In the course of nearly twenty years of illustration, Tomáš Řízek has firmly established himself amongst the many illustrators whose work has been key to establishing and maintaining the reputation of Czech books abroad and at home.
His début on the Czech artistic scene took place with the end of the ‘80s when his works won acclaim amongst the public; at this point, his main influences numbered Christianity, the works of great international masters of visual art and nature, as the well of all being and a fundamental assurance of human existence on this planet. The study of old masterpieces and the craftsmanship that it yielded has served Řízek in good stead particularly in his illustrations of books dedicated to famous Czech visual artists as well and their international colleagues and counterparts, published by the ACME Cultural Enterprise Tainan.
The need and desire to paint arose relatively late in Řízek’s life – at the age of twenty-one, when, having completed his high school education, he entered the working environment. At the time, he had no official education in visual art; his only credentials were his enthusiasm and ardour at painting and drawing. This handicap Řízek attempted to overcome by applying to an art school, from which he was rejected. His failure did not deter him; on the contrary, it fanned the flames of his determined wish to be an artist. Gradually, he initiated himself into the mysteries of visual art, developing his craftsmanship by copying Gothic period Madonnas. This occupation also insured his income. He himself attributes great importance to the fact that he was able to periodically consult his work with Mr. Jaroslav Králík, a student of Emil Filla, who, besides aiding his technical skills develop and acquainting him with various techniques, was also influential to his work by introducing him to graphic art and illustration. The knowledge and skills thus gained Tomáš Řízek has put to good use in his own work, which, besides painting, also includes graphics (book covers for the publishers Alpress, Euromedia, Práh, Baset, Dauphin, Vyšehrad, Olympia and others) and illustrations for various Czech, other European and Asian publishers.
With the beginning of the 1990s, Tomáš Řízek’s creative interest was extended to illustrating; this focus outweighed others in the latter half of this decade, and was eventually to marginalize even his free painting. The discovery of Asian cultures and his travels in China and Taiwan fascinated Řízek, to the extent that he returned under their influence to painting. As opposed to a moderate use of colour in contrast to large white spaces – the distinguishing features of his earlier painting from the early 1990s – Řízek’s painting over the most recent years abounds with the bright, lively, radiant colours so typical of Asian cultures. The artist’s inspiration is drawn from the exotic realms of history and Oriental traditions.
It would be possible to claim that these paintings loosely connect, by means of their colorfulness and lyrical atmosphere, to illustrations of the fairytales and legends of Asia.
Browsing through the books illustrated by Tomáš Řízek, of which there are over fifty, I am struck by the diversity of genre therein; this diversity could be seen as mapping out the history of Czech illustration over the course of the 20th century and its key concern – the question of how best, by this means, to affect the rational and emotional upbringing of children, how to shape a truly appealing medium by which to introduce children to knowledge and discovery, and how, in illustration, to approach the child’s mind.
Through Řízek’s personal interpretation of a work of literature, his illustrations become a means of discovering the world as a whole; the dynamic of Řízek’s illustrations foregrounds the interrelated nature of phenomena so as to challenge the distinction between reality and fantasy. Alongside descriptive images in the sphere of the scientific and the instructive, where emphasis is placed on detail associated with relevant data, Řízek’s illustrations of fairytales also abound in detail – rich, in this latter case, in allusive suggestion and emotionally charged symbols. This charge is largely achieved by use of colour, which is used to establish the given atmosphere in view of the capabilities of the child’s sensitivity.
The illustrating career of Tomáš Řízek was launched by the commission of a child’s encyclopedia offered him by the publishing house Fragment; other “educative” books for children followed (Do I say it well?, Pioneers of Science and Technology in the Czech Republic, Cars, Locomotives, Personalities of Spirit of the Czech History, Legends of Criminality, Czech Film Stars II., Czech Film Stars III., Literature in a Nutshell, Airplanes, Ships, Machines, Physicians). The last named work has also been published in China.
Alongside illustrations acquainting children with science, technology, the arts or film, Tomáš Řízek has in the latter half of the 1990s also had the opportunity of illustrating fairytales and legends. These publications began by focusing on European history (Mysterious Stranger, Celtic Myths and Legends, Getting Dark and Ring), and to these, over time, were added other fairytales and legends of non-European origin (Legends of the Orient, Old Arabic Legends, Five Indonesia Fairy-Tales). These are in turn succeeded by books which deal with Czech history (Legends from Kutná Hora) and the legends of Prague’s Jewish Town (Secret Marriage, Golem walks through Prague). These eventually lead up to classical fairytales, such as Ali Baba and Forty Thieves or Grimms Tales, which were also published as narrated by Vladimír Hulpach in a range of adaptations (Wandering through Fairytales, Witty Fairytales, Castle Fairytales, Fairytales about Animals, Once Upon a Time, Fairy Fairytales, Fairytales from Heaven and Hell, Magical Fairytales, and others). The classical Czech fairytales of Karel Jaromír Erben and others have also received Tomáš Řízek’s treatment as illustrator (Golden-hair Princess, Cinderella, Three Spinsters and other Fairy-tales).
