SLOVENIAN BOOK ILLUSTRATION
by Tatjana Pregl Kobe
Slovenian book illustration is an entirely continuous process in which certain characteristics and rules repeat themselves on an ever higher level in relation to the time period in which they occur. Trends of contemporary art scarcely infiltrate themselves into expressiveness of book illustration. This is usually expected from it, apart from the exceptions, because we should not forget that book illustration is visual art bound to text.
The contemporary world is today interwoven with many forms of communication, where as the basic means, a visual mark, image and picture are again coming to the forefront. As art in general, book illustration is also not without its significant history.
Slovenian illustration comprises the breadth of many directions of development, concepts and techniques and has been for more than half of the century in all respects comparable with the rest of the world. Great and quality blossoming of the Slovenian – above all book – illustration, is, of course, not only the echo of the world in today’s circumstances, but is primarly founded on the given possibilities and cultural heritage in this field of creativity. Up until the first Slovenian artistic illustrations created by brothers Šubic we talk about creations in terms of craftsmanship entirely under the influence of the illustrators from the neighbouring countries. A century ago, when Vienna Secession art reached its peak and soon after a rapid decline, the group of artists named Vesnani started their course under its influence. They intentionally decided to portray Slovenian folk art motives: in them, a specific feeling for native, largely ethnographical world prevails. Thus they contributed to the blossoming of illustration based on drawing and graphic in Slovenia. When, after the First World War, Slovenian visual art was freeing itself from the German influence and came in touch with the European cultural centre in Paris, illustration followed this way. When Slovenians as a constitute part of Yugoslavia during the Second World War gained their national independence this enabled in the framework of Slovenian culture and education an outstanding development of book illustration. Partisan graphic art and book illustration after the war still followed socialist realism, modelled on strong personal artistic expression. Soon the number of professional illustrators who didn’t need to train themselves abroad, but formed themselves at the Academy of Visual Art in Ljubljana , which was founded immediately after the warincreased. The newly founded publishing house Mladinska Knjiga, which through training of their professionals and building their own Mladinska Knjiga Printing House developed into a strong Mladinska Knjiga Publishing House, was also important for the quick development of illustration after the war.
The Sivčeva hiša Gallery, which operates in the framework of the Museum of Radovljica municipality is systematically collecting and representing works of Slovenian illustrators. The book illustrations in their Collection which have been regularly supplemented since 1982 are the works of artists, sculptors, architects, and designers of various generations who developed their own original personal style. The art collection, which is constantly being expanded with the works of new authors, gives an insight into a variety of artistic visual expressions, techniques and richness of contents. The Exhibition represents a high level of Slovenian book illustrations, and it includes many authors who received Slovenian and international acknowledgments and many prestige awards in this field. Many illustrations exhibited in their Collection when taken out of the picture books, bear witness and give evidence of the power of their artistic statements, viewed separated from the book for which they were intended. This is also the objective of such a permanent installation of this kind of exhibition.
In 1993, the Section of Illustrators was founded at The Slovenian Association of Fine Arts Societies (ZDSLU) with the objective of assuring continuation and development of Slovenian illustration in the framework of the new political and economical circumstances. ZDSLU is the national vocational and professional association of visual artists living and working within Slovenian cultural environment and at the same time the oldest professional association in the field of visual art in Slovenia. Their members work in various fields of visual art: painting, sculpture, ceramics, pedagogical work, art theory, illustrations, new visual practices… The Section of Illustrators founded the Slovenian Biennial of Illustration. The Biennial is organized in cooperation with the Cankar Centre Gallery. The professional jury among the works created in the last few years selects a recipient of the highest national prize for illustration “Hinko Smrekar Award” as well as “Hinko Smrekar Opus Award”, “Hinko Smrekar Accolades” and “Hinko Smrekar Distinctions”. The prizes are named after the Slovenian draftsman, graphical artist, illustrator and caricaturist Hinko Smrekar. Among other activities the Section of Illustrators also sends the illustrations of Slovenian authors to the central international Biennial of Illustration in Bratislava, BIB.
The Slovenian Chamber of Commerce – the Association of Publishers a decade ago publicly announced for the first time the invitation to apply for the award called “Original Slovenian Picture Book 2004”. The purpose of the award which is chosen by the professional jury is to encourage creation of quality picture books (Slovenian authors of text and illustrations) and to influence the buying habits of parents in their choice of picture books which contribute meaningfully to a child’s development.
Before the Slovenian Biennial of Illustration was established, for decades, for illustrators the most important were “Levstik Awards”, which were soon after its establishment delivered by the Publishing House Mladinska Knjiga. Besides “Hans Christian Andersen Award”, which is the highest international recognition given under tutorship of UNESCO since 1956 (for visual art since 1966), other international prizes have also been important for our illustrators for decades. Many of our artists in the past years received high recognitions: among others Golden Apple, Plagoue, which is given at the BIB and Golden Pen in the framework of the traditional exhibitions of illustrations in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade.
Many Slovenian illustrators often exhibit also in the Italian town Sarmede which is literally living with illustration for more than thirty years. In their organization, original works of top artists from all continents are travelling all over the world and spread the knowledge about the way they address a child with a story and a picture. The Cankar Centre in 1993 hosted the tenth, and in 1995 the twelfth International Exhibition of Illustration for Children Sarmide. The twenty-first exhibition called Images of Imagination was dedicated to the dreamy images of Slovenian top illustrator Marija Lucija Stupica (1950 – 2002) with the survey exhibition of nearly eighty works from her opus.
