Graphics is one of many art disciplines, which has not yet enjoyed full recognition within Czech free art. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, the work of Josef Hampl within the Czech-Slovak context is exceptional since it crosses over the boundaries of this medium although it is partially based on it. In a similar way, he draws from the possibilities of collage, gesture painting, sculpture or tapestry. Josef Hampl never studied at any art school and during the 1950s he was forced to work in heavy industry despite his effort to work in his father’s tailor workshop. However, in addition to working in Poldi in Kladno, he also worked in Pragovka in Vysočany in Prague where there was a high concentration of Czech intellectuals and where Hampl met and became friends with Vladimír Boudník. At the same time the factories had art studios where it was possible to work on one’s own projects and meet other creative co-workers. For Hampl’s artistic expression the key influences were, rather than the introduction to Boudník’s structural graphics, Boudník’s later experiments with pieces of fabric and printed thread, as well as the subsequent meeting with Jiří Kolář. Kolář, who, for a long time, had been perceived as a poet even by his closest circle of friends, made collages and drawings already during the 1950s which he enhanced in the 1960’s by textiles, among other things. Josef Hampl did not start working with stitched collages until the beginning of the 1980s primarily because, as he himself admits, of health reasons – when he could no longer fully handle sculpting work. Hampl’s “stitched graphics” grow to human dimensions and remind of the increasingly valued and popular artistic tapestry widespread in Czechoslovakia since the 1970s the representative of which included Hampl’s peer Bohdan Mrázek among others.
In the 1970s Hampl participated in the mail art movement, and he also carried out and documented his own actions in nature. Perhaps his most famous action was Arrow from 1976 the photographic record of which – several tens of meters long white arrow floating in the background of dark landscape – makes a formal parallel to Hampl’s graphics. Later he participated in an unofficial exhibition in Mutějovická Chmelnice (1983) with a spatial installation. However, on the domestic scene his presentation was rather rare as opposed to the Italian or German scene where he significantly broke through in the 1980s even outside of the context of galleries focused on graphics.
The parallel in Hampl’s work with a certain aspect of Kolář’s work is not only in the material used but also in their work with script. Josef Hampl, however, uses script much more directly. He is interested in its aesthetical quality more than in the symbolic value. In the 1970s he uses frottage for Hebrew script from Jewish tombstones; around the year 2000 he is captivated by the Chinese script, similarly to artist Květa Pacovská.
The dominant factor in Hampl’s works is their verticality contrasting with horizontal stitched lines. His voluminous collages interconnecting fabric, found papers, slips and letters resemble ruled paper pages. Hampl only rarely fills the entire area and a significant formal element of his large collages is, similarly to the serigraphy of Zdeněk Sýkora or Milan Dobeš from the 1990s, emptiness.
As opposed to the above mentioned artists, Hampl’s abstract looking works are deeply symbolic and personal, like when he integrates letters from foreign countries addressed to himself, therefore bearing his name, which becomes part of the art work. Related to that are also the names of the works, which are supposed to divert the viewer from the abstract game of forms to the inwardness of life stories.