Sunday, October 7, 2012


Cock your hat - angles are attitudes (Sinatra)

 By Heinz Decker

Hats seem to stimulate the imagination; maybe because they are a prolongation of the head. You wear them as protection against rain or cold, you wear them for the sake of fashion or prestige like the ladies at the Ascot races who often balance heaps of flowers on their heads while spooning their strawberries. For some the hat is part of their business clothes: the bankers’ bowler hats in the city of London is an antiquated stereotype today and only few chimney-sweeps in Germany are seen with their traditional top-hats, but magicians still perform their magic with the help of top-hats from which rabbits or doves emerge. Hats mark social status, can even become symbols like the hat that Bailiff Gessner in Schiller’s William Tell put up on a pole as sign of his power and had people pay their respect to.

Small wonder that hats also figure significantly on bookplates. Whereas creations of ladies’ hats mostly have an aesthetic function, men’s hats apart from their fashionable touch frequently indicate a man’s social role.

Fig. 1: Heinrich Vogeler, etching 1910

The art nouveau artist Heinrich Vogeler created one of the many reading women for Selma Löhnberg, the wife of his friend Dr. Emil Löhnberg. Dreamfully the lady in a flowered dress is sitting out in open nature with her book, embedded in a tendriled floral frame. Her hat with its arrangement of flowers corresponds with the frame and turns the beauty into a flower as in Heinrich Heine’s Verse: “You’re lovely as a flower, So pure and fair to see.”.

Quite different to that art nouveau hat is the top hat that the Russian poet Alexander Puschkin is wearing in Leonid Stroganov’s plate for Hans Dieter Köhler. Puschkin, walking across one of St. Petersburg’s bridges indicates through coat, cravat, walking-stick and top hat that he is a city man who used to be present at the tsar’s soirees. The hat here functions as proof of Puschkin’s social belonging.

Fig. 2: Leonid Stroganov, etching, 2006

Another writer who can be identified by his hat is the Hungarian ethnographer Dr. István Ecsedi. He figures in Jenö Haranghy’s bookplate for him in the traditional costume of the herdsmen of the Hortobágyan Puszta on which he wrote a book. The hat identifies his country and his topic, the quill is a symbol of his profession. The sweep well in the background is characteristic of the Puszta landscape.

A fellow writer, James Joyce, too, can be recognized by the hat he is usually wearing on photographs. His glasses, walking stick and ring now shown in the Martello Tower in Dublin are also characteristic of a half blind writer who nevertheless attached great importance to a dandy like appearance. 

Fig. 3: Jenö Haranghy, Cliché, 1934                       
The Swiss artist Philipp Roger Keller used a well known photograph for the bookplate he made for my Joyce books. In the integrated little caricature of the Irish writer the hat is also important.

Fig.4: Philipp R. Keller, Etching, 1996

The headgear worn by the two ladies in the bookplates by Hermann Bauer and Carlo Egler is the crowning touch in the presentation of two outstanding female types.

Fig. 5:Hermann Bauer, Etching

Pearls jewelling the transparent bonnet worn by the Spanish lady in the plate for the great collector Jordi Montsalvatje in combination with the necklace and the ribbon around the forehead give her the appearance of a Renaissance princess.

Fig. 6:Carlo Egler, Line Block, 1915

The stylised female head with the capricious hat in Egler’s drawing suggests a vamp like woman fitting well into the “Romanbuecherei” (novel library) of the owner.

Whereas hats on bookplates in the first half of the 20th century usually are accessories of real persons and thus contribute to reflecting the cultural reality of those days, hats in the contemporary bookplate are also used as components of a fantastic, surreal or absurd world. Looking at these enigmatic pictures stimulates the imagination of the observer and makes him start speculating.

On his engraving for Dottore Mario Ornati the artist Jürgen Czaschka is making use of a Magritte-quotation. Playing with René Magritte’s Ceci nèst pas une pipe (this is not a pipe), he places Magritte’s famous pipe in the focus of his plate. The blue ex libris smoke produced by the pipe comes from behind the ear of the Belgian artist whose faceless half bust on the right margin is identified by the typical bowler hat.1 Parodying Magritte’s method the artist states that the pipe is not Magritte’s. The ambiguity of the pictured world becomes even more surreal by placing the pipe behind Magritte’s ear. It is left to the spectator whether like Magritte he sees an epistemological problem in the world depicted or whether he takes it as what it also is, a huge joke.

Fig. 7: Jürgen Czaschka, copper engraving, 1999

The internationally well known Lithuanian-Polish artist Stasys Eidrigevicius has created a number of unmistakable bookplates. With his highly stylised figures he also takes us into a surreal world.

His etching for Anders Lindahl is dominated by a two-dimension mask-like face wearing a hat, which has a window-like hole on its right side. Through the opening an object with a long handle ending in a mesh is covering the right eye. Whereas the left eye is empty, a sphere-like hollow, the right, “seeing” eye can perceive the world opposite only through the meshes of the net. Like the viewer of the picture the person viewed seems to have a problem of perception. Where one would assume a brain behind the hat there is only emptiness in which little dark particles are floating that can be found also around the head. Dissolution of matter composed out of such particles? “What a piece of work is man”? (Hamlet).

