Lithographs by Oldřich Kulhánek
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1940, Oldřich Kulhánek was a graphic designer, painter, illustrator, and stage designer. He graduated in 1964 from the Prague Academy of Applied Arts, in the atelier of graphic artist and muralist Karel Svolinský. At the time of his graduation, he had produced a series of illustrations to Vladimir Holan’s poetic work “Dreams” and poet Christian Morgenstern’s “The Gallows Songs”.
Kulhánek had his first solo exhibition in Prague in 1968. He captured the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in that year in a series of allegorical drawings, which included pictures of Stalin and other communist dignitaries. These twelve prints made their way to the West, and were exhibited at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan.
Kulhánek’s prominence among the dissidents in the Communist Era led to his arrest in 1971 by the State Security Police. His allegorical images of Stalin, Mao Zedong, andKhrushchev were judged slanderous and led to charges of ‘slandering a fraternal Soviet State’.. The images,, which included a distorted portrait of Stalin, were deemed ideologically dangerous and destroyed. After a month in prison, Kulhánek was banned from exhibiting his work in his home country and interrogated regularly for two years.
“I remember one interrogation by the secret police, when one idiot kept screaming at me. He wanted to know who Hieronymus Bosch was, where he worked and how I had met him. Even though I knew that he wanted to throw me in jail and was screaming at me, I said to myself ‘I must be dreaming’. When I told him that [Bosch] died 500 years ago, he told me to drop the intellectual mockery.” – Oldřich Kulhánek
In the 1980s, Oldřich Kulhánek created many lithographs based on the development of the human body. In 1982 he was awarded the silver medal for his illustrations of Faust at the International Exhibit of Book Art in Leipzig. With the occurrence of the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and its resulting transition of political power, Kulhánek was able to travel to the United States and attend the Lithographic Workshop in Los Angeles. Later he was invited to give a series of workshops at universities, including the University of Houston. Kulhánek also traveled to Belgium during this period to study the classical works in its museums.
Oldřich Kulhánek was one of the more visible artists of the Czech Republic. He was the president of the Society of Czech Graphic Artists founded in 1917, the President of the State Jury of Postage Stamp Design, and the designer of all currency now in circulation in the Czech Republic. Kulhánek also became one of the principle designers of Czech postage stamps, many bearing his images of important Czech personalities. He passed away suddenly in Prague on January 28th of 2013 at the age of seventy-two.