By no means the least of Tomáš Řízek’s interests is the genre of the child hero – a hero who is at once a peer and friend to other children and who, by means of humour, solves even the seemingly most complex difficulties. It is this category of literature which has been his focus in publications such as Eliah and Grandma from the Egg, Katie and Fat Grandpa and his heretofore most successful book, Ema and Magical Book, for which he has, together with the author of its text Petra Braunová, won first prize of the Children’s Award (Cena dětí), first prize of the Award of the Librarians of the Club of Childrens’ Libraries SKIP (Cena knihovníků Klubu dětských knihoven SKIP) and first place amongst the twenty most read books in the Czech Republic.
One of the most recent books illustrated by Tomáš Řízek is the encyclopedia Czech Year from Spring to Winter, which acquaints children as well as adults with the folk customs of our ancestors, which are an integral part of our spiritual heritage. Some of these, albeit morphed, continue to exert their influence on our daily lives; others are nowadays confronted exclusively in the folklore museums, of which many visitors no longer know the particulars of their origin or the nature of their symbolism.
This book won the Golden Band (Zlatá stuha) and the Prize of the Minister of Education, Youth and Physical Education (Cena ministra školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy) for its contribution to the development of children’s reading, as well as the literary award "Knihopábitel 2010 - Cena za nejlepší knihy roku pro mládež".
I am very sorry that many of Řízek’s works cited above have not been meant for the Czech reader, being published abroad by foreign publishers such as the Swiss Bohem Press (Paris, Berlin, in the Giramondo series), the Taiwanese GrimmPress. (Ali Baba and Forty Thieves), and ACME Cultural Enterprise Ltd. (Schubert, Chopin, The Loyal Dog Baker, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso). Books for these publishers have also been published in Korea (Ali Baba and Forty Thieves, Paris, Berlin) and in Turkey (Ali Baba and Forty Thieves). Books from the Giramondo series subsequently appeared in Norway and the Netherlands. As it were, even those books intended for Aventinum and Brio were being published in co-edition with the French publishing house Gründ or the German Artia Verlag. Books focusing on the life and works of the great personages of world culture would be particularly enriching to Czech book production – all the more so now for our realizing a marked lack of education amongst our younger generation, as by means of Řízek’s illustrations, accompanied by a simple text, information about the forming spirits of the history of European culture could be effectively conveyed to little children.
The extant work of Tomáš Řízek has not only won the appraisal of children (which Řízek much appreciates, their instincts sometimes being more astute than the judgments of adults); the qualified public has also expressed esteem of his work. As it were, the very fact of his being repeatedly hailed by foreign publishers may be interpreted as an appraisal in itself. Not only that: the Giramondo series – the production of which was the work of illustrators from all of Europe, and for which Tomáš Řízek illustrated Paris and Berlin, won the award Premio di Alpe Appuane in 2002 in Italy for the most beautiful children’s series of the year, and, a year later, gained the Andersen prize.
Tomáš Řízek was also accepted as a member of the Children’s-Book Illustrators’ Society (Klub ilustrátorů dětské knihy), which brings together top Czech illustrators and the aim of which is to maintain the quality of children’s-book illustrations and artistic design, which has in recent decades been imperiled by various media which offer more comfortable consumption and are less demanding than reading. The importance of the ethical content and the meaning of good readership cannot, however, be replaced by shortened texts – however ingenuously edited they might be – for these cannot double for the work of art. Illustrations in children’s books are often the first specimens of visual art to confront the child; they might be viewed as a notional ticket to the gallery. What is more, present culture, in this era of an increasingly extended, uniform civilization, is rapidly becoming the sole distinguishing feature of a discrete human community.
What is of essence is that despite various obstacles, the children’s book remains a living organism which does not cease to develop and evolve – together with the evolution of artistic forms, but also in confrontation with the mutating needs of our time.
Hana Nováková, July 2011
Aventinum, Prague 2003,
© 2010 Tomáš Řízek, mobil + 420 602 27 26 77, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | Foto © Pavel Novák, Foto © Tomáš Řízek, archiv Tomáše Řízka
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