Albín Brunovský and The Book Illustration

        The work of Albín Brunovský, one of the famous slovak graphic artists, has been interpreted only from the phenomenological side of fine art as an independent and isolated artistic expression separated from the other artistic disciplines and political aspects, too.

        In general, recent points of view on the development of the artist s personality can be characterised as follows.

        The beginning of his independent work during the sixties is supposed to be linked to a training given by V. Hložník who made familiarised with surrealism. The surrealistic fantasy of Brunovský was based on the destruction of realistic objects, especially figures, and their reconstruction into illogical groups of the new realities with hidden social and moral meanings. After the author s visit to Italy in 1968 new aspects started to prevail in his work, mainly manneristic variations of the naturals motifs with fragments of figures were also influenced by the order of a monumental painting in some hotel. The work from 1972 1975 is even called the temporary period on his way to the reality of home by the author s monographist Ľ. Peterajová. After 1975 the fantasy and photographic realism started, and is believed to have been under the influence of the newest artistic trends of New figuration, Photo and Hyperrealism they were used to record the artist s recollections of the nature of his native region Záhorie (west part of Slovakia).

        Such a profile of the artist s personality is sourced just in assumptions from independent work. However it is generally known that there was another part, of similar importance in his work and it was the book illustrations of the Slovak and world s poetry and prose, as well as of the children s literature. He illustrated more than one hundred books. That is why it is necessary to think about the author s relation to contemporary literary production. So far, researchers have dealt with the problem only marginally. They have only stated that the author did not often stick to his literary patterns and therefore his works might have served as independent graphics. By this way Brunovský knocked down the barrier between the independent and utilitarian graphics.

Surrealism versus Sensualism

        Most of the artistic and critical articles on Albín Brunovský s work originated during the era of socialism. So it natural that when assessing his work the taboos and critical moments of the society which could have played an important role in the shaping of the artist s personality were omitted. Among these there are especially artificially made processes with the bourgeois nationalists from the beginning of the 1950s, their following rehabilitation in the second half of the decade, liberation of society in the 1960s, armed intervention of the Warsaw treaty in august 1968 and normalisation of society in the 1970s. All the historic events must have left a mark on the fine art which can not be considered isolately but within the wider circle of other artistic branches.

        In 1966 when Ján Bakoš wrote one of the most important studies on Albín Brunovský, he said in the introduction: ”The questions of the relation between surrealistic movement in Slovak poetry and contemporary fine art have not been answered so far”. From the point of the analysts of Brunovský s work the research on his proportion to the literature of the surrealistic authors is not as important as his relation to the literary movement in Slovakia during the 1950s and 1960s. At the end of the 1950s the avant-garde group of young poets was created. They defined their thoughts and goals in the same way as it was used in France and that was done in the form of manifesto. The group was called Trnavská skupina (group from Trnava) and consisted of Ján Stacho, Ľubomír Feldek, Jozef Ondruš and Ján Mihalkovič. They deliberately separated themselves from surrealism in spite of the fact that contemporary critics linked them to this avant-garde movement. All of the poets that were born an the 1935s were of the same age as Albín Brunovský and that is why many were in close friendly relationship but in a working one as well, as he personally illustrated their poems and fairy tales. Therefore it is absurd that Brunovský s contact with this group of poets has not been properly researched yet in art-historical literature. When creating his artistic expression in has always been stated very briefly that as a friend of many poets and writers he drew inspiration from the close connection to literature, not only in his illustrating but independent work as well.

        Spontaneous manifesto expression of ”Trnavská skupina” published in the fourth issue of the magazine Mladá tvorba (Young creation) in 1958 said: ”Get off the rails. The train is coming.” It was a really radical gesture which refused the schematism of the creative socialistic realism and had typical attributes of the avant-garde movement. A well as the French surrealists, Trnavská skupina was under the influence of the French poetry of the 19th century especially of Arthur Rimbaud and of the Czech poetism too, mainly Vítězslav Nezval. The main manifesto by Feldek was, when completing an issue Mladá tvorba, set apart and later unfortunately and accidentally destroyed by the publishing censorship. The main ideas involved in the manifesto might be then reconstructed only according to the later published expressions by the main protagonists. For example Stacho defined the principle in the way that a picture involved in a metaphor should not be the precise description but the destruction of a picture into small parts what would offer only a notion due to the perfect perception. It means that the goal was to transport only the emotional meaning of a poem. Similar processes which used words as pictures might be traced in the ideas of Brunovský who spoke about the associated meaning of a word and its sensual perception.

