.. Jan Kudlacek was born on 3rd September 1928 in a village near Moravsky Krumlov. It is a dreamy region of three rivers, the home of Czech poets: Otakar Březina, Jakub Deml and Vítězslav Nezval. In the nearby Ivancice Alfons Mucha was born. It is the home of Kralice Bible which became one of the headstones of Czech literature and Czech books.
When Hitler's army occupied the all-Czech town in 1938, the boy leaves for Prague with his parents. The interest of his life leads him to the State School of Graphics and later to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague
Genius loci of his native region awakes in children's pleasures and graphic activities, takes form from the synthesis of these two factors and takes bodily form of illustration of a fairy tale. It was not an easy process and it did not proceed easily. The illustrator remembers with a smile the way je made illustrations for the first book of fairy tales: "Bohac a noc" (A Richman and Night).
He works with collage and sprayed technique, from a decorative background there emerge uncountable stars, flowers and cut surfaces of stones in which nobody recognizes that the illustrator's strict self-discipline forced him to two successive composition processes.
Besides lavish colourful pictures drawing inspiration from colourful effects of the starry sky and from treasuries hiding hundreds of dazzling precious stones (Hrubcice near Moravsky Krumlov has always been one of the fields rich in the Bohemian garnet and other semi-precious stones) he develops a self-coloured drawing lace of conglomerates of fairy-tale elements. They are quite different, but organically homogeneous with lavishly colourful compositions of supplements.
In illustrations of Vietnamese tales ("When the fish was grazing in the sky") figures are balanced charmingly with the surroundings, on lavishly colourful grainy and microscopically segmented fractures of the background he places coloured silhouettes of figures.
The contrast of surfaces in the figurative component of the picture and the background of their tension form a specific quality of Kudláček's illustration art. The picture of buffalos in the tale of the Coconut Prince give the most vivid proof of his rich sense of colour harmony and decorative factors and also his ability of visual composition of illustration. In illustrations to the Water Goblin Jan Kudlacek replaces the structure and melancholic colouring of the starry sky with structures and coloured optimism of water and its banks. The fairy-tale magic of the small river Rokytná with its pools, grassy banks and the structure of rocks is coming to life in them. At the same time, the figures of water goblins bring him to a new concept - rich in expressions and completely freed from the horror of water goblins which even the big art storytellers were not able to avoid completely.
It is a logical and natural consequence that soon after Kudlacek's entry into the illustration of the fairy-tale topic, the policy of edition introduces him to the international forum - by illustrations to Storm's Regentrude and to Pétrouchka ballet.
As he continues in Pétrouchka more tightly in his previous production, yet the colour cycle to Storm's Regentrude means in spite all organic unity of Kudláček's illustration expression the beginning of a new era in his production. In it Kudláček gives a new role to the flower component of the illustration, he situates the figures of the plot into specifically concretizing fairy-tale position, instead of the previous tension between the figures and the background there comes a new integrating unit of the whole - in any case inseparable: even if it connects the figure with the environment or it is limited to the only one from both composition components.
From the symbolic poetry of Storm's pictures the ecstasy of the painter's vision is born. It reaches the peak when the magic lady accompanied by the girl Maren frees rain clouds from the well and sends them to the thirsty nature. Kudláček sees even the coloured clouds in the beauty of coloured glass and precious stones, in admiringly symbolic apotheosis connecting the animate and inanimate nature in the only one splendid whole of fairy-tale beauty.
It is a plus of the visual expression of Jan Kudlacek that he reaches the climax of an illustrator's development as a man of mature years, that he limited himself to the topic of fairy tales, that he produces his works dazzled by a child's experience of the nature of his native region.
These relationships lay the ground for certainties of his further illustrator's production.
The idea of the sensory perception of the region together with memories of encounters and emotional excitations that we experienced in it leads us to an emotional reflection of our own life in which reality is connected with memories of art impulses and their experiences and where a specific nature is changed to a general one. That which has been intimately personal until now becomes generally valid. The fact that Kudláček as a mature artist chose and fell in love with South Bohemia, its water, flowers and birds in the moors, does not disprove anything from these sources of a native region. So, even new loves always confirm, at least in the process of search, the first love.
Jan Kudlacek has a special sense of colour harmonies and of graphic and painting decorative factures. In Preusler's Water Goblin he was given a topic that brings him to water - be it the charming river Rokytna in his native region, or South Bohemian ponds with their rustling reeds and lyrical names that he admires: his heading towards the world of puppets gives his figures a special puppet animateness as we admired in Jiří Trnka even if externally they are as different as they can be considering completely different motivation and intuition resources. Big flower compositions of endpapers of the book of the Rain Nymph lead the viewer - and Kudláček similarly to Trnka for example is not interested only in children viewers - to a wide range of flower still life in the text in which flowers come to life in three dimensions, where girl's figures rule the empire of leaves, flowers, fish and birds, where structures of surface change illustrations into mosaic symphonies of cathedral windows.
I remember Deml's children-like na?ve dialogues with flowers in My Friends and it seems natural that a painter, who as a student corresponded with the beloved poet, comes at least in his creative subconscious mind to an impulse to continue in these conversations of dirt roads and hillsides. And he does so in compositions to the Rain Nymph.
