“We did illustrations, I did graphics, applied graphics and then artistic graphics. Back then everyone did [socialist realism], and that was just completely against what I wanted... not that I couldn’t draw it, but I told myself: ‘I won’t make this for you. It’s all so gloomy... I’ll only make jolly things.’ So I started drawing clowns, and then carnivals. It was good that they respected this in the graphics committee, and they took it up in some places, so it was exhibited. I never painted any stars, I didn’t make Communist posters, nothing of the sort. And no one expected it from me any more.”
“Then at school, when they did the currency reform, they pressured me to join the Party. Back then I was hugely helped out by Strnadel, he told the functionaries: ‘All you care about is for everyone to be in the Party; most people are in the Party, I want there to be at least one non-Party member here.’ So I never was in the Youth Union, no I wasn’t, I wasn’t ever in the Party, and I graduated like that without any problems.”
“They nationalised all the farmers in the year 50, so they nationalised my father too. They confiscated his business permit and took away all his machinery, and Dad was so rattled by it that he became awfully annoying, he couldn’t sleep, he didn’t have a job, he kept swearing at the Communists... Then they found him a job, they were building a health clinic, so they said: ‘Mr Beneš, you’ll supervise the construction.’ So he was supervisor for about a month, but he discovered that the material they brought there was disappearing. So he stayed there overnight and found out that the functionaries were taking cement and bricks home. He said: ‘Gentlemen, enough, there’ll be no stealing here, I can’t have this, and I will report it.’ But he couldn’t report anything, because they fired him and he was completely without a job.”
Graphic artist, painter, and illustrator Karel Beneš was born in Vlčnov on 1 May 1932. During the war he watched German soldiers train near his native village, and later as a grammar school student in Uherský Brod he saw Allied planes fly over Germany. He waited out the last nights of the war in the cellar with his family, he saw the Germans leave and be replaced by the liberating armies of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, led by Marshal Malinovsky. In 1947 he left the fourth year of grammar school to study glassworking at the Upper School of Art in Jablonec nad Nisou. However, he enjoyed drawing the most, and thanks to the support of his teachers he was given the opportunity to focus on drawing and prepare for entrance exams to the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design in Prague. While studying he dedicated himself to the lithographic treatment of motives from his native Moravia, the traditional Vlčnov wedding and Ride of Kings; he completed his studies with illustrations to military songs. The 1980s saw him achieve worldwide fame with his bookplates, which he had been introduced to by graphic artist and “horse painter” Emil Kotrba. He has created more than 500 ex libris. He was a prolific book illustrator; he received a Gold Ribbon (Zlatá stuha; an award for young readers’ books) in 1996 for his work on Josef Václav Sládek’s book Zlaté slunce, bílý den (Golden Sun, White Day). He lived in Prague with his wife, painter Daniela Benešová-Hahnová. They frequently exhibited together. Karel Beneš died on September 28th, 2021.