As an artist I think and work graphically - in line and predominantly in black and white.  Drawing is to all  other art as nudes are to clothed figures and as skeletal structure is to muscle and fur.  By observing well enough to draw something, one learns to identify weight-bearing structures, begins to understand  the lines of force,  and discern the relationships among objects.  For me, it begins with field studies; going out into the cold and heat,  dealing with biting insects - sketchbook in hand, learning to draw the twists and turns characteristic of a cedar or the unique ways in which only a bur oak branches.  Catfish tails fork in ways which those of carp do not and the operculum of a trout functions very differently in pumping water through its gills than do the spiracles of a lamprey.  As these structures and their visual clues become  second nature, I take this growing work into the studio and begin to invent plausible creatures who fit into compositions with symbolic content.

   The content of this work I do is three-fold:  The simplest level is an honoring of the creatures with whom I share this earth - the fascination with evolution and adaptation and all the wondrous variety of life and geology that occur on this planet.   In this I share an aesthetic ancestry  with a prodigious  pantheon of great as well as anonymous artists -  from those of the neolith,  painting by torchlight in caves, to tribal artists and primitives of all stripes.  Rembrandt loved his collections of sea shells and taxidermy specimens and drew frequently from that rich source of images.  The list goes on and includes Václav (Wencl)  Hollar, William Blake, Morris Graves, my own mentor Ladislav Čepelák  and ultimately most everybody who was ever a child daring to face creation with crayon in hand.

   The secondary  level of content stems from the ideas and  cleverness that my little monkey brain can generate.  I do need to be interested in what I do and the human is a fidgety being,  needing to stay amused - with the attention span of a chipmonk on most days.  I need to address my fellow man with statements about the big questions and be a part of the discipline as well.  It drives me to making books, staying at the press long enough to make an edition, to framing the finished work, communicating this through essays, composing my foolish website,  putting on exhibitions and trying my hand at computer-mediated print media.  It gets me up and moving.

    What is timely about my art and makes for good art-talk,  is, however,  the very thing that will soon make it dated and  uninteresting.  If my art is to have a second life, beyond my cleverly traversing the polemics of my day, it will by attaining to timeless values.  That happens when we touch that third  level of content - the mythic dimension.  Daring to depart from being merely contemporary; daring to be in awe of the simple and universal and even more;  daring to be seen in that vulnerable state;  one may hope to apprehend that which time doesn’t change; that which the prophets and sages obliquely address; that which Jung and Campbell approach by firelight in the night; that which informs Bach and Beethoven;  that which Galileo recanted but for which others have died; that for which  Rembrandt, DaVinci and Dürer are signposts; implied but never explicitly stated - because it is beyond words; and ultimately also beyond a picture.   This is work foreordained to coming up short of the ultimate mark, but it is also an attempt worthy of one’s lifeblood and limited days upon this earthwalk.  

   In such manner and for these reasons I examine and record the posies, the fish and the frogs - again and again -   taking on the recurrent themes of life, death and transfiguration – of nature as the crucible in which man finds a reflection of his own life and meaning.


Ladislav R. Hanka



Book artist

Who am I and how much shall I reveal to the casual visitor of my website?   I suppose  I’ll  tell you what seems relevant to the artwork I am showing you -  plus a little.

    My name marks me.  I  was born in  in 1952 -  in an ethnic enclave of Cedar Rapids, Iowa  – the son of recent exiles from the  worker’s paradise  of Stalinist Czechoslovakia.  Nazi occupation was a terrible stress under which my parents grew into an un-natural and premature, pre-wounded adulthood. Having their Russian liberators betray them and turn into the next foreign occupiers was too much. The crossed over the deeply forested mountains of the southern border into Bavaria in 1949 -  a time when the  Russians and their allies were trying to consolidate their new holdings in a very labile geopolitical environment.  Border-lands were insecure and filled with smugglers and cutthroats - never know who you might encounter.  The last hold-out  SS units were still battling it out with elite Russian troops in the hills.  A long concatenation of unlikely events led my folks to the USA where I grew up bilingual and thus ambivalent about many things -  seeing all too many sides to most matters.  That tends to irritate those with an agenda to promote.  Allegiances, beliefs, social norms and unexamined assumptions fare poorly in the eyes of a child whose home-life is not the norm.  That child rarely grows out of such frequently re-enforced skepsis.

    I passed through several belief systems, trying on various churches, sects and  academic disciplines for size and found them all worthwhile, but also to be discarded once outgrown.  I seem constitutionally incapable of growing comfortably old in a familiar and nurturing church or  political  party.  I must instead go back to  rediscovering the wheel and all else for myself.  I  continue to apply the time-tested means  of gaining empirical knowledge to all areas of life.  I observe. I meditate.  I come thereby to my own experience of the numinous in much the same way as all the prophets, scientists, artists and mystics who bring new things to their fellow man.  Of course most charismatic cult leaders, dictators and self-deluded nut-cases  have a similar approach.  Discernment is the key -  not taking one’s self too seriously. 

