Ladislav Belica was born on 12th November 1959 in Prostejov, in today’s Czech Republic. He graduated from the High Hotel School in Piestany, Slovakia. Then he worked as a waiter in Slovakia and Austria, and later as an accountant in a private catering company. Ladislav is intensely involved in drawing since his childhood, he began publishing after 1989, and since then his cartoons appeared in more than 20 Czech and Slovak periodicals. He is mainly concentrated to creation of cartoons and illustration – he illustrated several books. Ladislav Belica is a member of the Slovak Union of cartoonists. His works have been exhibited in numerous exhibitions at home and abroad. His artworks gained several significant national and international awards at various cartoon festivals. In 2007, in the competition of the Journalist’s Award he was awarded for outstanding contribution to the development of contemporary cartoons in Slovakia. A year later he won the prestigious Golden Gander award at the International festival of Humor and Satire Kremnica Gags. Ladislav Belica lives in Trencin, Slovakia.
When you say Laco Belica …
(from the memories of his fellow Peter Ulicny)
That remembrance is thirty-five years old, but still failed to moss in my head, nor the auntie Sclerosis managed bit me of it. It was a day of entrance exams for the High Hotel School in Piestany. We have just completed the first act – written test from mathematics. I am standing now in the hallway along with other “suffering” and enjoying a break until begins another – even though much smaller martyrdom – test from Slovak. Some people try to gauge stage fright by nervous swirling down the hall, others standing in groups are comparing their results of exams, another stare into papers and at the last minute try to cram into their heads something of the Slovak language. What actually wrote that Jan Holly and what the hell is the adverbial determination of the place? Only then I noticed that guy. He stood away from the others, almost at the end of the hallway, hunched over his workbook which was placed on a windowsill. He diligently wrote something into it. When I approached him, I realized that the guy doesn’t write, but he draws. And when I was about two steps away from him, I saw that the whole page of his workbook has been covered with small, filigree characters which resembled the running crew of legendary Yellow Submarine. On that sterile school hallway with fresh smelling linoleum and portrait of Gustav Husak acted that guy with his pictures as a revelation. In his position, facial expression and sovereign pencil strokes was passionate enthusiasm. At that moment, he was apparently just interested in how will end the story created by his own hands … and some entrance exams were at that moment indifferent to him. I immediately wanted to get to know him. Till today, I feel a little ashamed for the indiscretion I disturbed his circles. But I couldn’t do anything else. I approached him and began to pat him on the shoulder for his art creations and tattle something that at the admissions to the hotel school I really didn’t expect such a guy who will during a break “repeat” by his pencil instead of Slovak language the style making elements of pop art. “Hi, I’m Peter”, I introduced myself and offered him my hand. Only then he really rose his head from his workbook. Behind thick lenses of his eyeglasses looked at me thin lines of his eyes – at that moment it occurred to me that this way is squinting a man who doesn’t want to admit too much light from this world into his head. For the reason, that it needlessly didn’t irradiate nor make blind his own world. That one which he carries in his head. So, this way I met Laco Belica.
A week later I unsealed the envelope and read that they accepted me. I was happy, but I also really wished that the same message had in his mailbox also the guy who draws so nicely while listening to the Beatles. My wish was fulfilled. On the first September, when I came to the class among new classmates, I searched for that guy in glasses. Thank God he sat there. Impartially and spirit blankly, but he sat there. I didn’t know many people in my life who by their expression, movements, mimics or mere posture so apparently show the state of mental absence at the places where coincidentally – and sometimes also against their will – has appeared their body. Laco’s almost sleepwalking and narrowed eyes soon became his characteristic, something like his brand. Gym teacher right at the first lesson “liberated” him from the obligation to attend his physical training … He was so appalled by Laco’s “antiathletic” image and attitude. Maybe that he just realized that to this individual any rapid movements or chasing the ball might be not only strange, but even life-threatening.
