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10 November 2021

Czechoslovakia to Blackfriars – a journey of discovery

In the middle of last century, a talented young artist fled his homeland of…

In the middle of last century, a talented young artist fled his homeland of Czechoslovakia to escape the communist takeover.

Starting a new life in Adelaide, Voitre Marek would go on to establish himself as an artist of some renown – and to create two pieces of artwork for Blackfriars that remain part of the school today.

The story of Voitre’s link to Blackfriars had been lost in time – until the late artist’s son, Ivan Marek, recently contacted the school, asking for any information on the works.

Ivan knew his father had completed the sculptures for Blackfriars, one in 1962 and one in 1980, but did not know what the pieces were – or if they remained at the school.

Guided by examples of other work by Voitre, Blackfriars staff members were able to identify the pieces.

Olga Sankey and Ivan Marek with the artwork created by their late father, Voitre Marek, for Blackfriars.

This week, Ivan and his sister, Olga Sankey, visited Blackfriars to photograph the works for inclusion on a website devoted to their late father’s art.

Olga said her dad would have been “really thrilled” his art was still on prominent display at Blackfriars.

“He died in ’99 and a few years before that, his brother took him around a few of the churches, just to check them (his art) out … it was his life’s dedication and work,” Olga said.

She said the metal piece on the side of the school’s gym would most likely have “started out as a small sketch”.

“Then he would photograph it, develop his film, project it up onto tracing paper … to the right scale and that’s when the texta colours would come in, felt-tip pens,” she said.

Picture courtesy National Archives of Australia/ NAA: A12111, 1/1969/6/161

The enamel and metal work included a double helix-like motif that Olga said was “very unique” in Voitre’s work.

Voitre was already a highly credentialed artist when, in 1948, he and brother Dušan, also a talented artist, fled what is now known as the Czech Republic following the communist coup.

The brothers had feared they would lose their artistic freedom under the communist regime.

Arriving in Adelaide, Voitre worked as an engraver and jeweller. He also regularly exhibited sculptural works and drawings in solo exhibitions and in shows with Dušan.

After a stint working and living in lighthouses with his young family, Voitre decided to focus on sculpture, taking a job in a wire works factory where he learnt the steel-rod welding technique he would go on to use in much of his work.

From 1962 to 1975, Voitre worked full-time on ecclesiastical commissions for churches throughout Australia, as well as on several major secular commissions.

He created works in wrought iron, copper, carved stone and wood, ranging from small holy vessels to large figurative sculptures, baptismal fonts, altars and the Stations of the Cross.

In 1997, his significant contribution to art was acknowledged with a papal blessing.

As well as at Blackfriars, Voitre’s work can be found in dozens of churches and schools throughout South Australia, but also in every state and territory in Australia.

This year, the Art Gallery of SA held a major exhibition, Surrealists at Sea, featuring the work of Voitre and Dušan Marek.

Voitre died in 1999, aged 80. For more on his life and work, see