However, I got unintentionally to emotions which Kudlacek's illustrations bring about and even if he still remains himself, he enters to new spheres and fields as they are presented to him by new topics. It is among others also a topic of the world of music: it is just Kudláček's expression which shows the best a modern trend of art to surpass the narrowly defined bounds of its categories. In black and white drawings of Jan Kudlacek to the Music Kaleidoscope there emerge the illustrator's reminiscences of reading which touched him deeply long time ago: the memoirs of Anna Magdalena Bach. Anyway, Kudláček makes a new contribution to the mysterious relation of tones and lines.
During those years which passed from rewarding Kudlacek's production at the Biennial of illustrations in Bratislava - in fact we should say: from the number of awards for his production which he received in Prague, Leipzig and in Bologna - he created numerous new illustration works in books for children and became a significant name in the field of fairy-tale fantasy. It is possible and it is time to assess his production in a partial synthesis - even if there remains a long-time production for his general life synthesis considering his vitality and development of his talent.
Jan Kudlacek did not enter quite young into illustration. The beginning of his today's expression may be found in a tiny book of "Koralky" ("Beads"), in illustrations to Perrault's fairy-tale of Cinderella. It starts in fact with pictures of joyful collages but the liking for specific factures shows itself even here and shall continue into sprayed techniques, smooth effects of cut surfaces and wrinkled surfaces of stones to stars and flowers to the present-day integrated concept and arrangement of space. It is a mature arrangement, making use of all effects and tricks that are able to evoke an environment of the phantasy worlds of fairy-tales.
If the illustration of Cinderella remember us of the dearly familiar environment of the chapel in Karlstejn Castle, in Pétrouchka and Rain Nymph cycles Kudlacek goes over to a position of openly and spontaneously setting off sensory stimuli: with the same care he deals both with figures and environment, he sensitively distinguishes between the atmosphere of interiors and the colder beauty of the exterior, he starts to form figures with a plasticity of peculiar puppets. And so, even the cycles of Kudlacek's illustrations seem to us as compositions awaiting a new additional variant of space.
The last period of Kudlacek's creative work shows two favourite fields, not strictly separated from each other, but rather tightly connected with each other, and even passing into each other. It is the field emotionally affecting the internal life of a man - flowers, bunches of flowers, a poetic cycle of lamps - and the field of water nature with its both natural and phantasy and fairy-tale components. It is not necessary to answer the question as to which extent it is given by the opportunity of the subject matter of literary pieces of work and to which extent he is on the other hand bound by the atmosphere of South Bohemian bodies of water: no doubt, that both relationships are employed here together. After the Water Goblin (1971) Říha's fairy-tale "The Way Water Goblins Placated the Catfish" is published (1974) and in 1981 Fairy-tales and Legends of Waters for foreign countries. With a confidence of a renaissance builder, Kudláček builds underwater architectures as vivid as the figures of his water goblins are architectonic. We may say that the painter - artist tries to reach the stage setting of a puppet show in its completeness. Riha's "Kloucek Smitko" ("Little Boy Speck") (1974) enters into this zone of phantasy by an arrow of poetic natural details. As a painter feeling mainly colours, he is given the ability to reach colour effects even by the most simply colour sketch, a bloom of a thistle, blackberry bush, three acorns, a pine cone.
Kudlacek's excursion to a story from a boy's life enriches this genre with new poetic harmony.
Nevertheless, Kudlacek's illustrations to the New Gulliver (1973) must have meant a start to a new area.
The illustrator works with symbols and emblems, expresses himself even by the tiniest details of various places, uses numerous portrayals, in colourful development of phantasy it sometimes even seems as if he would pass the limits of visual perception and aimed further behind them, to senses unreachable by a colour and a form. Surface factures that are made lyrical get here sometimes a completely independent role - and this technical licence goes the artist's way - as an independent partial part of his illustration. Kudlacek's visual pendant of the New Gulliver represents an extremely interesting and impressive penetration of a fairy-tale phantasy element into a socially fictitious theme and brings a new view into our illustration for children.
Kudlacek's visual expression is very close to the world of the smallest children - A Girl and Rain, White Winter; actually it naturally belongs to it. It is a way from complexity to simplicity as Blanka Stehlíková writes about it.
Kudlacek has never turned directly to the source of visual art. Maybe, it naturally includes a fact that it corresponds substantially with the world of artificial phantasy, artificial fairy-tale which he may address with a formal and colourful spontaneity a little bit reminding of a Slavic pendant of European Art Nouveau as it is presented to us especially by Bilibin.
Jan Kudlacek is one of the Czech illustrators who had a significant impact on the world illustration for children. He contributed to it considerably by bringing a new tone to a certain art uniformity of a specified picture book published in the West. The last phase of his work shows that this new tone and voice may come in useful in the future even more significantly.
It would be possible to mention other relationships evoked by Kudlacek's exposition. For example about the intimate family theme of oil lamps, about what Kudláček brings from the ethnographic wealth of the region, about the technique of his creative process and forms. He may lead us to explore to what extent the viewer and reader can overcome their impression of unusualness and newness of illustration expression. In the decorative structure of a picture the relationship of contents and form gets a new content, surface factures that are made lyrical acquire an independent role and specific aims. Face to face to Kudlacek's illustration we newly understand even truthfulness as an elementary substance of art, poetry and optimism as a humanistic aim of art production.
We may say that the painter - artist tries to reach the stage setting of a puppet show in its completeness.