Alternative landscapes of the 1950´s and 1960´s - From nature to vision

 
 
07.05.2009 - 14.06.2009

Exhibition "Alternative landscapes of the 1950´s and 1960´s - From nature to vision“ elaborate theme of landscape in works of the most eminent croatian painters in the 1950´s and 1960´s.

Alternative Landscapes and boundary transformations in Croatian painting in the 1950s and 1960s


Some of the most precious values of Croatian painting during the second half of the 20th century have been formulated on the stratified diversities of the inexhaustible topic of landscapes – real and alternative, micro- and macro-universes – on the one hand, and of synthesising visual formations from the organic condensation of motif heading in the direction of abstraction on the other.
The wish of this exhibition is to consider some of the earliest manifestations that in the historic reshuffling of the fifties and sixties were raised from quite ordinary and standards representation to the level of metaphor that had the significance of icon. One should point out at once that this is not about any discovery of general phenomena or individual contributions that have never been discussed or properly valued in our art history to date. On the contrary, many people have engaged with these phenomena. With this exhibition, which is a kind of a respectful tribute, I would like to express my gratitude for the promptings provided by the extremely ingenious writings of Igor Zidić, Grga Gamulin and Zdenko Rus, to restore this important segment of painting, still alive in the echoes of memory but not alas sufficiently present in public circulation, even if fragmentarily, to the focus, for us to be able, in a renewed encounter, to review their values.
The individual stylistic evolutions of reactions that are abstract or approximated to abstraction that developed from broad references to landscapes or some other imaginative, that is, alternative spaces and worlds, bring us closer up to the merit of things. The idea was broached long ago – to bring out to the light, to haul up from the treasuries of memory and from the museum stores and hidden collections the valuable painterly formations of individual achievements the autonomous visions and independent visual evolutions of which, very clearly marked by their primary stylistic authenticity, have been somewhat forgotten in the prevailing absorption in the avant garde. Particularly after in the last few years, with several retrospective exhibition and publishing projects of the avant-garde of the fifties, with Exat, Informel and the New Tendencies in the foreground, the period has undergone a real Renaissance of critical re-evaluation and public presentation.

I

In parallel with the phenomenon of the avant-garde, there was on the pluralistic art scene of the mid-fifties a second pole of abstract tendencies, marked by quiet and personal evolutions in transformations of style that unfolded without any major seismic shocks and cuts within the “dualistic soil of abstract art”. As against the trends that are in this country commonly connected with the concept of the avant-garde – avant-garde tendencies of a constructivist approach, Exat, Informel, open poetics and New Tendencies, a wide field of boundary derivatives developed, an organic condensation of motifs with reflexive and associative, lyrical of expressive, metaphorical and existential connotations and the significance of the ideogram, logical processes that introduced many of the painters of the country into abstraction, while some simply came up close to but did not overstep this boundary line. The phenomenon of the boundary was first described by Igor Zidić, who explained the position of the boundary in this way: “Boundary refers to those works that evoked the objective more than they presented it, explained rather than quoted, focusing on expressiveness rather than on exactness; these were works that with the reduction of the labels of the real – by the abstraction of part of the trait of the concrete – reduced but did not ultimately thwart its capacity to be discerned as object.” On this position of the boundary, many painters who were more circumspect in their motion remained on the side, but their circles, in spite of that, constantly spread and branched in capillary style with the coming of new cohorts in a long extension that is still at least latently going on today. From almost all points of departure, and particularly from those from nature, they developed on this fine line of the condensation of the vision into an authentic idiom and complex contents. Their path was blazed by the country’s pioneers of boundary experimentation in the era in which in Europe and the rest of the world abstract tendencies prevailed, when it seemed that figuration had been laid to rest for ever. Avoiding radical breaks, sudden departures and imitative digressions, unlike the representatives of the avant-garde, they travelled circumspectly to their objects – to indigenous and characteristic ideograms via which securely and logically they arrived from mimesis to paradigmatic metaphors. The reawakened interest in the avant-garde in recent time has pushed them more to the sidelines.
The first to refer to this marginalisation of the other field of our abstract art, which is no new thing, was Igor Zidić, who set it forth with theoretical thoroughness as early as 1973 under the aegis of the exhibition Three Topics in Contemporary Croatian Art. Under the title – “Border and both sides or – reduction of objective labels and determination of the phenomenal origin” , in the foreword to the catalogue of the exhibition he consistently and with good grounds defended painterly and sculptural oeuvres “the uniqueness of which was defined at that very time by taking up the disputed boundary field: that boundary quality that collected and merged the straddling and the ambiguous and that, in other words, continued the general complexity, the duality, of artistic language: abstract ornamentation and representative figurativeness.” In this relationship – of the boundary as against the ideal standards of abstraction – as we have already mentioned, there has not been much important change to this day. Even today, ideal, pure forms and absolute materiality are favoured, or monochromes, without a bit of associative mental reservation about objectness and the scientistic approaches of the Constructivist orientation characteristic of this period of vigorous abstraction in this country, although on this other side of boundary achievements, which is mainly what we are concerned with here, in the oeuvres of individual painters abstract formulations are also achieved that can be said, indeed, to have an identity-marking significance the like of which had not been seen. And the new visual forms are not a rare phenomenon only in us, but also in the world.

