Upon failing the entrance exams to art school in the 1940s Karl Spreitz was told by the examining professor, "Fame is nothing but an empty ego and success will only come with talent." Known today as a painter, graphic artist, photographer, and documentary filmmaker - the many creative talents of this man are, ironically, undeniable and his success is equally evident.
Karl Spreitz was born in Graz an der Mur, Austria, in the late 1920s where he was raised by his mother and stepfather. His family, especially his stepfather, Ernst Spreitz, who was also an artist, highly encouraged him to study the arts. Ernst introduced multiple creative mediums to his young son including, mural and fresco painting, puppetry, and photography.
Popular cinema became another major source of Spreitz's early visual art education. Spreitz opted, on a regular basis, to spend his days in the movie houses of Graz rather than in the schoolhouse with the rest of his peers. Adventure and horror films like, Frankenstein, Cowboys & Indians, and Tarzan excited Spreitz and fuelled his story-telling imagination.
After the war, which had seriously disrupted the Spreitz family, it was decided that Spreitz should go to art school. Spreitz, however, failed the entrance exams and, distraught, decided that same day to write entrance exams for Physical Education at the University of Graz. He was accepted and very quickly progressed, finding ways to incorporate his artistic creativity into his physical education, especially through writing and pedagogy.
Through physical education Spreitz developed a fascination of how body movements could be broken down into sequences and each one studied as if it were made in slow motion. His work in this area earned him a coaching position at the University of Graz. In 1948 he was promoted to the position of Assistant Coach to the Girls' Olympic Team of Austria. As Assistant Coach, Spreitz met and coached Olympic bronze medallist Ina Mayer von Bojan, whom he married in 1953.
In 1950, during his Olympic coaching career, Spreitz acquired a 16 millimetre movie camera, which, he convinced the team officials, he would use for training purposes. With this camera, filming the European track and field events in Brussels, Spreitz began to teach himself the skills of motion film production.
After immigrating to Canada in 1952, Spreitz took on a variety of jobs in various industries. Of these early positions, Spreitz made his biggest impact as a plastic extruder at General Tire in Welland, Ontario. There, in collaboration with rubber chemist Jim Brown, Spreitz designed the first successful plastic refrigerator door gasket, a device still in use today by manufacturers.
In 1957, Spreitz moved to Santa Barbara, California to attend the Brooks Institute of Photography. After completing his program at the Brooks Institute, he moved to Prince George, BC, where he worked for one year as a newspaper photographer. It was not until the 1960s, when Spreitz moved to Victoria, BC, however, that his artistic style developed and his career as an artist was realized.
Shortly after his move to Victoria, Spreitz met a variety of local artists with whom he would develop close and influential friendships. Included among these artists were Herbert Siebner, Myfanwy Pavelic, Richard Ciccimarra, and Michael Morris who all encouraged Spreitz in his painting and drawing.
Spreitz's big film debut was in 1964 at the International Film Festival, in Victoria. There, he won first prize in the British Columbia category for Steelhead River, a film featuring Richard Ciccimarra as a fisherman. This twenty-minute documentary, depicting an actual fishing trip on the Cowichan River, was noted particularly for its authenticity. Spreitz continued to film the outdoors of British Columbia and the lifestyles of its residents as a staff photographer for the magazine Beautiful British Columbia from 1965 to 1968, then from 1968 to 1972 working for CTV television. He has also worked as a freelance filmmaker and has made films for the National Film Board, the Provincial Museum of BC, and the BC Department of Travel and Industry. While his reputation as a filmmaker and photographer rose, Spreitz also maintained his interest in painting and collage. In 1972 he joined his friends Herbert Siebner, Elza Mayhew, Richard Ciccimarra, Maxwell Bates, Myfanwy Pavelic, and Robert de Castro, as a member of the Limners Group of artists. Over the years Spreitz has collaborated with these artists on various projects such as books, art exhibitions, portrait productions, and short films. Karl Spreitz still resides in Victoria and maintains an active role in the local arts community.
The Karl Spreitz Film Collection consists of more than 213 reels of 16mm film representing various stages of production. These films, especially the ones which Spreitz has produced on his own or in collaboration with various artists and friends, are of a very personal and documentary nature. Covering a period over the last 35 years, the content of the collection describes the working process of various artists, the lifestyles of the local community, historical events, as well as various special interest areas such as Native art and culture, politics, and the environment. Furthermore, the historical quality of the films is a tremendous value in itself, both in terms of film production, and as a partial record of the career of Karl Spreitz.
