In the late 1950s, Vladimír Boudník developed several innovative printmaking techniques that he referred to as “active” and “structural” graphics. These developed from his theory of “explosionalism,” based on principles he elaborated in several manifestos, the first of which was produced in 1949. Boudník believed that every person was capable of creative expression and that unleashing it would be the key to restoring and uniting humanity in the aftermath of World War II. The purpose of art, as he saw it, was to provoke an imaginative “explosion” in the viewer.
Though Boudník received formal training as a printmaker, his approach was largely incompatible with the artistic climate of Communist Czechoslovakia: he spent most of his career working in a factory. Boudník embraced both the factory environment and the humble materials he found within it, believing that the distinction between fine art and everyday creativity was artificial: gathering bits of detritus from the factory floor – wood, metal shards, dust, fabric, string – he constructed his own makeshift printing plates, embedding these found materials in the matrix to create abstract compositions with striking, varied textures. Boudník had already begun experimenting with these techniques in his public actions on the streets of Prague in the late 1940s. In their rough, irregular forms and earthy palette of browns, greens, and reds, Boudník’s prints often suggest primordial organic matter. In both works titled Krajina (1960), for instance, the composition is dominated by central areas of reddish brown, recalling distant bird’s-eye views of a land mass.
Vladimír Boudník was sent to a forced labor camp in Germany during World War II. After the war he studied printmaking in Prague from 1945 to 1949, and subsequently evolved into an influential figure in Czech postwar art. From the late 1940s to the late 1950s he became a pioneer of happenings, and in the 1960s he created work that involved the participation of psychiatric patients. He became the founder and major representative of Explosionism and formulated the movement’s principles in a number of manifestos. During the 1950s and ’60s he invented experimental printing techniques inspired by his experiences working in different factories during and after the war. For his ‘active prints,’ which he began in 1954, he treated Duralumin sheets with industrial tools and materials (such as nails, pieces of metal or blades of lathes), or burned them with oxyacetylene. His ‘structural prints’ (begun in 1959) were created through the fixation of materials like sand, pieces of fabric and emery paper to the plate. With these innovations Boudník realized powerful compositions that he produced in different colors and limited numbers. He befriended the author Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997) while working together at an ironworks and appears as a character in several of Hrabal’s novels.