Mankind falling to pieces or just a caricature of a potato shaped head for an avid bookplate collector? Or perhaps the owner Anders Lindahl was a tennis addict seeing everything mainly through his tennis eye.

       Fig. 8: Stasys Eidrigevicius, etching                                                                Fig. 9: Lembit Löhmus, copper
                                                                                                                                                 engraving, 2002

Lembit Löhmus created an imaginative exlibris for Brigitte Rath. A pretty woman’s head wearing an over dimensional hat finds itself between heaven and earth. The hat is decorated with equally over dimensional peacock feathers. The headgear allows its wearer to have her head in the clouds. Looking more closely you discover that the part above the brim is a Babylonian tower, a skyscraper, whose façade does not clearly disclose whether the building is still intact or already in ruins. The clouds have tightened, predicting a coming thunderstorm, and what the eye in the feather is perceiving remains as obscure as the top of the building camouflaged by the clouds.  The hat, an emblem of man’s hubris seems to be a heavy burden for the woman.

Hats also dominate on Ivo Mosele’s witty etching for Giancarlo Torre. Eight and a half hats hint at the theme of this plate which, however, is not dedicated to Federico Fellini, the great film director, but to his friend, the author of the script of his film Otto e mezzo (8 ½), Ennio Flaiano. Flaiano’s eyes behind dark rimmed glasses are looking cryptically at the viewer who is perhaps pondering about the significance of the eight and a half hats. 

That it seems to be the same hat always does not make the enigma less difficult to solve. In C. G. Jungs’s depth psychology which influenced Fellini during this period hats in dreams are a mark of the persona of the person dreaming. His film visualises transitions from the real world into a dream world and vice versa. The manifestation of hats from the real world is turned into a visual experiment of Mosele that has its origin in the brain of the scriptwriter Flaiano. The artist thus provides a further interpretation of the film title that up to then only referred to the eight and a half films that Fellini had so far completed.

Fig. 10: Ivo Mosele, etching and aquatint, 2010

Hats as decorative accessories, hats as marks of identification and hats as an entry into fantastic worlds. Which meaning we attribute to hats in bookplates depends on our way of seeing which is always subjective. Contemporary bookplate artists design a more complex visual world than the earlier ones so that when looking at their pictures we have to watch more closely.

To decipher surreal worlds is more difficult than calling a pretty hat pretty. Whether we see the hole in Eidrigevicius’ plate as a loophole to freedom that only art can provide as against the imprisoned vision of modern man is left to each individual viewer.

So let us be on our guard not to get lost in unreality.

1. On a photograph by Lothar Wolleh Magritte is shown with such a hat.



Thursday, September 13, 2012




When I entered the beautiful world of ex libris I met many important artists, collectors and connoisseurs. I soon realized that ex libris design was a part of contemporary graphic art, with lots of peculiar requirements and challenges for the artists. The art of the bookplate is popular all over the world and a lovely way to exchange creative artistic ideas.

Hristo Kerin is a Bulgarian artist who began working in the graphic arts in 1995. Born in 1966 in Pazardjik, Bulgaria, he received his Master of Fine Arts in 1992 from the University of Veliko Tarnovo " and Methodius", Bulgaria. He is presently a Fine Arts faculty member teaching printmaking at the University of Veliko Tarnovo.  

Kerin’s work in graphic arts includes miniature prints, ex libris and illustrations. He has been an active participant in scores of international graphic exhibitions since 1996 including Spain, Mexico, Poland and the United States. He has presented many one man exhibitions in Bulgaria and abroad.  Hristo Kerin became acquainted with marks of ownership during his high school arts studies in Plovdiv. At the University in Veliko Tarnovo he took his initial steps in small graphics and ex libris. Peter Lazarov is the well known bookplate artist who was Hristo’s mentor in school. Most of us know Lazarov’s exquisitely detailed wood engravings. Kerin has been inspired by and appreciates the works of many internationally famous artists, but some of his favorites include the works of Peter Lazarov, Julian Jordanov, Konstantin Kalinovich, Roman Sustov, to name but a few.

In 2000, Kerin gave serious attention to the art of ex libris and created his first hand colored bookplate etching. With this he found his passion and he went on to create more. Luc van den Briele, editor of the Belgian journal Boekmerk wrote: With its intriguing content and professionalism this ex libris undoubtedly evokes in the careful observer a longing to see more of the work of this artist. Since 2000 Kerin has created more than 100 ex libris.  Hristo works with many subjects that collectors offer him, but has special interests in mythology, literature, history, fairy tales, nude and erotic themes. It does not come as a surprise that there is such an interest in his ex libris. The technical superiority and thoughtful, innovative composition is Kerin’s approach to his creations. So many collectors find this appealing when considering a commission. In 2006 Hristo Kerin created a splendid ex libris for my interest in the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. Note the way he incorporates the maze into the complementary type style used for my name.