Jacques Hnizdovsky.
Ukraine/American, 1915 – 1985

Trained in the European figurative tradition, Hnizdovsky came to the US with no money. Therefore his subjects became objects that posed for free; food, animals, and flowers. He believed the outer line should tell the whole story about his image.


Artist Statement

Life suggests ideas for images. With just a little observation one realizes what can be done. Today when everyone tries, at any price, to be original the lack of originality is perhaps the most original contribution to contemporary art.

- Jacques Hnizdovsky
Essays

The woodcuts of Jacques Hnizdovsky represent some of the freshest and most original printmaking in American graphic arts of the past thirty years. Like Ben Shahn and Antonio Frasconi, he draws inspiration from the realist tradition of art, and like them he is an immigrant to our shores, a product of the mainstreams of European culture from which our nation has so felicitously drawn much of its creative talent. Like Shahn and Frasconi, he has not been lured into an avant-garde school that identifies with a strong artistic impact. But unlike those two vivid personalities, he has avoided in his art any shrill social commentary, nor has he followed their preferences for the more fluid lines and tones of lithograph, and their tendency toward color printing.

I was first introduced to Hnizdovsky through a large black-and-white woodcut of 1961 printed on a pure white Japanese paper, called simply Sheep, an enormous muff of fleece from which protruded at the top rather shyly a black muzzle, pointed ears, and blinking eye, and which was supported at the base by four ridiculously spindly black legs on delicate hoofs. The image was at once a caricature like a college preppie stuffed into his father's raccoon coat, and at the same time tenderly and charmingly the very extraordinary unshorn sheepskin intrigued the eye by the rhythmic waves of its fleecy locks, Beardsleysque in its stylized and cunning coiffure. I decided at once that the disarming simplicity of this woodcut with its compact contour and bestiary like universality concealed the artistry of a skilled craftsman in woodcutting, a craftsman who spent many hours gouging and scraping away at an immense pear wood block. I was instrumental in the acquisition of this woodcut for the Print department of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it is frequently exhibited.

Graphically, Hnizdovsky's world encompasses a limited spectrum, essentially a natural history of animals and birds, wild and domestic, arrested in repose, often observed in the zoo - cat goose, sheep, tiger, zebra, black swan, stork, great horned owl, and an imperious bald eagle worthy of the national emblem. His plant life in the book Flora Exotica, published by Godine in 1972. is sharply observed with all the finesse of woodcuts and of a medieval herbal, though modern version is more constrained, stylized, and emblematic of a stronger linear fiber, and charged with solid areas of black. Many of these plants are printed in the book in monochrome somewhat against the artist's tendency toward pure black and white, but lending variety and accent to the book form. One singles out the beautiful chrysanthemum, a brilliant efflorescence of sinuous coiling and recoiling petals the like not seen since the halcyon days of art nouveau. Hnizdovsky has illustrated two other books, Poems of John Keats (1964) and Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1967), both published by Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

As an extension of his plant specimens, Hnizdovsky has done several spacious landscapes, the most ambitious of which is Field, dated 1962. Here is a rural solitude with high horizons, distant trees and farm buildings, and a gently meandering foreground of parallel fields. The landscape is naturalistic, or "simplified realism," but the subtlety and intimacy of Hnizdovsky's calligraphy, with its myriad spiky strokes and repetitive hatchings, give point to the scattered diffusion of vegetation across the street.

Another facet of Hnizdovsky's woodblock artistry is trees: Leafless Tree (1965), with twisted branches and weeping foliage like a Chinese landscape, Beech Tree (1971) penetrable thickets of intricate branches, and Suicide Oak, New Orleans (1974), with the writhing root and branch formation of an undulating hydra.

Still life is another subject with which Hnizdovsky has dealt strikingly. His Apples in a Basket, a hand-colored woodcut of 1971, artfully combines a basket-weave pattern with spherical fruit, household familiars perfectly suited to the strong harmonies of his style. We are reminded of his statement that "subject creates style; nature suggests style." Here it is a refreshment, in an age of endless striving and contriving to achieve originality through new-old forms, that there survives an artist who remains true to his vision, calmly perfecting the simple visual images of his craft.