II

With an approximating term – that of the alternative landscape – as Grgo Gamulin named this thematic category with great caution, we are only nominally within the field of view of landscape iconography, more precisely of its traditional typological determination. In the context of the transformations and boundary attempts, landscape and nature in general, from the very beginnings, are seen as the most frequent point of departure, the point of origin that generated the synthesising condensations of most of the painters, in the search for unworn painterly forms in order to catch hold of some different, alternative emanations of painterly ideas. Most frequently, even if there is no motif, “landscape is nevertheless here, some area, and its painterly correlative becomes a sensation in our eye and spirit”. Still retaining that minimum of relevant recognizability, with a painting reduced in this way they arrived at new visual forms, raised sometimes to the level of the iconic sign or of existential dimensions.
In the post-war years, in the 1950s, many personal evolutions, holding a dialogue with nature, abandoned the traditional (descriptive) interpretation. Compacting their registrations, they brought in a new visual speech that was fully in conformity with the international style of the contemporary moment. They too were occupied with a new phase of historical life of forms equally significant and internationally dispersed as were the great styles of earlier periods. Their way took them to condensation and the abstraction of motif, so as to fathom and to grasp the essentiality of some given space, or some imagined vision compacted until it became characteristic in its associations. From that degree only a single step was necessary “for the more visible world to be hermetically sealed into the framework of painting that came into being as product of contemplation”. Such hermeticism is in itself close to abstraction, but it did not always or inevitably end up in the abstract painting. Many in this sublime condensation stopped at that magical boundary, staying in their sublimations on the hither side of a figurative painterly utterance.

III

At the beginning of the fifties, in spite of and notwithstanding the repressive and directed socialist reality, a new chapter opened up in Croatian painting. A watershed epoch took place, one of the most critical artistic junctures of the twentieth century, which turned the currents of modernity in the Croatian fine arts to the mainstream trends of world dimensions and at once hooked onto them with its own great creativity. The need to start talking with a more up to date visual language could not be held back by either propaganda or ideology or menaces. In artistic circles of the Zagreb milieu freedom of artistic creativity burst through the ideological barriers and out of the isolation to which art behind the “Iron Curtain” of the socialist bloc, and hence ours too, had been relegated. From today’s vantage point, it is hardly possible to comprehend the real dimension and importance of the complex currents of the art of the sixth decade, when this enormous breakthrough wave into contemporaneity occurred. It had been necessary to win the right to the autonomy of the artistic act and to remain in the quick of critical interest in those turbulent and not at all harmless times when the ideologists of the new socialist model of society rejected contemporary artistic practice as petit-bourgeois, retarded, much too sophisticated and hence inhuman, and because of its departure from reality antisocialist, in other words socially anathema. In entirely adverse conditions this contradictory period of Croatian painting became so very vital that it suddenly got into synchronous step with Europe and the whole world, which sounds almost paradoxical. It was a truly phenomenologically unique course of events among all the socialist countries of the eastern bloc at that time, not only with the width of the front that took in the most productive artistic personnel of all the generations but also with the quality that was achieved. Radovan Ivančević interpreted the phenomenon this way: “The movement and the achievement of fifties in Zagreb and the victory of freedom in the fine arts as against the dogmas of the socialist ideology (and the contrasting but still powerful academicism) – although they were possible only after the break of Tito with Stalin – were not the objective results of historical conditions and circumstances but were created as the fulfilment of the project of a group of powerful subjects, individualities, intellectuals and creative figures in the fine arts field. We have to thank their active, consistent and persistent work in public for this achievement.”
Hand in hand with the painters went an art reviewing of equally advanced viewpoints, that had an important role in the formation of aesthetic standpoints and in the channelling of artistic movements. This was a reviewing that was able to adduce good reasons to defend the elementary right of the artist to contemporaneity, which right art had won for itself, at the very outset of a difficult period of a repressive regime and lack of liberties. Particularly after the intellectual authority of the time, Miroslav Krleža, in the exhaustive search of socialist realism for human point and artistic form defended the artistic freedom of creative work at the writers’ congress in Ljubljana in 1950.

