Karol Felix and Pocket Pictures
The beginnings of graphics as a
special art-phenomenon can be found in the Far East in the 8th Century where
they were used as a reproduction technique to copy designs onto different
materials such as textile and paper. The first graphics were made using wood
engraving technique which came from 14th Century Europe. Applied graphics were
not independent piece of art but they were in fact artefacts intended for a
specfic purpose. They served mostly to illustrate useful objects such as playing
cards or books. Pictures of Saints were the most frequent motives in the
Medieval period. They were engraved together with the covering text in the form
of a board printing. Later they were separated sheets glued together in the form
of so called ’block-books’, e.g. ’Bible Pauperum’. Thanks to the
inventor of a book print, Johannes G.,known as Guttenberg, illustrations' ouevre
became independent from printing prcedures of the 15th Century. It was Albrecht
Dürer who made graphics free from the dependance on books, he made them
equal to paintings, for instace by the realization of a large-scale cycle
on motives of the Apocalypse of St. John.
The form of Ex Libris was a part of applied graphics because it was originally a calligraphic mark of a book’s owner found on a cover. Ex Libris gradually became independent from books. It was made as separate graphic sheets with a picture composition during the period of Renaissance and was stuck to a book as a personal dedication from the book’s owner. Later graphic sheets were made to order by collectors. This form started to be a marketable article which he could either sell or exchange. So Ex Libris became an independent piece of art from this point of view and not ony a part of applied graphics.
Conservativism contra Avant-Garde
As it has been said the beginning of K. Felix’s production can be traced back to the time of his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava. A. Brunovsky, his teacher, started to work at Ex Libris in the middle of the 1970s which was the time of ’Standardisation’. He encouraged his students to use historical graphic techniques (etching, litography) and attend academic art training that was based in precise realistic drawings which became slowly extinct in the range of several ateliers at the Academy today. Therefore a feud between Conservative academism and Avant-garde modernism from the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century is no longer topical.
The Avant-Gard gains from modernism were dissaproved by Post modernism in the 1980s that freely handled classical art styles and refused the idea of a shock as a principle of production. That is why we can not consider a ’hanging’ picture or a classical graphic form as anachronism or conservativism but as a free pluralistic art manifestation.
The question of Art-market
Let us return to K. Felix. We can analyse the question of his commercial success on the example of Ex Libris. His teacher, Albin Brunovsky, opened a door to the western market to him. He made him familiar with a presentation of small graphic forms at the exhibition of Ex Libris in St. Niklaas in Netherland. K. Felix’s works, influenced by his teacher’s imaginative photorealism, produced a positive approval among collectors of Ex Libris. The entry into the international scene was not only a financial motivation for the artist but moreover it made his realisation in the field of free creation feasible. Through this he was confronted with the market mechanism and started to be dependant on it because he wanted to be able to sustain such a form of existance. His dependance on the market and trade does not imly an artistic decadency or a calculation.
K. Felix has educated his audience and forced it to accept his art expression not with a shock but with the high ’craft’ quality of his artistic expression which is percievable in each of his works, not only in elder more realistic ones but also in newer abstract works.
When we speak about the history and the evolution of the art market, which originated as a form of works ’on spec’ in Netherland, in the 15th century and was aimed at anonymous customers, it is necessary to remark that the form of today’s Ex Libris is a form made to order for a collector. The collector orders the work as a market article with the aim to either sell or exchange it.
Imaginative forms of the Slovak graphic art
From the Post-modern point of view, in the case of Felix, it is not important if he is original or how he imitates the pattern of his teacher. He and his colleague Igor Benca have to cope with the inheritance of A. Brunovsky. It is often said that he has distinctly influenced the imaginative line of Slovakian fine art. It has never been clearly defined what imaginative art means. The fancy art of the school in Vienna, which was applied on A. Brunovsky's production in the 1960s, does not need to be linked to this artist. And this is the problem which is dealt with in the article of the exhibition ’A. Brunovsky and book illustration’ in the gallery Artoteka.
