Janez Knez, Retrospective Exhibition of Printmaking

24. 03. 2015 - 09. 08. 2015
In front of the shaft − miners, linocut, 1961

The painter, printmaker and sculptor Janez Knez was born in the village of Dobovec in Kumljansko. His father was a miner, working as a mine foreman, and retired early due to an industrial disease, whilst his mother was a housewife. At the time of his birth, the artist’s family lived in a farmhouse called “At the Curate’s”. The young Mišo[i] spent his childhood in his native Dobovec, with an intimate connection with nature. It was there that, up until the outbreak of the war, he also attended primary school. The family was included in the second wave of deportations from Kumljansko and the surrounding area organised by the Germans. In 1942, they were deported to Erfurt, where there was one of the assembly camps for deportees from Slovenia. They remained in Erfurt until the end of the war. Upon returning to his native village, Knez first finished primary school, and then went on to the lower grammar school[ii] in Trbovlje. He must have inherited his artistic inclinations from his mother, for she was a remote relative of the painter Matevž Langus. According to the artist himself, the impulse to create art came from Jakac’s and Mihelič’s partisan prints he had seen published in newspapers. His talent was also recognised by a teacher at the grammar school who encouraged him to enrol at the Ljubljana-based Crafts School. After having finished secondary school, he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana in 1954. His professors at the Academy included: Maksim Sedej for painting, Riko Debenjak for graphic art and Gabrijel Stupica for evening art-nude courses. Upon graduating in 1958, he did his military service.

He had married Angela Cvar, a teacher in Dobovec, already before his studies. That is why, after his military service, he returned to his native Central Sava Valley. Two sons were born in his family. To improve the family income which only consisted of the single wage earned by his wife as a teacher, he produced several black-and-white prints depicting the life of coal miners and the industrial landscape of the ‘Red Coal Mining Districts’, commissioned by local political organisations, trade unions and industrial works. Under the same commissions, he also accomplished fresco paintings in Trbovlje and Karlovac, in the waiting room of the Trbovlje Mine, as well as the interior design for the ‘Rudar’ Hotel and the Primary School of Trbovlje. Later on, one teacher’s salary was joined by another as Janez Knez started teaching art lessons at the Tončka Čeč Primary School in Trbovlje. He remained in the teaching profession until the mid-1980s, when he decided to become a professional artist, and then retired in 1991. He did not stop creating until his death two decades later.

Knez’s artistic career is complex and unique. Following the initial realism which can be considered as homage to his roots and his native environment, Knez developed his unique version of Informel in both painting and printmaking in the 1960s. From there, he entered a world of imaginative, ornamental and grotesque art, only to find peace again in the strict monochrome visual language of the early 1980s which was both abstract and characterised by signs. From there, he returned again to the specific colourist landscape painting, the genre he remained loyal to until his death. In an interview, Knez himself noted: “Thinking of my career as a painter, I may say that it is characterised by several sharp switches: from Fauvism through Informel to the period starting in 1969 which I call ‘youth fragments painting’”.[iii]

These artistic switches, as he called them, were influenced by the circumstances relating to both life and emotions, along with his study travels to Egypt and Lebanon in the 1960s and to Paris together with his son Mišo in the 1980s. Overall, he was always in touch with developments in the realm of art both locally and abroad.

Janez Knez participated in over 100 solo and group exhibitions in Slovenia and around the world.

He took part in painters’ colonies, gatherings, ex tempore events and workshops, especially after his retirement, and was the prime mover behind the annual painters’ working gathering Art Kum. He was not only an artist, but also an influential cultural figure and a pedagogue whose primary objective was the democratisation of the fine arts. In co-operation with Milan Rijavec and some other cultural figures from the Central Sava Valley, he established the Coal Mining District’s Art Section “RELIK” in 1962, working for many years as a mentor to several younger artists. The Section which, back in 1966 had 20 amateur painters and 24 junior artists, survives today as the Association of Coal Mining Districts’ Artists. In the 1990s, Knez and his son Mišo held summer painting classes for children in his estate at Dobovec.

His work earned him many awards, including the Župančič Prize and the First-of-June Prize, the Eagle of Venice and two purchase prizes at the International Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana. He was a citizen of honour of the town of Trbovlje.

On the occasion of Knez’s 70th anniversary (in 2001), a retrospective of his work was displayed in Trbovlje’s Workers’ Home and a monograph by Aleksander Bassin published by Pomurska založba was presented. The next year, a retrospective exhibition was put on in Ljubljana’s City Art Gallery, later also in Gallery-Museum Lendava.

The MGLC Collection includes seven prints by Janez Knez, most of which belong to the cycle of districts from the Zasavje region and some to his abstract phase from the 1980s. Janez Knez was among the first artists to donate his prints to the International Centre of Graphic Arts in 1986 for its startup.

Influence and collaboration with Laibach and NSK
The early prints by Knez with their themes of the districts and the proletarian environment had an indirect influence on the development of the Slovenian retrograde art of the 1980s. The Laibach music group formed in his studio in 1980, one of the founders of which was his younger son Dejan. The prints of Knez on the other hand became the foundation for the subsequent works of the NSK collective.

First public tour
Thursday, 2 April 2015 at 5 pm, public guided tour of the exhibition, led by the curator of the exhibition, mag. Breda Škrjanec and the author’s son, Janez Mišo Knez


The catalogue entitled Janez Knez, Prints includes the essay by the curator of the exhibition, mag. Breda Škrjanec, The Topography of Life, The Prints of Janez Knez, the artist’s biography, documentation as well as reproductions of works. In the main essay, Breda Škrjanec considers the complete overview of the work of Janez Knez. The catalogue was designed by Ivian Kan Mujezinović.

Editor Breda Škrjanec
Ljubljana, 2015
124 pages, Slovene and English Language, colour reproductions
Price 19 EUR