Many of the films were produced in the 1970s, at the height of the "underground" film movement, which was characterized by experimentation and diverse forms of self expression. The influence of this spirited time is evident in much of Spreitz's work. During this period, the National Film Board was also highly supportive in the development and exploration of various areas of film, especially animations and documentaries.
All the films in the collection were produced on 16mm film with very little funding and limited resources. The cumbersome and heavy equipment used by Spreitz was markedly different than the compact and versatile devices used today. The film he used, which is now obsolete, had very little light sensitivity and was not, therefore, especially forgiving when it came to low-light shooting. Most film was spliced together with cement splices, which, when improperly stored, have dried out and come apart over the years (tape splicing has replaced much of the cement splice).
Camera Original: All of these films are 16mm, either colour or black and white. The camera original is the film exposed in the camera and will remain the first and most important source for the image.
Work Print: From the camera original, the work print has been made to allow the editor to cut the film, handle it, and run it through various machines, which could otherwise damaged the original. The work print includes the edge numbers, which would eventually be confirmed to the camera original.
Sound Track: The sound track, recorded on magnetic 16mm film, would be cut in sync with the picture and then, in a final cut, merit and an answer print would be made.
Answer Print: The answer print contains the picture and the sound to be projected and corrected. The first answer print usually needed colour corrections and exposure timing for under or over exposed scenes. At this point, the sound track still could be changed, rearranged, and another answer print made.
Outfootage: Outfootage is mostly camera original which has not been printed, but contains important information that is not included in the final film. Outfootage could also be found as a work print that ended up in the editor's bin.
Beautiful British Columbia Magazine.
Bovey, Patricia E. A Passion For Art - The Art and Dynamics of the Limners (Victoria: Sono Nis Press, 1996).
"Colin Browne Section," The Capilano Review no. 18, 1980. pp. 5-33.
Emery, Tony. "Artists’ Confidence Shown By Excellence of Exhibit," Victoria Daily Times April 29, 1967. p. 15.
"Extrusion of Plastics - New Projects in Progress," General Observer September 23, 1955.
Gore, Tom. "Siebner and Spreitz . . . Sense of Whimsical Fantasy" Arts West vol. 2, no. 4, 1977. pp. 7-13.
Nowosad, Frank. "The World Perfect And Apart," Monday Magazine (Victoria) September 3-9, 1987. pp. 1, 7.
"Plastic Extrusions now Operating Continuously," General Observer October 28, 1955.
Siebner, Herbert. Color Line and Form. (Sidney, British Columbia: Review Publishing, 1970). Skelton, Robin, et al. Herbert Siebner – A Celebration. (Victoria: Morriss Publishing Ltd., 1993).
Skelton, Robin. "Karl Spreitz," The Malahat Review no. 37, January 1976. pp. 56-64; with collages, ink drawings, and mixed media assemblages by Karl Spreitz pp. 16, 28, 48, 52, 53, 96, 113, 128, 138, 146.
Skelton, Robin. "The Limners – The Travelling Journeymen," Arts West vol. 6, no. 9, October 1981. pp. 40-47.
Spreitz, Karl. "Recent Drawings," Writing Magazine winter 1984. pp. 14-19.
Tuele, Nicholas and Liane Davison. Art in Victoria 1960-1986 (Victoria: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1986).
|Spreitz, Karl||Good Way to Make Heads Turn||Mixed Media||U976.5.1|
|Spreitz, Karl||Maybe the Rooster Came First||Gouache; Surrealist||U996.25.100|
|Spreitz, Karl||Where Do You Want to Go?||Gouache; Surrealist||U996.25.101|
|Spreitz, Karl||Untitled||Screen, Silkscreen||U996.25.103|
|Spreitz, Karl||Unmasked Clown||Acrylic; Portrait||U996.25.53|
|Siebner, Herbert; Spreitz, Karl||Untitled||Serigraph||U996.25.85|
|Spreitz, Karl||Look What My Girdle Did To Me||Ink; Female Figures||U996.25.94|
|Spreitz, Karl||Government Drinking Fountain||Screen, Silkscreen||U996.25.95|
|Spreitz, Karl||Untitled||Oil; Surrealist||U996.25.96|
|Spreitz, Karl||Self-Propelled||Mixed Media||U996.25.98|
|Spreitz, Karl||Behind the Barn||Gouache; Lanscape||U996.25.99|