        The mutual association of this kind between Brunovský and this poets called often ”Concretists” or ”Sensualists” might be demonstrated in the work of Stacho whose first and second issue of poetry Double Shouldered pure Body from 1964 (litograph) and 1966 (etching) were illustrated by Brunovský. It was not just one sided inspiration of a painter by poetry but the mutual synchronising of a poet and a graphicist because Stacho dedicated one of his poems directly to Brunovský. As well as deformed figures in the early work of Brunovský, the building principle of Stacho s poem can not be understood by rational sense as words in metaphors are not used in their conventional function. Stacho s poem language is so specific because it is not bound to rational but to sensuous perception which is not to express informatively the reality but is something completely new. Aesthetic, sensual perception of an artistic work was preferred even by Brunovský himself. So his work can be linked to the stream of sensualism in spite of the fact it is not usually used in the stylistic category in the history of fine arts. The more common term for such a kind of work was imaginative and fantasy art . Several motifs in Brunovský s graphics are analogical to Stacho s metaphorical pictures. Stacho said about ”suffering for metaphor” which resulted from the same sources of poetic imagination reflected for example in Brunovský s etching Suffering of Dr. Stacho from 1966 (etching). In this way the deformed figures can be interpreted.

        In the issue by ”Trnavská skupina” mentioned above other manifestos were published which pointed out the mutual connection among various types of artistic creation. It was the co-operation on the illustrating of children s literature that was one of the first working contacts of Brunovský with the representations of Trnavská skupina during the competition of a children s folding picture book in 1957. By chance it was just Brunovský who illustrated the fairy tales by Miroslav Válek Magic under the table (1958, watercolour, ink) or Ján Stacho Chocolate fairy tale(1958, watercolour, ink). J. Stacho won the competition thanks to the libretto worked out by Feldek who recommended Stacho to compensate the text, a little disadvantages for children of the text, by independent pictures which would complement it. This way was reflected later in Albín Brunovský s work for instance in his illustrations of Pierre Bérangér s Songs from 1963 (stone engraving) or in English fairy tales by John Reevs A tulip cradle from 1965 (colour etching), which are not different from the author s graphic productions. The same way of sensational capturing of the reality Brunovský used in book illustrations of ”not sensually” oriented poets, for example in Fabry s work I am somebody else from 1965 (litograph). He demonstrated the generation association in the graphic dedicated to Ján Šimonovič (next member of the Trnavská skupina), with the name The muses for J. Šimonovič from 1967 (etching) where one of heads is drawn in Arcimboldo s manneristic way.

        Albín Brunovský often quoted painters of Fantasy orientation in his works. Because of his inclination to the Manneristic art he expressed his admiration for Giuseppe Arcimboldo in two works, a graphic Portrait of G. Arcimboldo from 1965 (etching) and a painting In Honour of Arcimboldo from 1973 (combined technique, wood). These portraits are close to Arcimboldo s allegoric depictions of Four elements. As Arcimboldo made the portrait of the emperor Rudolph II. Brunovský made the portrait of Slovak writer in the graphic District dragoon J. Johanides (etching) in a similar ways.

        On the other hand he took over classical iconographic themes, for instance The Temptation of Anthony from 1966 (etching), the favourite inspiration of Medieval and Renaissance northerly from Alps Matthias Grü newald, Albrecht Dü rer, Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Brueghel whose pattern was the famous graphic model by Martin Schongauer from 1480. The motif was later used by the surrealistic painters Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí in the competition in 1945. It was oraganised by the American company Loew-Lewin to depict the fight of Good and Bad for a film by A. Lewin which was filmed according to Maupassant s novel ”Darling”. The competition was won by M. Ernst who took over the iconographic model of the fight between a hermit and demons from the Insenheims altar. In contrast to Ernst , Brunovský chose the second model of an erotic temptation by a woman for depiction of the theme. Later in 1967 he made an album on biblical motifs of The Old Testament: The Banishment from Paradise, Abraham and Issac, Moses and Betsabe and others.