At the moment I perhaps didn’t understand it, but now, in hindsight, I know that in the person of Laco I discovered one of the most important persons in my life. Soon we both understood that the school in which we found ourselves, would be suffering for us. Fatal mistake. Especially practical classes terrified us … world of hotel receptions, kitchens and restaurants somehow didn’t rhyme with “our” world. I don’t know what we actually have been awaiting from the school, but suddenly we feeled as stowaways on a train rushing completely the wrong direction. In a moment we were both stowaways but also the black sheep. School or extracurricular life we participated only to the extent that we wouldn’t be thrown out from school. So to speak, we lived on another planet. Laco in his free time drew and drew, or read, I read and read in tandem with him. And besides, we have tried to write poetry and articles. We have created our parallel, imaginary world which we always have been entering in after leaving school and left it only in the morning, with the first ring which started a new schoolday. After some time we managed to get a common room in our hostel where breaking of all possible rules (I don’t know how it is today, but in “socialism” secondary boarding schools were not far from penal quarters) we gradually formed something like “studio”. Afternoons in the dorm, which should be dedicated to self-study, we always slept in order to have enough strength for our “night life”. After 22 o’clock educators usually no longer bothered us. So, we could in the light of the night lamps, with cup of coffee and strictly forbidden cigarettes do our “art”, to which we usually played songs of the Beatles from Laco’s (even then antediluvian) tape recorder. When I found out that in the past, at the school was issued a school magazine with a bizarre name “Fireplace” I was immediately interested in whether it would be possible to renew its issuance. I took it as a chance to make our interests “official”. Our Slovak and English teacher, Mrs. Kolenciakova, who had previously under her auspices the magazine, adopted our offer enthusiastically – and in turn she kept a protective hand over us until the end of the study and even “legalized” our late nights at dormitories. Since then we could light in a boarding clubhouse late into the night – always with a ready reply that we were preparing next issue of the magazine. I was the “boss” of the magazine, writing articles, poems and doing interviews with anyone, Laco illustrated everything and occasionally added some epigram or absurd story. At the same time we were sending our works to all sorts of art competitions and regularly winning some prizes. However, important was something else. Although, we made a mistake in the selection of study, but in the choice of friendship we haven’t failed. Together we tolerated our destiny much easier. The “midnight” world in dormitory room, converted into Jeffers lighthouse kept us afloat; everything that a person entrusts to paper, if discovered a desire and ability to write or draw. Laco doesn’t come from an artistic family and even he hadn’t access to catalogs and monographs of artists (at the time of the deep normalization there were only a few of such lucky people) but he still astounded me with his knowledge and outlook. When he spoke about Dali, Rene Magritte, Roland Topor, Fernando Arrabal, Rudolf Hausner and many others, he was able to describe their work so vividly that even the “original” couldn’t look better. He was carefully cutting out from our and foreign press everything about art and cartoons that was at least somewhat worth. His press-cutting archive was for us in those times a sort of prehistoric “Google”. We have lent to each other books and music and during school holidays (I’m from Bratislava, he is from Trencin) we had regular correspondence. It was more or less the pataphysical samizdat, by its appearance and pasted pictures imitating magazines, content of which couldn’t understand anyone on this planet – besides us, of course. Incidentally, over time our communication got so many marvelous neoplasms and verbal garbled, that people around us might believe, that instead of Piestany we belong to Pezinok (where is known Psychiatric hospital). We promised that once when we will be ”big”, I will write books and Laco will illustrate them. What encouraged us was the fact that when his pictures (namely cycle of tempera paintings “Fool’s garden”) were seen by Albin Brunovsky (famous Slovak graphic artist whom we once unannounced attacked at his house) who eyed to them with a raised eyebrow and then he recommended to Laco to try study at the Academy. And then came the graduation and college entrance exams. I succeded to be accepted at the Faculty of Journalism, but unfortunately Laco wasn’t accepted at the Academy of Fine Arts. So, he was obliged to go to military service for two years. He was lucky to serve it in Prague where he could visit exhibitions and sweeping bookstores and antiquarian bookshops. In addition of that he was introduced to Oldrich Kulhanek (famous Czech graphic artist), who lent him books and consulted with him his works. After the military service, he tried again entrance exams at various types of colleges, which were somehow related to the visual arts. Again, without success. Laco was thus employed in the branch, which he studied, what meant that he was moving mostly in restaurants. (I’ve never seen him working in his profession and to this day I prefer not to imagine it.) Life went on and I felt Laco’s toil in unwanted employment as injustice (regarding his talent). I often blamed myself that I managed to achieve my dream, while he didn’t. Fortunately, he didn’t give up drawing. He had the drawing inside himself as any special disease and a gift at the same time. Although he couldn’t make his living with art, he couldn’t stop doing it. I gladly realized how he managed to move from free painting to cartooning. He relentlessly sent his works to magazines and competitions and gradually became a renowned cartoonist. When I later met a patron of the Slovak cartoonists – writer Kornel Foldvari I was very happy when he praised Laco’s drawings. He wanted to publish them in a special bulletin of the theater “Studio L + S” (but after the events of 1989 they had never been published). Then we haven’t been in touch for a long time. Laco went on earnings to Austria but I didn’t forget the promise given in the past. When in the middle of 90’s my book of lyrics and poetry was going to be published I asked the publisher whether the book could be illustrated by my friend from my high school studies. He had no objection, so we presented to the world our common dream incorporated into a book “Clown in the mask of man”.
