I used to collect books by Karl May. What, you might ask, has a German writer have to do with Slavic Saturday? Well, I used to only collect editions that were illustrated by Zdeněk Burian. I would collect them still, only I rarely have a chance to visit an antiquarian bookshop nowadays.
Outside of our little land, he is probably most known for his paleoart, which to my mind simply has no equal in past or present. It might not be the most accurate paleoart by today’s standards as science progresses, but those pictures are so alive that they still have value and still are inspiring. One of my most prized possessions is a set of loose sheets of photographic reproductions of his works – this was also one of the first of his works I have got my hands on. The mammoths on the cover are simply amazing – and that is an understatement. I would very much love to see the original paintings some day, everyone who had the honor tells me their impact is much greater than of the reproductions.
Each sheet in the book represents some specific geological era and it contains one A4 color reproduction of an oil painting on the front, and some black & white inks and some text on the back. Shame it was not published in other languages, and is not even published now in CZ, because I think many aspiring artists, paleontologists and paleoartists would benefit greatly from being exposed to this work more. I never cease to be impressed by what he was capable of achieving with just black ink and a pen.
His paleoart has been a great inspiration to me. I wanted to be a painter and to achieve such great things, but alas I lack the talent. Burian’s genius has in fact demonstrated itself early on, when at the age of mere 14 years he was accepted into study at Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, which he left just two years later. And he went straight into the most difficult branch of the painting and drawing business – illustrating books. I consider this to be the most difficult part, because not only is the artist forced to draw realistic humans, the scenes also have to be living and dynamic in order to truly add to the book. And here he got his first claim to fame, by illustrating adventure books both by renown authors (like Karl May and Jules Verne) and pure pulp fiction trash. He was extremely prolific, the amount of work he managed to do in his life is staggering.
I have failed my dream of becoming as good an artist as he was, but this did not spoil my love for his art and my appreciation of his technique, and I still learned a lot from him and thanks to him. There are many books out there containing his illustrations that I did not get my hands on yet. I will never pass the chance should it occur.