Cast Notes from August to December

        After 1968 the considerable change in Brunovský s production can be seen not only in the form but in the content of his works. From the ideological and political point the year 1968 meant a break in the development of liberal social thinking from the 1960s which was interrupted by the drastic intervention of Czechoslovakia by the army of the Warsaw treaty. Therefore it is important to raise a question if the fateful historic event could not have been one of the reasons for the change in the creative expression of Brunovský which can not be explained by an order of monumental paintings or by a visit to Italy (1968 1969). The psychological shock of the Czechoslovak society might have influenced the direction of Brunovský s production. From which the social and critical, moral meanings faded out as if the artist resigned because of contemporary events. Different variations of fantastic gardens made by lithographic technique, for instance The garden for Borgonzoli s mother, Private View in Nature or August garden have got a character of Ernst s decalcomania, similar also to Manneristic landscapes of the Italian art of the 16th century. However they represent, to a contain extent, an introvert chamber production that goes back to nature as well as to subconscious dream visions. These features, that appeared for the first time in a piece Corso imperatrice from 1967 (colour litograph), can be seen in the Brunovský s production from 1968, for instance in Fantas of Mr. Redoux (litograph).

        The other crucial moment in the Brunovský s work from the turn 1960 1970s is a veristic depiction of erotic motifs, fragments of naked women s bodies, or acts of copulation in nature in the graphics from the cycle Bella Italia from 1968 1969 and from Dream No I. The litographics of the cycle Bella Italia framed by the blindpress were used as illustrations in the first part of the Ovidius piece The Art of the Love from 1970. That is why it can not be ruled out he was inspired by the literature of the erotic genre. The author s concentration on the depiction of nature together with its erotic motifs might be explained in the sense of Freud s psychoanalysis. Brunovský s love of nature gained in his childhood might have led him , under the influence of some serious change in his life, to the escape from reality into the world of recollections of his childhood. That can be , in psychoanalysis , classified as the neurotic regression. In the regression the sublimation of animal instincts takes place by whose confide author wants to be cleared. According to W. Steckel the process was caused by the decline of society and social relations against which artist becomes an anarchists. This part of Brunovský’s works, especially his paintings, is quite similar, in point of the form and expression, to pictures by a German painter Richard Oelze. He was a representant of the Magic Realism or Surrealism and after traumatic experience of the second world war he started to depict the reality of dreams where the nature in form of ruins and caves is complemented by man and animals. Brunovský had a chance to meet the painters of the fantastic orientation personally in Venice Biennial took place in 1968. So his recollections of Italy might be influenced by his visit to Venice. Anyway, this part of Brunovský’s production is closer to the psychological automatism of the surrealists than to the sensuous associative works of the 1960s. Historically proved fact is that dream vision are bound to the feeling of fear when a dream and its demonising represents the syndrome of the contempt of world – contemptis mundis. It is about a model of a dream’s explanation when a man is sentenced to the Job’s fate and a dream’s epidemics are based on specific social and cultural structures. Various fantastic demons similar to monsters by Martin Schongauer appeared, for instance in the graphics Just Married or Time for Blueberry Cake (stone engraving) History of 17th Century (etching), both from 1970. In 1970 an important document was passed as well by the government of the Czechoslovak communistic party called The instructions from the critical period in party and society which definitely introduced the politic censorship into the art. Just this ideological moment could have been one of the graphic letter One More Tear (colour litograph) or the painting Tear or, as Tullina says, Egg from 1971 (combine technique, wood).