I would be glad if I could end up this text at this moment. Because it would have been at least a nice punch line. But then came the bad things. When one day he phoned me that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I was on the perplex. I really did not know what exactly the disease means, but that phrase sounded ominously. And that it is really nasty plague, I immediately learnt from the relevant literature. When I was at the beginning talking about Laco’s physical fragility, I have never been thinking that his fragile body hides so strong spirit. It must be hell to observe the progressive degradation of his own body (Laco is today bedridden and can move only his head). He never complained nor declined at the spirit. Until the last moment, until his right hand “functioned”, he drew and drew. When he found himself in the anthology of Slovak cartooning, laconically called “Twentyfive” in the company of our best cartoonists, I was perhaps more excited than he. I’ve always been convinced, that he belongs to them. Anyway, cartoonists don’t make this world happier and “bearable” only on paper. When I learned that years ago during Laco’s Bratislava hospitalization at the Kramare hospital his colleague – cartoonist Fero Jablonovsky brought to his bed “for a chat” Tomas Janovic (renowned Slovak writer), it chased me to tears. They had never met before. What meant this meeting for Laco, describes his own comment: “Oh man, that visit was more for me as if the Beatles came to see me.”
Dear Laco! The fate indulged us to be together only during those school years. I often regreted that we didn’t live in the same city – and I mostly feel sorry now, when my visits could distract you a little and transfer you for a moment to those early times that we spent together. I have never said it loudly to you, but in those years you were the most important person for me. You gave me the courage and taste to do what I love, regardless of the circumstances. Unfortunately, I am not able to help you in your illness. But if the words could treat a little, I have to say to you loudly something that I owe you. One huge THANK YOU! From a distance I am sending you a melody from “Strawberry Fields”, where we will meet again – FOREVER.
(from the book “Twenty-five”, written by Kornel Foldvari)
As a graduate of the hotel school Ladislav Belica (1959) apparently had no reason to cross paths to art. Of course, if his talent hasn’t brought confusion to everything. Thanks to it, he stands out in our cartooning as an unexpected solitaire. In Trencin seclusion he is quietly working on himself and on the form of his drawings, publishes, sends his works to competitions … He has gained spurs as an illustrator and despite publishing barren years (due to which didn’t came out an anthology of cartoons in which he was represented) he weaves other plans – perhaps debut of his comic book.
As a self-taught artist he doesn’t facilitate his work on drawings, he doesn’t resort to the classic “naive” tricks of artistically untrained cartoonists. Programmatically prefers professional technique and fights hardly with its tactics. He successfully develops the basics that many years ago, when he was a soldier in Prague provided to him regular contact with Oldrich Kulhanek (the author of today’s Czech banknotes) and his lessons on the basics of pen and ink drawing.
Ladislav Belica is not a superficial joker of shortbreath’s themes, and cheap, “funny” deformation. He is a civilian restrained; insightful observer who is looking rather below the surface, and notes the themes with a wider range. Neat and visually soothing drawings provide us space to think about the dangers in our psychological make-up or about small philosophical paradoxes around us. We can not definitely describe him as a warrior, but his natural sensitivity doesn’t allow him to rise academically above the misery of our surroundings. He records them in such a way that even without major complaining rhetorical exercises we can see in them particular relation and the possible culprit (which, paradoxically, may be at the same time a victim).
He doesn’t give us the recipe for a solution – he just unlocks our way to it. All this with a light touch of poetic nostalgia of someone who is beginning to realize the vanity of everything, but he doest resign and is still looking for attractive features in the face of increasingly grimmer world.
For fullscreen presentation in “Slideshow” mode click under the picture to such button )
Cartoon Gallery expresses gratitude to personalities who participated in the preparation of this exhibition – namely to: Fero Jablonovsky who initiated the exhibition and provided complete materials for its preparation, Peter Ulicny and Kornel Foldvari who approached us in their texts personality of the exhibiting artist and primarily to the author of artworks – Ladislav Belica for his outstanding creative work which we now have the honor to present to European and world public. Thank you very much.