Articles and Interviews > Frantisek Strouhal, Alchemy and Imagery

Frantisek Strouhal, Alchemy and Imagery

Frantisek Strouhal Alchemy and imagery: A young woman approached Frantisek Strouhal at the Winlaw post office and pushed up her sleeve to show him the tattoo on her upper arm. She’d been looking for the perfect tattoo image for years and had finally found it in one of Frantisek’s oil prints. She was enthusiastic; he was moved. “It was the best compliment ever,” he said. Such is life in the Slocan Valley— you may not know everybody but chances are you will run into them eventually. And they’ll probably show you their tattoos. The back road in Vallican is a fairly out-of-the-way place for a studio and gallery, but Frantisek has lived and worked there for the past 10 years and wouldn’t have it any other way. He and partner Chantal Robert have turned their log house into a warm and inviting space full of books, art, and music.  They share a passion for vegan cooking, fast games of tennis and making art—complicated, time-consuming art. Oil Printing is a technique that was developed in the mid-19th century as photographers were looking for ways to incorporate artistic elements into their prints. Known as the pictorial movement, the style, and imagery of its practitioners was a response to the ongoing debate about the status of photography: is it a science or an art? Pictorialists composed their works using the same care and aesthetic principles as other visual artists, injecting their own sensibilities into the images they captured through the camera lens. The works are often misty, romantic, and filled with symbolism. Think early Stieglitz, Steichen, and Julia Margaret Cameron. As digital photography has come on the scene, some photographers have rediscovered the early pictorialist techniques of oil printing and Bromoil. At the furthest end of the spectrum from selfies and Instagram, oil printing is methodical and labor-intensive. For Frantisek, the results are worth the time and effort. Oil printing allows him to control the look and quality of his final image and satisfies his need to create. “It’s a work on paper and it’s a craft,” he said. “You have to feel it in your hands.” The process begins in the studio. Frantisek uses live models and a 4-by-5 camera that produces large-format, 24-by-24-inch negatives. He determines ahead of time the image he wants to create and uses lighting and music to set the tone for the shoot. One bearded man who was invited to model told Frantisek that he had always wanted to play God. He got his wife to sew him a robe and arrived in character, complete with a walking staff. “Click. Done. Click. Done. It’s not so easy with everyone,” said Frantisek. After the prints are developed Frantisek scans them into his computer and begins work on creating a composition. The portrait photos are integrated with previously collected images of landscapes, architectural details, and objects in a collage effect, situating the person in an imaginary environment. These settings are intricate and dreamlike; the print becomes a story that leaves the viewer with a lot of freedom to interpret what is going on. Meanwhile, Chantal has prepared for the final print by soaking the 300-pound hot-press watercolor paper in a gelatin bath for two days. A digital negative is printed and a contact print made on the treated paper with UV light. The print is a sketch-like positive image, which becomes the matrix for the oil print. Finally, Frantisek applies lithography inks to the sketch, building up layer upon layer to create the desired image. Each one-of-a-kind oil print can take three to four weeks to complete. Frantisek’s father and grandfather were both painters and he sees his art as a form of personal development. “My artistic ideas just come from the inside: moment in, moment out; feelings in, feelings out,” he said. His influences include the Impressionist painters, classic Dutch still-lifes, and the Quattrocento, all of which are hinted at in his oil prints. Chantal provides support and acts as the detail person, looking after website development, competition opportunities, and gallery shows. The couple has plans to produce a video of the entire oil printing process along with a booklet of the history of oil printing and Frantisek’s technique. Look for them in 2015. Website:


Article by Margaret Tessman, in Articulate Magazine, page 23-24, fall/winter 2014-2015

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