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ONE MAN'S PAINTINGS OF FANTASY ANIMALS ARE ON DISPLAY IN BRATISLAVA

Kľúčik and his cat-beasts

LONG-TIME illustrator Peter Kľúčik was asked to illustrate John R. Tolkien's The Hobbit soon after communism fell in 1989. For this project he created around 40 illustrations that were rich in detail and conveyed the mysterious atmosphere of the book very well.
The publishing house that he had originally made a deal with, however, failed to adjust to the market economy and lost the right to publish the book. The second one that approached him was interested only in the book's cover. The third publishing house that appeared on the scene - after the Tolkien-mania prompted by the 2001 release of the film The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring - was denied the copyright.
After all that, Kľúčik made a decision: "I have had it with illustrations. I am going to paint!"


PETER Kľúčik with one of his unfinished works.
photo: Zuzana Habšudová

LONG-TIME illustrator Peter Kľúčik was asked to illustrate John R. Tolkien's The Hobbit soon after communism fell in 1989. For this project he created around 40 illustrations that were rich in detail and conveyed the mysterious atmosphere of the book very well.

The publishing house that he had originally made a deal with, however, failed to adjust to the market economy and lost the right to publish the book. The second one that approached him was interested only in the book's cover. The third publishing house that appeared on the scene - after the Tolkien-mania prompted by the 2001 release of the film The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring - was denied the copyright.

After all that, Kľúčik made a decision: "I have had it with illustrations. I am going to paint!"

He switched from illustration to painting, and since then he has been creating a fantasy world of mysterious animals using oil on canvas. He finds inspiration in the real animals he sees in books and on television documentaries, such as tigers, zebras, and rhinos. To these images he applies his wild imagination, twisting their bodies and playing with their fur and colours until they are transformed into new, unknown creatures living in fantastic surroundings.

"I'm too lazy to go to nature so I create it here at home," he says with a laugh.

His animal dreamland, created in the style of old baroque paintings, is currently being shown at Bratislava's Slofa Gallery along with his illustrations in an exhibition entitled Delightful Life. Abstract paintings by Jarmila Veľká are also being shown in the same exhibition.


THE DEVILISH squirrel from Kľúčik's Hobbit illustrations.
photo: Zuzana Habšudová

"Peter is one of the most popular graphic artists, because people know his work," says Ľuboslav Moza, the exhibition's curator. "It is cheerful, dynamic, and epic. It is full of feeling and understanding. It's the kind of work that has not been shown in [Slovakia] before."

Kľúčik's rich animal-oriented fantasy life has its roots in his childhood. As a child he conjured up images in his head based on the creatures he read about in adventure books that described unknown lands.

After his studies under Albín Brunovský, the images from his childhood soon found their way into the books he was illustrating. A small, funny-looking figure would sneak behind a corner, and a strangely curled tail or unnaturally hairy paw would stick out from a bush. Always tiny, but painted in a particular and precise way.

Before he gave up illustration, Kľúčik created pictures for around 40 books, including Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. But the book that enabled him to expand his imagination the most and brought him to the path he later set out on was the last one he illustrated - Tolkien's The Hobbit. From the evil-looking but funny hairy squirrels to the curly tails on the flying dragons, it was an easy transition to his dreamed-up world inhabited purely by animals.

He first thought of drawing the animal dreamland by itself as he pondered the work of Czech illustrator Zdeněk Burian.

"One day, I was looking at illustrations of prehistoric animals by Burian when one of his pictures stunned me. It wasn't a dinosaur; it was something small, climbing a tree. It looked like a lizard but was gold and had feathers - something I had never seen before. Then I realised that no painter can ever match nature; the shapes and colours it creates and the combinations it uses," he says.


KĽÚČIK's Picture about World History.
photo:Courtesy of Slofa Gallery

"Since then, my moment of surprise, the belief that nature is the best painter had been resonating in my head."

Still thinking in terms of illustration, he thought of creating an atlas of imaginary animals living in different parts of the world.

"I wanted [the atlas] to look as if it was created centuries ago, when people were still discovering unknown lands. I wanted it to have the poetry of the era of discovery, as if someone found the book somewhere where it had been forgotten," he says.

"Then I told myself, what if I painted that? So, I started. First I did it in the naive art style, but it reminded me of [French painter Henri] Rousseau, which I didn't want. I wanted to do something in the style of [Flemish painter, Sir Peter Paul] Rubens, a la baroque, which would look as if somebody, a long time ago, saw something and painted it wrong."

But even though Kľúčik figured out the right art form for capturing his imaginary ideas, he says, he still has to make compromises. He would like his animals to look more sweet than wild, sometimes funny and surprising, but the Rubens-like technique would occasionally turn them into scary, even bloodthirsty beasts.

"Because I also want to paint them with a bit of wildness - after all, they are animals - by trying to copy Rubens's hunting pictures, which are full of action, the element of danger will always be there. I struggle to eliminate it, but yet the fact that the animals are invented, not real, already creates a bit of a scary feeling," he says.

Despite the fact that he lives in Slovakia, none of his pictures capture the animals living here. He paints a more exotic environment, one inhabited by cat-beasts. The reason is that his customers want him to paint for them the pictures they have already seen.

"I so hate doing something over and over again," Kľúčik says, while pointing out a picture of two cat-like beasts which he has been working on for two years for a woman who saw one like it at an exhibition but did not buy it at the time.

"I want to do other things, my things - whales and polar bears ... I want to move further, I want to include the whole globe, but I won't be able to unless people give me the chance."


What: Delightful Life - exhibition of paintings.
When: Until June 23, open Mon-Fri 14:00-18:00.
Where: Slofa Gallery, Nám. SNP 6, Bratislava.
Admission: Free.
Tel: 02/5478-9416.

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