   My subject matter  will tell you where I find evidence of the divine.   I love to fish and gather mushrooms.  I cannot get enough of ancient trees and the way their asymmetries and gravity bring me back to a place of profound stillness.  The  very idea that trees alive today were seeded  at the birth  of the old kingdom of Egypt and are thus as old as the written word itself,  sets me free.    I kneel at their roots and feel blessed.

  I do have  artist credentials:  A  glance at the appended resume (CV) will confirm  an MS in zoology and an  MFA in printmaking, with some additional years of study abroad - Germany, Austria, Czechia.   I studied with Jindra Schmid, an engraver of stamps and currency in Prague and could be counterfeiter, but for the dreariness of spending one’s days making money, whether  legitimately or on the  sly. 


From the Depths of Minong, Isle Royale National Park, Etching

   I once was a zoologist and did environmental impact work for a nuclear power plant.  I have taught zoology  as well as art at universities.  I also synthesized pesticides for a  pharmaceutical firm being overpaid for criminal activities - which thankfully, paid  for my graduate studies.   If you want to know about nuclear power, my own experience is that anything you ever thought questionable about the industry - is an understatement.  It is far worse  – by orders of magnitude.   After five O’clock when the men in white lab coats go home,  the picture of  Homer Simpson asleep next to the controls is essentially accurate. 

     Today I feel profoundly grateful that I need not quantify, collect, nor analyze the enzymes of  living beings to earn my bread, nor must I engage in the competitive sophistry that characterizes much of the academic art press, but can , like Carl Linnaeus or John James Audubon, go about gaining my insights through direct observation, with pencil and paper at hand.


Ladislav R Hanka;     photo by Dave Kamm

Orphanage Nun; Lhasa, Tibet, drypoint

  Bowfin: Native American Lungfish

  drawing on mono-printed paper, 12” x 18”


Greensky Maple VII; Indian Trail Marker Maple,

etching with aquatint & drypoint,  12” x 18”

   l am married to a sculptor, Jana Hanka,  and live in Kalamazoo Michigan.  The life of two artists in one household is at once difficult and rewarding.  It would, however,  seem more wild and bohemian from a distance than in reality it is.  The hard-drinking, eternally socializing, dueling and discharging of firearms in public is a fiction promoted by Hollywood.  The artists I know are mostly conservative in their outward demeanor, in order to be free in matters of the soul and to dare be unbound enough by convention to be original.  Originality occurs mostly in silence - in that time we carve out of the hurly-burly and jealously protect, while the thundering heard of our colleagues by common cultural consent runs with increasing acceleration for that cliff , from which they will all be leaping en masse  – joyously meeting their  Madison avenue generated dreams.   I see my calling and my obligation to society (and posterity) as being a prophet and channeler of deeper truths rather than just being timely and self-evident.  That -  is a lonely proposition. 

I also having fishing credentials as this nice Steelhead will demonstrate  - caught on a small nymph pattern and  a 4 lb. test leader,  after about 45 minutes of gentle persuasion.

   For those of you who may be considering an investment in my works, fear not.   You will scarcely be the first to risk your money.   My artwork fortunately sells enough to  cover my needs and is today to be be found  in about 100  public institutions from Boston to  Prague and Beijing.    You will be gratified to know that  my artwork has over the last three decades been appreciating at a rate far in excess of the financial instruments available to ordinary brokerages  - about ten-fold in  that time.  I am however unsure if there is much of a pre-morbidity secondary market  competing with me for sales of my artwork.   I believe people buy my work because it is meaningful to them  and then hold onto it. 

   There is a great deal  of satisfaction in seeing ones artwork on somebody else’s walls - knowing that, like furniture, it has become invisible on most days, but that it is always there, gently impressing itself upon their lives, informed by spirit and   –  like rust.  it never sleeps.  I enjoy hearing from those who own my work;  so, please feel no trepidations about calling or writing me.

Return of the Sturgeon: etching with drawing 14” x 18”

Spawned Salmon



         “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

                                                                     Gustave Flaubert

Photo-credit: Sniedze Rungis

And of course this would all be in-complete without a nod to my piscatorial beginnings and fishing trips with my pappy.  He took this picture of me with my first monster trophy fish.  Must have been about 1960  when I would have been about 8 years old.   That really was a nice carp from Maple Lake in Pawpaw, Michigan – conveniently close to an ice cream stand and the car,  in anticipation of a child’s wavering attention span.  I do actually remember this event, probably with some help from periodic reminders that never allowed it to drift off into the mists of  long lost childhood memories.  I even stop by once in a while to wet a line or just slip into reverie.

An elderly black gentleman saw me catch that fish – with I imagine a fair amount of help from my father.  He must have been amused and I recall him coming over to congratulate me on a fine catch and then to offer me two dollars for it.  That was generous back in a day when two bucks bought a whole lot more than it does now, but he hadn’t counted on Czech immigrants having quite another relationship with carp than do garden variety white folk.  We esteem this fish quite highly – but  more importantly, two dollars was as unimaginable sum as a million and nearly meaningless to me.  Instead of cashing out or killing the fish, my father set a far higher standard for me that day by helping me to release that first memorable fish and making sure it stayed imprinted in my mind forever,  associated with my ancestry in an act of grace and sportsmanship.