a group of students and graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague—such as painters Jiri Valenta, Cestmir Janosek, Zdenek Beran, Antonin Malek and Antonin Tomalik as well as sculptors Jan Koblasa and Ales Vesely, who all proceeded to represent Czech Informel movement in the early 1960s—established contact with Boudnik. He introduced them to his methods and triggered their interest in printmaking. In 1960, they invited Boudnik to participate at two Konfrontace (Confrontations),4 unofficial studio exhibitions that became milestones in the history of Czech Informel and introduced structural printmaking to younger artists.
Boudnik’s influence went beyond the circle of Konfrontace. Artists of the unofficial scene, i.e. those employed like Boudnik in CKD, were affected the most. In 1959, Josef Hampl and Lubomir Pribyl befriended Boudnik, as did Oldrich Hamera five years later. The printmaking works by Hampl and Hamera represent the best of Czech Informel; on the other hand, Pribyl found his way in the form of geometric abstraction associated with concrete art. In the beginning of the 1960s, Czech artists favored a special synthetic resin called akronex to create relief surfaces on canvas. Several of them began employing akronex to make structural matrices, for instance Jaroslav Serych and Dana Puchnarova, the latter of whom mixed resin with white chalk (calcium carbonate). Like Boudnik, James Janicek also applied welding, creating structures on zinc plates using pewter melted with an electric soldering iron. Other authors (Jiri Valenta, Antonin Tomalik, Milos Urbasek) followed Boudnik in experimenting with corroded plates.
[This article appears in full in the print and digital editions of Celebrating Print, Vol.3, No.2.]
1. Vladislav Merhaut, Grafik Vladimir Boudnik [Printmaker Vladimir Boudnik] (Prague: Torst, 2009), 49.
4. Konfrontace I and II, initiated by artist Jan Koblasa, were organized in March and October 1960 in private studios in Prague. The exhibitions inspired an organization of similar venues in Bratislava in 1961–1964. See Mahulena Neslehova, Poselstvi jineho vyrazu [Legacy of another expression] (Prague: Art et Fact, 1997), 47–66.
This article Vladimir Boudnik and Czech Structural Printmaking appears in the print edition of Celebrating Print, Vol.3 No.2, published in October 2017.
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JIRI BERNARD KRTICKA is an art historian and curator. He studied theory of cybernetics at Charles University in Prague. He received a Master’s Degree in art history from the Catholic Theology Faculty at Charles University and is currently pursuing his PhD at this institute. Krticka specializes in the Informel art movement, printmaking and philosophy of art. His book Fenomen drsnosti [Phenomenon of roughness] (2016) delves into the history, technology and artists of Czech structural printmaking. He has contributed to a number of art publications, including Umeni [Art], Atelier, art+antiques, Revue Art and Grapheion.
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