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Vale Petr Herel

A tribute display of the work of Petr Herel is on display at the Drill Hall Gallery, Riverbend Room, until August 14.

Petr Herel, born Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, May 19, 1943, arrived Australia 1973, died April 2, 2022.
Head of the Graphic Investigation Workshop, Canberra School of Art (School of Art & Design, ANU), 1979-1998

“The world is large
But in us it is as deep as the sea”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Petr Herel, a champion of printmaking and the artist book who inspired a generation of Canberra artists, passed away recently in Melbourne. He was 78.

Herel was born in Czechoslovakia and trained at the Prague College of the Visual Arts between 1957 and 1961.

He received a Master of Arts from the Prague Academy of Applied Arts in 1969, then was awarded a scholarship by the French Ministry of Culture to study in Paris, where he met his Australian wife Dorothy, and together they moved to Australia in 1973.

Herel was head of the Graphic Investigation Workshop at the ANU from 1979-1998, specialising in the development of artist books.

In 1992 he received a visiting fellowship at Monash University to establish the Monash University and Australian Print Workshop Artist Book Studio.

Herel introduced a dark European sensibility to his students in Canberra, as well as an extraordinary wealth of experience in techniques and possibilities in artist books.

Known for his ironic sense of humour, he has been described by one student as “complex – and a great deal was left unsaid… he was highly articulate – and elusive.”

In 1980 Herel co-founded Labyrinth Press with French poet, editor and typographic printer Thierry Bouchard; and, in 2007, established Uncollected Works Press from his home in Fitzroy, Melbourne, where he had moved after retiring from the ANU.

In 2009 he was awarded the distinguished Jean Lurçat Prize in France for his artist book Séquelle (2009), published by Librairie Nicaise in Paris.

An advocate of artist book making, he presented a collection of 246 books to the library of the ANU.

His work is held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the National Library of Australia, Canberra, most state galleries, and internationally in collections in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Vienna and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

In 2019, he donated 78 works to State Library Victoria, including artist books, proofs and mock-ups for his books.

Former students who visited him after the death of Dorothy, who predeceased him by almost six years, described him as a broken man, but one who is still remembered for his influence and for what one curator described as his ability to conjure up “visual magic”.

Petr HEREL, The truth about monsters: letter to a visionary engraver Jean Tardieu (1903-1995) [installation detail], 2007. bound book: 19 leaves, 3 etchings, letterpress [4/30], Text translation by James Grieve,Melbourne: Uncollected Works Press. Rare Book Collection, Menzies Library, Australian National University.

Using the etching as the starting point for comparisons, the poet and artist explore the meaning of opposites such as beginning and end, life and death, etc. through their respective mediums of words and the etching, these opposites produce the fantastic and grotesque similar to dreams which also help in artistic creation.

Links to the Print Council of Australia’s series of tributes by former students and members of the Graphic Investigation Workshop, Canberra School of Art (ANU School of Art & Design):

The Drill Hall Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.