        The Brunovský’s production from the turn 1960–1970s is therefore emotive reaction to the contemporary state of the society, he places a mirror to it in which ”feelings of a contemporary living on the frightened and hardly suffering planet”. These psychological and dream aspects mentioned above can be seen in the illustration production as well. Dream visions of abstract countries with a hidden frustrated man are used in the bibliophile issue of Šimonovič collection About Hearts as well as in the cycle of three lithographic letters inspired by Šimonovič’s poems Escape from July from 1970 (colour litograph).

Realism – The Black Hole of Socialism?

        It seems that the artist came to terms with the traumatic social situation very soon. It can be proved by his return to critical social themes which he borrowed from the history of fine art again. In his works features of social state similar to the Holland art of the 16th century started to appear. It can be assumed expecially from the painting Erasmuses from 1972 (combine technique, wood). On the base of the inspiration by philosophic and critical piece by Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Holland humanist from the turn of the 15th and 16th century, the cycle of graphics Honour to Madness originated. By means of these works Brunovský updated the piece by Pieter Brueghel senior, from whom he took over iconographic themes of the Tower of Babel (1971, combined technique, wood) or in Ex libris The Sinful city of Babylon (1974, etching) symbolising the vanity of man’s effort and punishment for pride. He quoted in similar way, the other piece by Brueghel The triumh of Death (1975, colour etching) where skeletons are cutting frightened people and the death is falling upon all social classes. It was painted after his visit to palazzo Sclafani in Palermo. The satiric humour was demonstrated by Brunovský in the graphic Das Narrenschiff (Boat of Fools). This subject was borrowed by him from the famous Holland painter Hieronymus Bosch who was inspired by contemporary literary satire of Sebastian Brant capturing metaphorically a Church’s nave on which priests are swimming to heaven. Like Brueghel or Bosch, Brunovský inserted parables of the contemporary world and its conflicts in opinions into his graphics, for example in the work Constant and Persistent Effort for Ownership (1978, colour etching, mezzotint, dry point).

        Contemporary politic as well as individual psychoanalytic determinants of the radical change in Brunovský’s work and its transformation into the fantastic realism can be traced in his illustration production, too. It was just the literature for children that offered a masked shelter for some writers, i.e. Ľ. Feldek, against the contemporary normalisation cultural politics. The illustration of the children’s literature is, at the same time, the other connecting element between Brunovský and ”Trnavská skupina”. The manifesto published in the magazine Mladá tvorba in 1958 involving the problem was concentrated on the removal of boundaries between the literature for adults and children. It seems that one of the important moments in the production was a co-operation with Ľ. Feldek, who lived in an isolation in Orava (North part of Slovakia) during the 1960s, on the illustration The blue Book of the Fairy Tales. Together with Ľubomír Krátky they won a prize for ’the excellent realisation of the literary and graphic part’ from the publisher Mladé letá (Young summers). Later in 1976 the book was awarded by the honourable paper of Hans Christian Andersen. The authenticity and quality of the artistic production in the children’s literature were based on the ability of a text to evoke an emotional experience in spite of the fact that it was written by the style of adults’ trying to make connection with the perception gained in childhood. The main features of the Feldek’s production for children which can be seen also in Brunovský’s work are fairy-tailing, absurdity, contact with the animal world and humour as well as reconstruction of himself childhood experience. The basic premises might be discovered in the Brunovský’s independent and utilitarian graphics and paintings full of fiends, fairies and witches whose depiction was inspired by the childhood experience. Various images of witches were depicted, for example in b not realised illustrations for the book From the Bunch of Slovak fairy tales by Karol Plicka, especially in the graphic Fairy tale V. (1984. etching).

        In the later Brunovský’s works from 1980s and 1990s only the following ideas and premises mentioned above can be seen. They finally reached their summit, at one hand in the illustration of the bibliophile issue of the selection of the Slovak writers made by Ľ. Feldek under the name Dreams (1984–1985, colour etching, mezzotint, dry point) and at the other hand, in the independent production in social and critical piece inspired by literature, especially by Komenský’s work Labyrint of the World and the Heaven of Heart from the end of 1980s (colour etching, mezzotint, dry point).

English by Marcela Vančová

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