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Oldrich Kulhánek (Feb. 26, 1940–Jan. 28, 2013)

In a Letter from Henry Klein of Los Angeles, CA, USA dated February 2, 2013:

Dear friends and admirers of Oldrich Kulhánek,

On January 28th, the news of the passing of the Czech artist and printmaker, Oldrich Kulhánek, came to me from several friends. Many of you knew him personally and nearly all of you knew his ex libris designs.

In 1971, along with his close friend Jan Krejcí (1942–2001), he was arrested and charged with “Making Images that defamed a fraternal Soviet State.” From that time on, he was a banned artist, forbidden to exhibit in his home country, until the collapse of the Communist government at the end of 1989. During those dark times, commissions from the ex libris community, in his own country and in the West were a lifeline that helped to sustain him. He had told me many times how crucial friends in the West were to his well being and to lifting his spirits. Amongst them, he repeatedly singled out Norbert Hillerbrandt, Walter Humplstötter, Luc Sanders, and Leo van Mares for special appreciation, but mentioned so many others in passing as well.

Time and again he said that the meteoric rise of his fortunes through the sales of large format work after the “Velvet Revolution” had been made possible by the friends and contacts he had previously made through the ex libris community. If you look at the list of his ex libris and P.F. commissions, it is also clear that the early and unwavering support of his fellow countrymen, particularly Frantisek Turnovec, was absolutely important.

By now, all of you in the Czech Republic are certainly mourning his passing, and many more of you also know of his death. He and I have been friends for 23 years. When I first invited him to come to Los Angeles for the opening of the exhibition I had curated, “Creativity in the Shadow of Political Oppression,” I knew him only as a great artist and a former political dissident. But, when we met in 1990, there was an immediate kinship. Perhaps it was because my own parents had suffered as political dissidents here in the United States. Perhaps it was because we both loved to eat too much and had a great passion for life. Certainly it had to do with his remarkable sense of humor. We never met or spoke over the telephone without exchanging jokes and ending up laughing.

He was a phoenix reborn after the fall of Communism. But I am quite sure that the Phoenix never could have had a sense of humor that approached that of Olda. I am so pleased that he lived long enough to experience the turnabout of his fortunes and the admiration of his fellow countrymen that he truly deserved. Frequently staying in his studio when I visited Prague each year, I was privileged to see the methodical and dedicated way in which he worked. He was the finest figurative draughtsman that I have ever known and a profound artistic genius.

He leaves behind his wife, Jana, three children, David, Katarína and Klara, and at least two grandchildren (I apologize if I have not kept up with David's progeny).

The last time that he and I spoke on the telephone, we joked about getting old, having to see too many doctors, but how glorious life still was for us. He said “Each morning when I awake, I look around and say to myself, I have beaten the Devil again.” I have always admired the spirit with which he always faced life. A long time ago, he told me that he had a small heart as the result of an illness that he had suffered when he was 19. But that was only his physical heart. His spiritual heart was immense. So the empty place he leaves behind is also very large. No one can fill that space. Nevertheless, you have all been privileged to have been touched by a giant.

Rest in peace my friend. My condolences to all of you who loved and admired him. We have suffered a very great loss.