Foto Karel Cudlín, 2008
Asked who he was or pressed to describe his own artistic style or affiliation, he would typically reply: “I am but a simple labourer in the field of the arts”.
Simon Brett's prestigious 2002 Engraver's Globe review includes Jaroslav Rotbauer among the 100 Most Influential Wood Cutters of the XX Century.
Only upon his passing does the unique work of a fascinating and private individual emerge from the once forbidding and as yet still largely unexplored regions behind the Iron Curtain. An authentic and thoroughly individualist voice of the 1950's Central European Avantgarde, a personage in his own authentic way very representative of the generation of the Central/ East-European Post-World War II Moderne, Post-Moderne, Industrialist Abstraction and Existentialist Expression, that had been cradled and nursed by the pub-culture underbelly once so typical for Prague and the "intellectual-proletariat" social environment of the post-war communist Czechoslovakia.
Let us introduce to you the graphic designer, wood cutter and painter
Jaroslav ROTBAUER (née ROTHBAUER) * 1929 † 2015.
Apart from woodcut, throughout his long work-filled life, Jaroslav Rotbauer had explored and gained mastery over most known graphic techniques including engraving, aquatint, dry point, etching, mezzo-tint or lithography, creating complex, often multi-color, designs and printing them in his private studio in central Prague.
The only wood cutter out of the former Czechoslovakia to have been offered membership in the prestigious XYLON International Society of Wood Engravers in Zurich, he was able to present his work in over a hundred international exhibitions world-wide, from Swiss Winterthur to the Saporro, Japan, International Biennale.
The second child of a cabinet maker, Jaroslav grew up in one of Prague's poor suburbs right next to an air field and spent his childhood dreaming of becoming a pilot. Later, during the course of the ongoing war, having first-hand witnessed a few landing strip crashes, he settled for the dream of being an airplane mechanic. As he often noted however, the intruding Germans would soon after discover his ability to draw, and thus his vocation was to be set once and for all. "They made me a graphic artist", he would reminisce.
Following the communist coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia in 1948 Jaroslav Rotbauer was not permitted to continue his studies at the state-run Graphic Arts School or go on to study at the Fine Arts Academy, having voiced among his classmates the widely shared rumor that the minister of foreign affairs Jan Masaryk, the only heir to the revered first Czechoslovak president, had been assassinated by the communist secret police.
For several years he then happily made his living alongside some leading Czechoslovak intellectuals, such as the world-renowned author Bohumil Hrabal and cultural figures the like of his former school-mate Vladimír Boudník and others, working various manual jobs including mining for coal, building dams and smelting steel, gradually working his way back to the Arts.
Owing to his paramount talent, unceasing effort and artistic skill he was finally recognized by the state-run Association of Creative Artists and thus licensed to officially create works in the field of applied graphic arts. This allowed him to secure free-lance graphic design assignments from, among others, the state export-import agency. He also created award diplomas for the most productive tunnel diggers with the Prague Transport Authority at the time of construction of Prague's first subway line.
But throughout his life, apart from providing for his family thanks to his unique style of industrial graphics, he also continued working the nights away at his studio, writing his extensive diaries and creating hundreds of wood cuts and printing them on his self-designed large format printing press, as well as spewing myriad canvases, boards in oil and gouache over several style phases honing his own unique pictorial and portrait style.
Owing to his early “academic problems”, the overall political climate of the times, and perhaps a bit also to his complicated personality and unconventional philosophic and spiritual outlook, Jaroslav Rotbauer had never been particularly busy presenting or publicizing his work. As yet unseen remain his illustrations for books by Hrabal and Edgar Allen Poe. “Oh, I cannot be bothered with such trivia. I'll let you worry about these once I'm gone,” would be his response whenever confronted on the issue.
Jaroslav Rotbauer died in 2015 aged 86, leaving behind a stack of works-in-progress, apart from an astounding volume of prints, oils on boards and canvases, pastels and sketches, only fragments of which have ever been shown even locally, and which, after two long years, have finally been sorted, painstakingly digitized, conserved and archived, and thus are finally available for viewing on the Internet and, hopefully, elsewhere.
Please direct all your eventual enquiries, suggestions, offers on showing, publication, hiring or purchase to the E-mail address below, where they will readily be attended to and arranged to suit your individual requirements. We look forwards to hearing from you.