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Ondřej Michálek

When walking through a deserted exhibition, I think to myself, neither printmaking nor fine art in general, especially the contemporary, is needed by most of the population. Sometimes and usually on Sundays, when there is free entry to be enjoyed by several museums, the optimism comes back.

Exceptions are exhibitions of works by artists of the past, which are organised by museums in metropolises (on the contrary, there are queues, both in front of the box office and in front of small pictures in the gallery) or worldwide events with guaranteed audience, such as the Venice Biennale. But there, if you come across a print (if at all), you feel that it was there probably by mistake. And yet, a drawing in which printmaking is anchored can be found in such shows in various forms. It almost suggests an explanation that behind the little curatorial interest in printmaking stands the fact of multiplying its images, which was once its fundamental contribution to the development of society, as well as its competitive advantage.

Printmaking just as any other medium is an intellectual and technical open space with its centripetal and centrifugal tendencies. Some take printmaking away from its basis while others pull it back to it. Thanks to its centrifugal tendencies, printmaking is now seizing a new territory. In the end, all art fields do it; they don’t want to be limited by their predefined boundaries, they desire to occupy new spaces and new contexts, even those, that were originally not intended for art. But printmaking, if it wants to remain so, it cannot do without the work on matrix, nor can it exist without the techniques of reproducing its images. It could be almost said that printmaking does not know the answer to the current hunt for unique works, which, moreover, often do not have a material nature or, on the contrary, could easily fill a large hall. When looking for it outside of its own space, it usually reaches something that is no longer printmaking in the true sense of the word. And if it finds itself in its rich history, it will be a message uttered by perhaps too quiet a voice that in the contemporary art almost nobody uses. But even in a less conspicuous voice, important statements, original messages, intimate questions, or something substantial can be said.

I often hear that printmking should not boast of its techniques, should not force the recipient to understand their subtle logic and finesses of craftsmanship. Probably, we should not talk about them to much, because they are not important for understanding the work. After all, the most important thing is the message itself, and all other references may be redundant. But after a more serious thought, the idea is quite the opposite: not only do techniques have their value as historically conditioned know-how, but they are also a voice that co-creates and at the same time transforms the purpose and meaning of the work because it articulates both of these important components. Every printmaking technique not only offers a variety of printing capabilities but also different visual rhetoric. Even the choice of extremely laborious or, conversely, the easiest or most banal reproductive technique co-creates the content and meaning of the work.


O. Michálek, Capture, 2020, aquatint, stencil, 70 × 100 cm
O. Michálek, Catch Up, 2020, aquatint, stencil, 70 × 100 cm

Even though printmaking doesn't attribute its multiplication to their trumps today, the conversion of images into reproduction technology is always exciting, however, we don't even have to come to what we're doing the whole thing for – the image multiple.

If we add to traditional printing techniques the new digital ones, we have an amazingly varied range of expressive possibilities, which usually overlap into one another in terms of their content and technical solution, influencing and creating meaningful tension. However, to accurately describe things and separate them is often considered as creating barriers between them. Nevertheless, the inner coherence of contemporary art is best understood by realising where the boundaries between disciplines are or were and why it is exciting to overcome them, however, the simple fact that these boundaries get overcome or not can only marginally affect the quality of the work.

Every artistic field develops in such a way that the charm of the visions of the present is measured by the charm of forgetting what preceded it. Or it even vigorously denies the past, albeit usually only temporarily. At the same time, it is considered – and I have come across this idea several times – that in each new work, in the form of subtle references, the entire history of the domain is contained in a kind of compressed form.

So we are still starting from the very beginning, we are attracted by experiments, current topics, but our work should be such that we do not have to look away in the face of what preceded it.

As for Czech printmaking, I think that its audience does not diminish, as well as the desire to make, study or exhibit it. As elsewhere, not everyone is able to accept and appreciate printmaking with its charms. Some colleagues believe that pointing out its exclusivity in this way means deepening its "ghettoization", but such a statement is, in my view, exaggerated.

After the death of its founder Simeona Hošková, the national print exhibition Print of the Year, which has been showing last-year-prints for 26 years, found a new organizer in the Hollar Foundation, which annually presents it in one of the prestigious exhibition halls in cooperation with the city of Prague. The exhibition, which participants may send in only one work, is accompanied by awards and publicity in the media. Also the activity of the Hollar association (founded in 1917), which organizes exhibitions in its own hall in the center of Prague, as well as in other cities, is significant. Graphic artists thus often become curators of thematic group exhibitions at home and abroad.


O. Michálek, Old Billboard, 2019, aquatint, 70 × 100 cm
O. Michálek, New Sprout, 2020, aquatint, 100 × 70 cm

In some Czech galleries and state museums, printmaking even have a permanent foothold. For example, the Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region in Kutná Hora (abbreviation GASK) has an exhibition space called Printmaking Crossovers, where one person exhibitions take place, which broaden the view of this so called traditional medium.

Unfortunately, it is a pity that no non-profit printshop has been established so far, managed, for example, by the city, where graduates of art schools could continue their work. So far, we have only a few commercial studios and the operation of university studios does not allow the presence of other interested parties.

As for my own work, after decades of working in linocut, I switched to intaglio techniques. For many years, I explained their charms to my students, so I thought it was time for this change. The main reason, however, was the effort to return to the drawing, with which etching and aquatint are connected by a closer bond than the linocut technique.

Ondřej Michálek

Ondřej Michálek (1947, Brno, Czech Republic) print artist and graphic designer. 1965–1970 studied at Philosophical Faculty of Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Rep. Since 1990 he teaches printmaking at the Palacky University in Olomouc. Since 1984 he got more than 20 awards and mentions in international and national print exhibitions. More



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