Tuesday 12th November
The Mucha Museum
With an awareness of the aesthetic of the work of Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), I had never really appreciated it fully, until I saw it at The Mucha Museum in Prague. The work seen at scale is truly breathtaking, he was a struggling Czech born artist living in Paris, he then achieved overnight success when in 1894, he accepted a commission to create a poster for one of the greatest actresses of this time, Sarah Bernhardt. The public response was very strong and Art Nouveau was born. The success of that first poster brought a 6 years working relationship between Sarah Bernhardt and Mucha and in the following years his work for her and others extended to include costumes, stage decorations, designs for magazines, book covers, jewellery, furniture and more posters.
His work is united by the subtle yet bold colour palette, organic motifs from nature, such flowers, flowing hair and ornate frames. The balance between flat areas of colour, contrasted by areas of highly detailed forms really captivated me. The most striking thing to see was some of the original artwork, pencil sketches of leaves and berries from observation, photographs from his studio of the model posed, where you could see the frame that he used in his posters was taken from a mirror and pastel drawings on coloured paper. His influence is still very strong in contemporary illustration.
Eleven Illustration students, interested in figurative, feminine and delicate work., attended a 3 hour water-colour workshop hosted by fashion illustrator, Irina Kaygorodova. We met at Irina’s basement studio near the river. She welcomed us and we sat around a small table and told us about her work and career. Irina is Russian born and loved to draw as a child. She studied art at University of Omsk.
Irina then worked in publishing, which included work as the Senior Designer for a fashion magazine. She later moved to Prague, where she has a studio and draws daily. She is inspired by fashion and lifestyle - creating patterns for fashion fabrics (in collaboration with a designer) jewellery, food, historical buildings and calligraphy. Her main focus though is the figure and beautiful fashion illustrations reminiscent of the 1950’s era.
Irina then did a demonstration for us, using reference from a fashion magazine. She used beautiful brushes and explained how she likes to create a certain ambiance before starting to paint. She let the brush, water-colour and water dance over the page with grace and feeling. You could not hear a pin drop whilst she was working, the students were mesmerised. You could see how quickly she reacted to the unpredictability of the water on paper, made decisions intuitively and knew precisely when to stop and the drawing was finished.
She then provided the students with reference pictures and water-colour paper to let them do their own fashion illustrations. The atmosphere was quite tense, as everyone wanted to do a good job for Irina. Irina gave advice to individuals as the grappled with aspects of proportion (use the end of the brush to measure), colour mixing, the right consistency of water, the details such as eyes or mouth, which really give the painting life. The group made about 3 / 4 drawings each. This was a unique experience to have tuition from Irina, the really enjoyed talking their time over making work and the studio offered a tranquil environment to do so. Photographs of the workshop to follow.
Thursday 14th November
We were treated to an absolute gem of a visit, arranged for us by Lucy and Rad, we visited the Terry’s Posters Shop and the Svetozor art cinema. We were given a tour of the archive, which was an Aladdin’s cave of the most striking posters. As with our love of Polish and Cuban posters, we were eager to see some Czech posters in the flesh. Many of these were originals that the owner Jan is trying hard to archive and scan. There is a brilliant collection also available online 10 000 graphic posters from the Terry Posters‘ collection from Czechoslovakia in the period of 1930 – 1989.
A lecture was then given to the group explaining that during the Communist era film-making did thrive, although it was regulated. There were some reasonable films made but people craved things that were western. However, there was one interesting difference, the movies did not come with their original posters. The Czech distributors could make their own. They did not have to adhere to the strict guidelines of Hollywood, showing a scene, the famous actors / actresses, instead they had an open door to work with motifs, symbols and strong metaphors. They were all made by hand and are truly wonderful pieces of graphic design. We were shown a historical timeline of Czech film posters and then visual comparisons were made of the Hollywood film posters next to the Czech version.