The uncrowned king of the Czech solitaires is Josef Váchal (1884-1969), a painter, printmaker, illustrator, carver, typographer, creator of artist books, writer and photographer. He was a blasphemer and an ironist, but also a visionary and a mystic fully devoted to his work and to his exceptional talent. His most prevalent artistic technique was the colour woodcut, which he mastered. He was well aware of his uniqueness and laughed off the incomprehension of his companions. A solitaire standing outside the trends of his generation and the popular movements of his day is often misunderstood, even if he deeply enriches and influences his surroundings, like a solitary tree in a forest can make that forest unique. That Váchal’s work and exceptional personality radiates an unbelievable inner fortitude, depth, timelessness and continuity is also evidenced by the esteem held for him by later art historians and by the fact that he became a true phenomenon in the eyes of fringe artists.

“In creating his own books, Váchal drew from the diversity of his own reading experience. He did not create the “beautiful books” called for by book designers in Bohemia around the turn of the 20th century. His was a style that consciously worked with errors and deviations in typesetting, transgressions against generally held principles of aesthetics in book design, an uncommon relationship between text and image, an artistic font that could be difficult to read and, last but not least, a uniqueness of style for a text that could be difficult to understand – all of which he considered meaningful elements in a book. The total semantification of text and image was intended to underscore the uniqueness of the reader’s experience, thanks to which a completely new experience awaited the reader each time a Váchal book was opened anew. Meaning is always created in a new way during the process in which the reader overcomes obstacles that the artist imposed between him and the text.”

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