I love the old libraries. There are a few of these in the very center of Zagreb, my hometown. Back in the days while we were students we used to go to one of them. During our exam periods, we would spend days there studying for our tests. At some point, it was also possible to study in the Old University Library. As my parents were telling me ever since I was a child, you could study there reading in the light of your own secession lamp. My parents were also telling me stories about the big owls that are decorating the library’s roof. And also, a lot about its secession interior and how its architect, Rudolf Lubinsky, was truly great. Today, the library serves as The State Archives, and you can visit it only by making previous arrangements. Or you can wait for some kind of event to be taking place in that building. There is this annual manifestation in Zagreb, a day in which you can visit all the museums for free. Over the years, this library was my primary target of many such visits. And I must say, my parents were right. Its interior is really magical. Even by day, but especially by night because the lights create so many contrasts.
It was during one of my visits to this building that I’ve seen an inspiring scene. This visit took place during one of these Zagreb’s annual events. After that year, they turned the manifestation into a digital thing because of the pandemic. First, I did the preparatory drawing. I used to call these sketches, but they are more like studies. This time, I was working on the drawing even longer than usual. I was changing it a lot and altering many details. But some other circumstances of the pandemic also contributed to my prolonged drawing.
However, I’ve changed my process a bit. Usually, I would decide in advance which parts of the linoleum block would stay uncarved and would be printed black, and which ones I would carve out and let them stay white on the print. This would all be resolved in my preparatory drawings. This time, the drawing stayed in pencil. And I was deciding about which parts will be black and which white during the actual carving. That made the carving process even more exciting. But it was also longer…I spent a lot of time checking how the block would look when printed. I was checking it using the frottages much like the ones below.
I based my decisions on whether a certain part of the linocut will be carved or not on a question: Is that part representing light or shadow? But I also decided to make some parts look like a negative of the picture. So the areas that are in the light I’ve shown as black and vice versa.
This time I used Armstrong’s battleship linoleum. When making the last two linocuts, I used some kind of substitute material. At that time, I couldn’t get a hold of my beloved battleship. Luckily, the people from the art supply store where I usually buy it managed to find another roll on the top of some shelf in their warehouse. Armstrong’s battleship linoleum is more difficult to carve, but I love it all the same.
Here are some phases of the carving. I loved the elegant rhythm that the chairs and lamps create. I also loved the curtain at the entrance in the great hall that reminds me of the ones they have in theaters. And above the entrance and the curtain, there is a painting by Croatian painter Mirko Rački. I read in schoolbook by my late university professor Radovan Ivančević that this was one of the first renderings of an aviator ever. In this painting, as it is written in the same book, there is also a symbol of medicine- a doctor with a skeleton looming behind him.
There are two more doors in the big reading room. The big one at the front is closed, and a small one, in the distance, is open.
People in the scene: an elderly gentleman (who has very nice shoes) that does his research in the light of his secession lamp. And a young couple in the background that is faced towards the exit.
The carved block.
First inking for a test print.
The finished linocut and my favorite details: the aviator and the secession lamp. Here it is, The Old University Library and the romanticism of a bygone era.
If you wish to buy this linocut, you can get it here.