The fundamental coordinate of the work of artist J.H. Kocman is his interest in paper and books. Without a doubt he is a figure who has established these two media in the Czech Republic as independent art disciplines and not only through his own work but also thanks to founding and heading the Studio of Paper and Book at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Technical University in Brno (1998–2011).
The beginnings of J.H. Kocman’s interest in art fall in the middle of the 1960s when he started to define his personal relationship to visual art through his work in the area of graphics and drawing.
Between the years 1970–1976 he produced a series of works, which he grouped under a collective title Activities.
My Activity 1970–1976
The area, which the artist refers to as My Activity includes concept-art, project-art, stamp-art and mail-art.
Most of these activities are concentrated on the area of communication with the cardinal factor being the creation of an individual relationship between the author and the addressee – a relationship implemented through Kocman’s works, which sometimes don’t even have the character of a priori artistic artefact, but they are merely a message.
A significant symbol of his other works is the reality that they refer to a certain action, which leaves behind an announcement about its course, or a type of often very subtle documentation. For example, Touch-Activity 1970 – 1973 falls into this sphere.
In the action Touch Study of My Surroundings (1971) the artist maps his surroundings with black imprints of his fingers coated with black print colour which are stuck on a teapot or tea cups. A natural opposite to this photographically documented action is Self-Touch Study (1971) in which the black fingerprints appear on the artist’s face. Even more subtle and similarly existentially toned is the Book for Documentation of Pure Experiences (1971). This is a book with white pages of paper.
His activities are in the first place a message, an invitation for communication, or a situation where we accept a certain message as a fact on the borderline of serious elegance and exaggeration. At the same time it depends on the mood of the viewer and his own interpretation codes, whether he is able to develop a taste for this playful personal mythology. These pieces of art work were created in a format easily spreadable with the help of correspondence – like mail-art. This is how they got in the circles of Kocman’s colleagues and friends, as well as to international shows and exhibitions.
Kocman entered the international context not only as a conceptual artist, but also as the editor of the first stamp-art anthology in the world in 1972.
In the mid 1970s the artist felt an inflation of mail-art, which made him change his focus not on the intentional message of the content, but on its carrier – the medium of paper.
Original Papers and Books
Kocman’s interest in original books dates back to the year 1970, which is when his Chromatographic Books (where he applies various colours in an empty sketch book) and Preserved Books (where he transversely cuts books revealing the structure of the script) originate. He later begins to study professional paper literature and he summarizes this study in his typescript brochure About Paper Senzibility, 1976.
The artist acquired his relationship to paper and books primarily thanks to his bookbinding teacher Jindřich Svoboda with whom he privately studied since 1976. Then later since 1979 he was educated by Tomáš Vyskočil in the field of paper and book restoration.
He did not only learn technological refinement but he also perfected his sensitivity for haptic and visual characteristics of paper and books, which helped him to further develop his conceptual foundation.
Within the scope of his work with paper and books he tries to communicate their physical qualities and autonomy. For J.H. Kocman original books and paper are not only mare carriers of information, but they are the actual content and message at the same time; this is through their matter and way of processing. The artist’s original papers and books contain special magic of “physical radiance”, which treats classical conception of the foundation of conceptual art work in the sense that the idea of the artwork has precedence over its physical implementation.
Both factors are present in Kocman’s work – an emphasis on the idea, as well as on the specifics of the material execution. His work thus presents – in the environment of Czech conceptual art – a quite unique sensibility, and what is also interesting is that the artist foresees the “evaluation of craftsmanship” – topic which is currently often stressed in the work of the youngest generation of conceptual artists.
The most numerous serious of original books is the so-called Paper-Re-Making Books. This is a game with words combining the words papermaking and remake. The basic raw material here are printed papers, which the artist further interprets. Their original content such as texts, reproductions, maps, music notes, etc. appear in a new context of the original book, or actually original paper.
A different example is the Book of One Cup of Tea where one cup of tea, including the tea leaves, is applied on a measured out amount of paper stock. The artist book 17 Friends originated under the participation of 17 Kocman’s friends whom he asked to send to him 500 grams of paper of their choice from which he made, by recycling, individual artist double leaves and combined these into his team work artist book.
