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Blog of the week: Kafka's Friend

Understanding visual literacy is an essential component to being any kind of artist or designer. Being able to refer to contemporary styles, make reference to historical references or use the signifiers of visual cultures is key to being a fluent graphic designer. To encourage students on the Graphic Design module to become more visually literate we ask them to keep a scrapbook or blog to document and reflect on their relationship to the visual languages around them.
For Emil Nemecek, a student based in the Czech Republic this meant sharing a blog of designs that were largely unfamiliar to UK based students and myself as his tutor. I asked Emil to share his relationship with Czech graphic design and also shed some light on the challenges of engaging with a module through his second language.
What particular pieces of Czech graphic design, typography or visual languages do you think a UK audience would find unusual?
I think the interesting work is from Czech/American designer Ladislav Sutnar.  He was a crucial graphic designer as well as Jan Tschichold, El Lisický, Herbert Bayer László Moholy-Nagy. After the First World War they had a big influence on Czech design. In fact it was Sutnar who introduced Tschichold’s works to Czechoslovak designers. Sutnar left Czechoslovakia (later The Czech Republic) in 1938 when Germany gained a third of German speaking areas of Czechoslovakia just before the Second World War. He stayed in USA (New York) for the rest life. There he designed the most important Czechoslovak émigré magazine, cooperating with Knud Lönberg-Holm they introduced the laws of a discipline during the 1940’s and 1950’s which are known as information design and visual communication. His motto was “Design in action”. Sutnar also cooperated with Karel Teige another well known Czech typographer and artist.

Zdeněk Ziegler, 1965, www.filmovy-plakat.cz

Other interesting works are film posters of the communist era. The works are unique because the artists could not be creatively free so they projected they creativity via those posters. In this era there where were no commercial advertising or market for art, unlike in the west where posters had usually photographs of actors. Czechoslovak poster by contrast worked with symbols, typography, graphic element and illustrations. I particularly like artists such as Zdeněk Ziegler, Olga Vyletalova, Milan Grygar and Karel Teissig who you can find at http://www.filmovy-plakat.cz/.
Milan Grygar, 1969, www.filmovy-plakat.cz

How have you been influenced by Czech or UK designers?
I was mostly influenced during my childhood. I was often in hospital and I remember that there were framed illustrations on the walls that had a big influence on me. Of course I am not sure who draw them but it was exciting to look on them. I mainly liked works from Bohumil Stepan and UK designer Tom Eckersley. Works from both are amazing. Especially I admire the work in colour by Eckersley.
What has your experience been so far of the Graphic Design module? Have you found that learning in a second language has thrown up any particular challenges?
I decided to study graphic design because I was not satisfied with the quality of graphic design produced by graphic studios for our company (catalogue, web page, leaflets etc.). When I saw those final works I thought to myself that there must be a way for me to do it better. Then I decided on the OCA because I found an advertisement in a magazine. I like challenges and the study of graphic design in English was the right challenge for me. The course influenced me a lot, for example that graphic design is not only about advertisement but also there should be communication. The course open my eyes and now I understand much better how all advertisement, colours and typography are constructed (build up) around me. It is a really exciting world.
Karel Teissig, 1964, www.filmovy-plakat.cz

You set up the blog Kafka’s Friend, how do you find blogging as a way documenting your work and connecting with other students?
The name Kafka’s Friend gave me Steve Caplin (the UK photomontage artist) as a title of my photomontage work that I did as exercise on his webpage. I like it, so I used it. The way of working with a blog and presenting your results works very well when you are fulltime worker because you can study at your own pace.
We have our own on-line forum (http://oca-student.com/) but it is not crowded place because the graphic design course is relatively new. The best thing is to look on the blogs of others students. It is a way to share experiences and watch the flow of others’ work. It is great to see that creativity is endless and everybody has their own style and approach to problem solving.
Emil Nemecek

Posted by author: Christian Lloyd
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5 thoughts on “Blog of the week: Kafka's Friend

  • Very interesting interview (and blog). The design style is quite unfamilar – very appealing in terms of its graphic simplicity. The style calls to mind constructivism and the work of artists like Rodchenko. thanks for posting this – I’ve really enjoyed following the links and seeing new and very different work.

  • I’m with you Eileen! I’ve always found the posters fascinating, not quite sure why… not too long ago I read again an article on the Chinese communistic propaganda posters they had over here, and this post, together with what Emil said above that artists were so limited, it made me wonder if they (the posters) don’t exude almost a desire to be or say more… that they are so simplistic in design exactly because the artists knew they couldn’t speak out, and so skilfully restrained themselves.
    Of course I’m not on this course, so probably way off…
    Nice to read your interview Emil, thanks for sharing!
    Ahoj české!

  • Thank you your comments. Whan I saw these posters I remembered what I have read by David Mamet (in Three Uses of the knife) wrote: In the life of the individual and in the life of the community or the culture, art flourishes in times of struggle and, in times of surplus, disappears.
    Thank you Eileen for your comments on my blog. I really appreciate them.
    I have read that Dewald lived in Czech (The Czech Republic, right?). Where did you live?

    • Very true words Emil… even in daily life, the pure joy of something weakens when it is not something you desperately want or like anymore, but can afford, or get too easily.
      Yes, I lived in Brno, well, in a small woodlands village north of Brno, Ivanovice, and worked in the city (not sure where you are).
      I’d be back there in a heartbeat. There is no other place in the world where hiking is so easy, enjoyable and accessible to everyone. Just a pity my Chinese is now better than my Czech has every been.
      All the best Emil!

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