The art of Slovakia springs from a wide range of traditions, and has regularly incorporated folk and European tendencies in its treatment of chosen themes and motifs.
It often exhibits the characteristic poignancy of the changing times while encapsulating a unique take on reality. By way of introduction to Slovak art, we turn to the works of Abin Brunovsky, for containing, in many aspects, some of the features which could conceivably be categorized as “Slovak art”.
Albin Brunovsky (1935-1997) introduced some of the finer examples of Slovak art in the last century.
His works remind us that great artworks can – and often do – arise, ironically enough, from restrictive regimes where art is put to a purpose.
The overarching context of Communism in which the artist lived defined that everyone is a worker – the engineer, the teacher, the janitor, and the artist. (And to prove the point, they would all be living in the same apartment block.) During this time, artists were regularly commissioned to apply their talents to the service of the state.
This perhaps explains why you will find not only Albin Brunovsky’s paintings, lithographs, and children’s book illustrations but also more utilitarian bank notes and postage stamps. In Brunovsky’s wily hands, though, we’re given a window to the brilliance that can manifest itself in any sphere – and which, in a larger sense, can elevate the aesthetics consciousness of a whole nation. When looking at the sheer number of artists to emerge from the former Czechoslovakia, this is an intriguing phenomenon indeed.
Like many artists, Brunovsky was inspired by the likes of literature, lyricism, nature themes, surrealism – and later, more philosophical themes. In his children’s illustrations you will find a man whose stomach holds a playing record; strangely diabolic, grinning women’s faces; or, a delectable still life of a Slovak breakfast mainstay: rolls with salami, chocolate milk, and a just cracked egg on its holder.
The artist, who also taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava inspired many of his students. One example is Peter Klucik, who is known for his “metamorphic” etchings that exhibit their own intricate relationship with reality and the irrational. Both artists also give nods to the strong graphic arts roots in the country, which dates back to the Middle Ages.
Slovak painting formally developed in the 19th century. Painters like Dominik Skutecky and Ladislav Mednansky were well regarded during this time. In the 20th century, the dam cracked open to a dazzling outpour of artistic expression, from Cubist Ester Simerova-Martincekova, to surrealist Imro Weiner-Kral, to Ludovit Fulla and Martin Benka, among others.
Modern Slovak sculpture, which incorporates larger European trends, is said to have started with Jan Koniarek and Rudolf Uher. Later, Vladimir Kompanek, Mikulas Galanda, and others brought a folk dimension to their work. And in the 60s, when the constraints of art representation were relaxed under Communism, structural abstraction was introduced.
Contemporary artists use innovative materials and an evolving approach. Anton Cierny and Denisa Lehocka are two representatives of contemporary Slovak sculpture.