…and the chosen authors…
The creativity of Marlenka Stupica represents the peak of Slovenian illustrations. Her visual, masterful, unsurpassable works of art are pointing out the deepened inner experience of the artist, her large professional competence and intuition, uniting classical and modern way of painting. She started the richest Slovenian picture book opus very early with the illustrations for Riddles by Zupančič (1948). It’s not a coincidence that after Shepherd by Valjavec, where she intentionally related her illustrations to folk art painting on chests and beehive panels, she often decided to illustrate tales and poetry related to folk tradition. With subtle feeling for delivering the content with the visual artistic means she illustrated the works of the most important authors of Slovenian and world literature from Grimm and Lingred to Matthew and Collodi. Her own picture book Miraculous Tree, where the tree as a main character – because it blossoms miraculously – as a symbol of life speaks of connectedness of all living things and at the same time about timeless quality of her art, despite the new generations of illustrators.
Illustrations and modelling of puppets are speaking about many sidedness of the artist Silvan Omerzu, since he is occupied with regie, as well as puppetry, painting and ceramics. In his creativity, he likes to change his means of expression – when he exhausts theatre, he returns into the atelier to drawing and illustration. As with puppetry, the expressive images of figures are following him into some books for children. His work Combed Fishes, after the text by Slavko Jug, he pictured in his recognizable stylised way of amiable ugly figures. His illustrations, which are for the Slovenian tradition rather unusual , but for that very reason also precious, are simple, almost ascetic. They work as pictograms, as some sort of visual haikus. This kind of typical amiable illustrations for the youngest children are featured in the book of selected poems by Feri Lainšček Cicibanija. The figures of girls, boys and plain objects are painted with a child’s simplicity, but with determination and clarity. They are drawn with thick line, painted with uncomplicated colours and yet so witty that they evoke sympathy and bring out smile.
Among the illustrators with the extensive opus who have already gained recognition is also Damijan Stepančič (1969). He dedicated himself to book illustration for young people, cartoons, comic strips, animation and puppets. He likes to unite painting and illustrations of large sizes, which is a special mark of his distinctiveness. In his creativity, he is careful; his literary and visual parts act as a unity in a quality way, so that they form a wholeness which satisfies also the more demanding young readers. The typical plastic art execution of the picture book Zdravljica by our poet France Prešeren, doesn’t chase young people away, but even enforces their interests for Slovenian culture and history. He works with quality Slovenian authors, from the late ones Prešeren, Cankar, Zupan, Zajc, Pavček to the contemporary ones Svetina and his wife Lucija. With her he often allows himself to intervene with his ideas into the text and the story itself. The basis of his work is in the careful reading and reading between the lines in the constant process of combining. He reflects, watches and waits for the right moment for the text and vision to put themselves into the constellation.
With the original illustration opus Peter Škerl (1979) is placing himself among the recognized authors of the younger generation. With the feeling for illustrating literary contents he uses various techniques and their combinations to develop his individual artistic expression. His images in picture books and illustrated books are opening a large space for a detailed explanation, but what remains essential at the end is how or whether they came to life. With his illustrations, the content always becomes alive, sometimes fairylike, sometimes more realistic; sometimes he sticks to the tiniest details of the literary content, other times the imagination finds the entirely new ways, which complete or even surpass the text. He developed his entirely personal style, which is most explicitly seen in his illustrations for the book Swampman (2012), after the text by Barbara Simoniti. His minimalist illustrations with ink on paper for the known text by George Orwell Animal farm are also outstanding His illustrations distinguish themselves by the refined cultivated drawings with a multitude of precise executive details and inventive compositional solutions.
For a few years, Maja Kastelic was very carefully creating her own picture book Boy and a House without words, intended for the youngest readers. The results of her work were artistic images that took her into the illustrators orbit with the speed of light. the meticulously elaborated classical drawings, a special view to the perspective of the space and colour minimalism are the starting point for the visual story of this book. From the content point of view, this is intentionally somewhat scary story about a Boy who is through the mysterious interior of the house rising up towards the top to the light. She is also more frequently appearing abroad. Besides the illustrations for the picture book by the author Marine Gerald Le drole de Noel de monsieur Simon (Funny Christmas at Mister Simon), she also created the illustrations for the picture book Sleepy Martino by the Italian author Roberto Piumini, for a French publisher. In the visual presentation of the text, she pays special attention to details which can also be seen in the illustrations for Don by Tone Pavček. She’s remaining faithful to creating with various stylistic and thematic approaches.
The plastic art image has been a companion of Hana Stupica since her early childhood. From the very beginning, she has been surrounded by the paintings of her remarkable grandfather Gabrijel Stupica, and the fairytale beings of her mother Marija Lucija Stupica and grandmother Marlenka. Thus, her life lead her to illustration. For the illustrations of the Ukrainian fairytale The little glove she created a special, enchanting and magic atmosphere, which has its domicile also on a cold and dark north, but the message with emphasis on the friendship is painted warm and light. The picture book expresses the maturity of illustrations and pronounced feeling for picturing the spirit of the time in which the story is unfolding. With very precise layers of colour textures she developed her illustrations for her first, already highly acknowledged, picture book, into creative imaginative artistic unity. Her specific perfection leans on her constant perseverance at the thoughtful search for the most effective artistic solutions. In her creativity, she intertwines the intuitive, and at the same time, emotionally deepened world with quick but deliberate strokes. Her strokes, modelled to the extreme, have a clear starting point and an exact goal.
Translated by Irena Majcen