Some of his artist books are characteristic for his work with reduction and paraphrasing. A well representative example is the Interpretations of E.A. Poe’s Raven from 1982–1990. In one of them he reduces 18 stanzas of the original poem out of which each contained the refrain Nothingmore, Evermore, or Nevermore into a book – an object where 18 grey-black sheets of the artist’s handmade paper corresponds to 18 stanzas of the original poem. The book is covered by layered, rough, sometimes slightly damaged suede leather, while in a number of versions the all-leather case bindings transformed to soft cover bindings with frayed edges that evoked a zoomorphic image of raven wings.
From the beginning of the 1990s J.H. Kocman evaluates his professional life knowledge and experience through pedagogical activity.
In 1992 Professor Igor Zhoř and Associate Professor Dalibor Chatrný invite him to take part in teaching at the newly founded Faculty of Fine Arts at the Brno University of Technology. He started to work as an external teacher at this faculty in 1993. He led lectures and seminars focused on conceptual propaedeutic, media of paper and media of book.
After working as an external teacher for six years he founded a new Studio of Paper and Book in 1998. This studio became a unique interdisciplinary platform thanks to its thematic orientation focused on interpreting paper and book as independent art categories leading from trade-technological and design foundations to the area of conceptual art. Since 1998 until the unfortunate cancellation of the studio in 2011, 49 students studied here. Their studio works were systematically presented at six exhibitions – titled analogically with the studio – such as Paper and Book I. – VI.
The seventh and most important presentation was the exhibition from 2005. It took place under the title Bläter und Bücher - aktuelle Papierkunst aus Tschechien in the Gallery Villa Zanders (Bergisch Gladbach, Germany), belonging to two European galleries specialized in the area of art of paper.
After leaving the faculty in 2013, J.H.Kocman continues to devote his time to his creative and professional activities on private basis. For those who are seriously interested in conceptual work, artistic handmade paper and artistic books, he offers consultations and “home” seminars in his house, where he also keeps an extensive archive devoted to his own work, as well as to hundreds of other Czech and international artists. Parallel with his archive he also developed a special professional library.
Šumavsko-Váchalovské interpretace J.H.Kocmana (katalogový list), Galerie Ztichlá klika, Praha, 2011.
Bläter und Bücher – aktuelle Papierkunst aus Tschechien (katalog výstavy), Stätdtische Galerie Villa Zanders, Bergisch Gladbach, 2005.
JHK - Autorské knihy a papíry (katalog výstavy), Galerie Rudolfinum, Praha, 1997.
Contemporary Artists, St. Martin s Press (New York), 4th ed. 1996.
Nová encyklopedie českého výtvarného umění, Academia (Praha), 1995.
Knobloch, I.: Jiří H.Kocman, Ateliér (Praha), 2011, č.2.
Klímová, B.: Zpráva o archivu Jiřího Hynka Kocmana a o sbírkách a stopách Jiřího Valocha - in: Klímová, B.: Navzájem. Umělci a společenství na Moravě 70. - 80.let 20. století, nakladatelství Transit.cz v Praze a FaVU VUT v Brně, 2013.
Klímová, B. : Zpráva o archivu Jiřího Hynka Valocha a o sbírkách a stopách Jiřího Valocha - in: Klímová, B.: Navzájem. Umělci a společenství na Moravě 70. - 80. let, nakladatelství Tranzit.cz a FaVU VUT v Brně, 2013.
Purves, T.: Contingency and the Ontic Book (Some reading of an Artist s Book by J. H. Kocman), JAB 9, The Journal of Artists Books, s. 21-24, spring 1998.
Valoch, J.: Brněnský okruh, Zakázané umění I., in: Výtvarné umění, č.3-4, s.141-174, 1995.
JHK: Josef Váchal Knihvazač (prolegomena), Sborník sympozia o Josefu Váchalovi, Klatovy, 27.-28.10. 2006, KLAS - Klatovská sympozia 01, Galerie Klatovy-Klenová, 2007.