Regarding Vienna’s Fancy realism, it can be applied on Brunovsky’s production of the 1970s. However, it can also be connected to the imaginative trends in the Czech fine art. As J. Mojzis said the imaginative art was a controversial title replaced by the notion ’Fancy art’ as a consequence of their synonymous meanings of imagination. This term was accepted by our art scene and it is possible to say that nowadays its meaning comprises various things. From the lexical point of view the notion imagination is derived from the Latine word imago which represents a sense of a picture or a sculpture, respectively of a model, idea, vision or illusion. We can find the term imagination in an old french speech from the 12th Century.
On the other hand, the world fantasy
has a Greek origin and means imagination or artefact and was made without any
pattern or in accordance with the artist’s own imagination.
Two different ways of the Felix’s production
This short excursion, which is not
connected to K. Felix’s production at the first sight, was necessary for
the identification of causes and sources of his production. There is a link with
the time when his art expression was being crystalised in the formal facet.
There are two different views: the modernistic one which uses primary
sources of archaic culture art (geometrical formations) and the Post-modern view
that freely quotes motives of antique civilisation. Both philosophies were
confrontated in the 1980s in our enviroment which means in the time of
artists’s absolute rule at the Academy. In the artist’s production not their
ideological antithesis are reflected but their plural synthesis.
As far as geometric forms are concerned, they are different from constructive tendencies in a way that they do not only experiment with art form but with their archaic symbols, too, what could be analysed by an iconographic method. For illustration, we can define basic forms of Felix’s production. Which means to define the geometric formation of a triangle. A triangle turned up side down means water, triangle in a normal position represents fire. Both forms inserted into a hexagram make a bipolar system which unifies masculine and feminine principle and does not show a Jewish symbol – the hexagram Sigillum salomonis, called the Star of David. In some of his graphics we can even find irregular linear structures similar to the German curvilinear ornament. Considering the art-historical point of view, this German motive is interpreted as a destruction of the regular rythm of the plait which was changed into the chaotic and motley lines.
Because the typical zoomorphical
ornament is often found in German curvilinear ornament combined with heads of
snakes and birds, it is possibly related to the mythological imagination of the
world of a tree ’Yggdrasil’. This tree represents the middle of the world
and symbolises space. Its top touched the sky, branches vaulted through the
world. Its roots connected the world of people and dogs with the world of the
giants and the underworld. It also linked three cosmic levels: the heaven, hell
and earth. It symbolises the end of the world and, at the same time, its
restoration because an eagle lived in its branches and ate its foliage
while its decayed trunk and roots were eaten by a snake. In this way it was a
symbol of the destiny of existance, the deminishing world and the birth of a new
Another typical form of K. Felix’s production is very interesting as well. It is called ’lettrism’ and means that a picture is made of letters. In this case it is not a square wide lettristic composition which plays with the art form but it is a system of signs which fills up or complement the picture area. At the first sight it is possible to assume that it is a script of old pictures but in fact it is an archaic decoration programme Horror vacui. It is not only a decorative ornament used by primitive nations but also a symbolizm as well, which reflected an attitude of a man and his epistemological system of values.
It is possible to interpret the iconographical types mentioned above through the viewpoint of a pschyoanalysis. From here we can make speculative deductions. The artist’s inclination to use different motives from the history of art was conditioned not only by the post modern feeling but by his family backgroung, too. These aspects play a role in the frequent use of Egyptian motives, mostly gods – Chnum, the God of Fertility and creator of living represented by a ram or a man with a ram’s head, Horus – the God represented by a falcon or by a head of falcon; and the god of the sky and the sun (First, second and third, 1995), a sphinx Seshep-anch, a lying lion with a man’s head or god’ face, the symbol of protection of holy places (Slovak Sphinx, 1991). He also uses other symbols, eg. a crossanch – a symbol of neverending life and abundance.
Considering onoeristic psychoanalysis, a picture of an eye, the symbol of the God Horus, actually shows the female sex. When we speak about all the iconographic programmes in the artist's work we could conclude that the production of K. Felix represents an enclosed system of meanings bearing the substance of our existance in space, and life whose donor is a woman according to men (Leonara’s voice, 1993 – Ex libris M. K., The hour of a sin, 1993 – Ex libris, M. H.) That is why it is possible to say that she is his muse and he has very often used her in Ex libris (Desire, 1995, Fortuna, 1997) It is a message expressing not only fragile balance between bipolar quantities of a man and a woman but also between their desires often lost in the labyrinth of dreams without names.
English by Mgr. Viera Radziwill-Anoskinova and Marcela Vancova
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