Thursday, December 30, 2010
Arts: Lad & Jana Hanka Profile
Space in harmony
Artists share home, studio, life
On his web site, Ladislav Hanka writes that “two artists in one household is at once difficult and rewarding.”
When asked about that remark, Jana Hanka — Lad’s wife and the other artist he refers to — jumps in. “I’m like water. I flow where needed,” she laughs. “I flow around him.”
Lad adds with a smile, “And I’m like gas. I expand to fill the space.”
The Hankas, sitting around a small kitchen table as they talk about their shared home/studio space and their art, often prompt each other’s answers.
They bought the Civil War-era house they occupy on Kalamazoo’s Oakland Drive in 1987 from the State Psychiatric Hospital. It required “a lot of sweat equity,” Lad recalls.
These days, Jana has moved some of her sculpture studio work to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, leaving much of their house’s working space for her husband. She retains a room upstairs for painting.
“I like the quiet, I like the uninterrupted time,” Lad admits.
A printmaker, draftsman and book maker, he studied engraving in Prague. He grew up in Kalamazoo but notes that, “My name marks me — I was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of recent exiles from the worker’s paradise of recently Stalinist Czechoslovakia.”
Lad holds a bachelor of arts from Kalamazoo College, an MFA in printmaking from Western Michigan University and a master’s in zoology from Colorado State University.
He also spent time in the world of commerce. As he notes drolly on his site: “I once was a zoologist and did environmental impact work for a nuclear power plant. I have taught zoology as well as art at universities. I also synthesized pesticides for a pharmaceutical firm.”
And while Lad has “years” of study in eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic, that’s not where he met Jana.
Jana was born in southern Czech Republic, “15 kilometers from the German border, with lots of forests,” Lad says. She earned the equivalent of an MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, where she studied painting, printmaking and mosaics.
She also learned dance and movement from the Dramatical Academy for the Arts of the Muses.
She met Lad while traveling the United States in 1985.
“He got me with his drawings,” Jana says of her initial attraction. “He did not look bad, either.”
Along with their mutual interest in art, Lad “grew up speaking Czech.”
They married the following year in Prague. “The whole embassy came to our wedding,” Lad remembers.
These days they develop their art and expand their already impressive curricula vitae. Lad’s printmaking and engraving equipment fills their home’s first-floor studio space.
Jana stores some monumental projects-in-progress in the garage and her smaller sculpture — ceramic busts, masks, bronze and Pharaonic pieces — in a side room. She’s drawn horses on the kitchen wall.
Horses, in fact, are a major theme for Jana.
“I liked horses when I was growing up. There were all those American Western movies coming in,” she explains.
Two of her horse busts are on display at the Lansing Art Gallery.
And she doesn’t hesitate to tell how, as a college student, she fell while horseback riding and struck her head on a rock.
“I died. Then I came back (a month later),” Jana says.
The horse, for her, is a symbol of that transformation — “It’s one way to talk about ‘the other side.’”
“The horse bears you to somewhere else,” Lad interjects. “You can keep visiting the same theme and develop variations of that theme,” he continues.
Take Lad’s deep interest in nature, for example. You can see it in his etchings of apple orchards and marine life.
“It’s life, all the things that course through us,” he says. As someone who trained as a scientist, “I have a primal fascination with how things work.”
“There is an interconnectedness,” Jana chimes in.
Lad walks to his studio and pulls out an etching of his “Kalamazoo River Songline.” The finished work — six feet by two feet — won what he calls “the 11th prize” at this year’s Grand Rapids Art Prize: He sold it to the Grand Rapids Art Museum for its permanent collection as well as to the Detroit Institute of Art and Kalamazoo College.
“Kalamazoo River Songline,” as with Australian songlines or “dreaming tracks,” tells a story, Lad explains, tracing the westward path of the river on the etching with his finger. Here is Marshall, here is where he once caught a large fish, here is where he found mushrooms, here is where the Rabbit River comes in ….
The full-sized etching will be on display, along with a number of Lad’s other etchings, for the January Art Hop and through March at K College, technical services librarian Paul Smithson says.
“His work is beautiful artistically, it’s beautiful technically,” Smithson says. “He shows a wonderful mastery.”
As for now, the Hankas continue to work. They’ve just hosted their 15th annual holiday open house, which usually attracts up to 300 visitors to view the couple’s art and watch one of Jana’s dance/performance art pieces.
She’s choreographed 20 different dances over the years — as well as designed the masks and costumes, selected the music and written the scripts. One, “So You Are an Artist?,” calls upon deceased artists such as Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollock, to talk about their art.
Lad, along with the K College exhibit, has a one-man show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum beginning March 28 and a touring exhibit of his book-art etchings set to come to the United States in 2012.
In an artist’s statement for “Kalamazoo River Songline,” Lad wrote, “The sense of being comfortably at home in one’s own landscape is a delicate matter.” In their own home, he and Jana have found a balance, and it’s in their art.
“Trees: Markers and Metaphors”
Ladislav Hanka’s book-art etchings and “Kalamazoo River Songline”
5-8 p.m., Jan. 7, 2011
Light Fine Arts Gallery
Also through March 2011
A.M. Todd Rare Book Room, Upjohn Library Commons
Examples of Jana Hanka’s monumental art can be seen locally at Pine Meadow Farm, Augusta