January 6, 2017

Vik's Scenery

        Karel Vik (Czech, 1883-1964) is another of those many block print artists for whom I can’t find a lot of biographical information.  I’d be able to tell you more about him if I could read Czech, but I can’t, so I’ll just tell you about his work.  Primarily landscapes and other scenes, most of Vik’s wood block prints are multi-block, multi-color efforts.  Many have one or more tone blocks for shading, and these often have that dull, mid-century look with muddy beiges, olive greens, greyish blues.  I’ve just betrayed that these are not my favorites!  But Vik was undoubtedly extremely skilled, and I have for you today a few pieces that I like very much.
        Vik clearly had a taste for dramatic natural scenery and dramatic, elegant architecture.  Many of his pieces feature beams of light, whooshes of wind or cloud, and other quite melodramatic effects.  But I’ve chosen to begin with a peaceful scene.  I like the level of detail and realism: all sorts of details and textures, but not trying to be entirely photorealistic.  I see four color blocks in this one, with relatively little of the white paper still showing through after all those layers of ink.
        I see three blocks for this straightforward scene of a church and palace in Brno.  It’s magnificent architecture, so it might seem like there’s not much originality to showing it, but there are a few touches that I think are interesting, especially the framing of the right side of the view with the edge of some other wall.  I also like the car in the lower left corner, which dates the piece wonderfully.
        Another interesting view is this interior of a courtyard, with its contrast of smooth, cobbled, and tiled textures, and the whorled capitals of the columns.  In this case I think the beige tone block is effective, although I’d be curious to see what the piece looks like without it.  I like the way the highlights fall on the rear and left surfaces of the building.
        I’ve included this scene of a mountain stream as a representative piece with only one, black block.  It’s much simpler than many of Vik’s pieces, with less texture and more undifferentiated black.  I’m not quite pleased with the lines depicting the foaming water, but I very much like the skill and economy of the tree trunks.  I’m also interested to see the areas, especially on the right, where the ink hasn’t printed completely dense.  This is the case with so many of my prints, but relatively few of those printed in professional print shops.  I don’t know whether Vik printed his own editions or not.
        And finally, a scene I find particularly interesting and more unusual.  I see three colored blocks, but I think it would have been just as good without the lighter brown, which doesn’t seem to me to add anything vital.  But I guess it doesn’t detract, either, so I probably shouldn’t complain.  At any rate, I definitely admire the carving of the texture of the wood to give shading, and the way the beams down below in the shadows are suggested with that texture rather than with outlines.  I think the lighting is impressive altogether.

[Pictures: Most na hrad Valdštýn, color woodcut by Karel Vik, 1930 (Image from Galerie09);
Church of St Nicholas with Místodržitelský Palace in Brno, color woodcut by Vik, 1928 (Image from Mutual Art);
Courtyard of Renaissance Chateau in Slovakia, color woodcut by Vik, 1932 (Image from Mutual Art);
Mountain River, woodcut by Vik (Image from Mutual Art);
Zvonice v Rovensku pod Troskami, color woodcut by Karel Vik, 1929 (Image from Galerie09).]

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