Peter A. Wick
Foreword

Hnizdovsky Woodcuts 1944 - 1975
Biography

Jacques Hnizdovsky was born in Ukraine to direct descendants of a noble family bearing the Korab coat of arms. In 1983 the Polish Korab Coat of Arms was incorporated into a Grant of Arms by the English College of Arms in London. Hnizdovsky never spoke of his family's background, as it was the reason his entire family was exiled to Siberia. (His mother got a message to him while he was in boarding school, and Jacques was able to escape, managing to travel through several countries by foot). The family properties were confiscated, and turned into military HQ. His father died during the forced march to Siberia, somewhere near Moscow. The youngest of seven children, Jacques was the only one in his family that emigrated to the west. Jacques would never see his family again after leaving Ukraine.

Jacques studied fine arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsawand Zagreb. He worked from a human model, and had a great interest in portraiture. He also had an early interest in woodcuts, particularly those of Dürer and Japanese Ukiyo-e artists. Jacques was entirely self-taught in printmaking, yet would come to be known as one of the world's most noted printmakers.

He arrived in the United States penniless, yet was determined to overcome many hardships to become an independent artist. Shortly after his arrival to the United States in 1949, A. Hyatt Mayor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art chose one of his woodcuts for a Purchase Award at a 1950 Minneapolis Institute of Arts print exhibition. It was a turning point in his career and life. From that moment, he was determined to make his livelihood as an independent artist, gave up his work as a commercial textile and calendar artist, and moved to New York City.

In 1962 he was awarded the First Prize at the Boston Printmakers annual exhibition for his print "The Sheep". "The Sheep" was to become his best-known print, and can be seen in the film "The Hours" with Meryl Streep.

Hnizdovsky's work can be best described as stylized realism, even though his early work encompassed social commentary as well.

He was to become best known for his woodcuts of animals and trees, yet most do not realize that Hnizdovsky created almost as many paintings as woodcuts, painting during the day, and working on his woodcuts in the evening. Hnizdovsky produced hundreds of paintings as well as over 375 prints (woodcuts, linocuts and etchings), not including the large number of ex-libris he created for collectors and friends.

He was invited to participate in the Contemporary U.S. Graphic Arts exhibition which traveled to the U.S.S.R. in 1963, as well as a similar exhibition to Japan in 1967. His woodcuts were included in the Triennale Internazionale della Xilographica in Italy in 1972.

In 1977 shows of his woodcuts were held at the Long Beach Museum of Art, California, and Yale University, and in 1978 and 1982 at the University of Virginia and at the Hermitage Museum of Norfolk, Virginia, in 1981. The complete list of exhibitions is too long to list here.

He received a Tiffany Fellowship in 1961, and fellowships from the following: MacDowell Colony in 1963, 1971, 1976, 1977; Yaddo Foundation in 1978; Ossabaw Foundation in 1980; Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1984.

Hnizdovsky has contributed illustrations to The Poems of John Keats, 1964; The Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1967; Tree Trails of Central Park, 1971; Flora Exotica, 1972; The Poems of Thomas Hardy, 1979; The Traveler's Tree, 1980; The Poetry of Robert Frost, 1981; Signum Et Verbum, 1981; A Green Place, 1982; Birds and Beasts, 1990; Behind the King's Kitchen, 1992; The Girl in Glass in 2002; and The Adventurous Gardener in 2005. This is only a partial list of books he has illustrated.

Jacques Hnizdovsky passed away on November 8, 1985, just days after printing his last woodcut, Washington Monument, a tribute to his adopted country.
CV

born 1915 Ukraine
died 1985 Massachuttes

education
Academy of Fine Arts in Warsawand Zagreb

numerous public collections including
The Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Burnaby Art Gallery, British Columbia
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
Chrysler Museum at Norfolk, VA
Cleveland Museum of Fine Arts, OH
Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middleton CT
Duke University Museum of Art, Durham, NC
Dulin Gallery of Art, Knoxville, TN
Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Pittsburgh PA
Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle
Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, MS
Library of Congress, Washington DC
Louisiana Arts and Science Center, Baton Rouge
Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN
Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
New Orleans Museum of Art, LA
New York Public Library, NY
Philadelphia Museum of Art,
Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth, MN
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
The U.S. Information Agency, Washington, DC
White House, Washington, DC
University of Delaware, Wilmington
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Winnipeg Art Gallery, Canada
Yale University, New Haven, T
Reviews

Bibliography

Hnizdovsky Woodcuts, 1944-1975 catalogue raisonné by Abe Tahir, Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, LA, 1975

Jacques Hnizdovsky Woodcuts and Etchings, catalogue raisonné, updated version, Abe Tahir Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, LA, 1987


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Catalogue Raisonné
Jaques Hnizdovsky Woodcuts and Etchings, by Abe M. Tahir, Jr., foreword by Peter A. Wick, Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, LA, 1987






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