IV

The reaction of artists to the forced practice of socialist realism led at the very beginning of the fifties to a powerful thrust of liberated creativity. Painters of all generations and orientations went on with their visual essays at the place the war had interrupted them. Some anticipations, either fortuitously or out of conscious desire, had compelled attention even in the pre-war searches for new painterly idioms. Thus as early as 1938 in the painting Fantasy of a tumbledown wall Detoni had achieved a “certain abstract verism” close to Art Informel, in which Zdenko Rus read an evocative dream vision of the “corroded facade of Europe that was already about to be knocked down in the whirlwind of World War II”. Rus discovered another anticipation in this Detoni painting. Interpreting the “crumbling and porous rendering of the tumbledown wall with substantial agglomerations of pigments” Detoni, at the level of a wider aesthetic thinking “undertook a Copernican revolution, from macrocosm to microcosm, which is in general the fundamental trend in 20th century art”. This alternative was to be addressed by some Croatian painters such as Oton Postružnik and Mila Kumbatović. But to what extent Detoni’s lone anticipation did really affect the post-war course of aesthetic thinking is very hard to conclude, but the fact is that in our historical chronology, his two versions of Fantasy of a tumbledown wall must be seen as a signpost to the new direction.
The first to strike out from conventional ways were artists of a rational frame of mind gathered around the manifesto of the group known as Exat 51. Renouncing in their radical manner “every reference to the world of objects” the Exat group members gave their allegiance to constructivist procedures. On the other hand, equally vigorous, but less radical, was the personal absorption of many painters with gradual organic transformations of the visual idiom that might said to have unfolded in the spirit of Kandinsky’s “internal necessity”. These transformations were slower perhaps, but were in many things more individual. Their way to the concretisation of the idea unlike that of the Exat group, was gradual, indeed, extremely cautious, which on the other hand guaranteed them artistic independence, the sublimation of expression that can undoubtedly be considered a personal stylistic idiom.
As well as the radical line of geometrical abstract expression of the Exat group and the hermetic speech of the pure materiality of Informel (between the beginning and end of the sixth decade), pluralist visual practice left a broad enough space in which this beautiful and less radical line of our painting of the second half of the twentieth century could insert itself into contemporaneity. In this intermediate space, and further on, the absorption of many painters in visual syntheses from whose personal evolutions original visual metaphors of authentic significance and poetics were to hatch, touching on the peripheral areas of the testing out of form on the border in which figurative painting language sank deep into the abstract. In just a few years, and on the very adverse soil that was laid down in a kind of isolation between the pre-war and post-war (socialist realist) period, they bridged (some faster, some slower) the distance from post-Impressionism and subjective colourist realism to what is called the second abstraction, which in the middle of the century the winds blew in from the art space of America, peripherally taking hold of our art scene as well.
On this route, Edo Murtić was the first to break through the morphological borders of style. In the chronology of art history, which we will henceforth skip as less important in this thematic context, the Murtić exhibition Experience of America held after his return from America in 1953 in Zagreb, is increasingly being confirmed as an important event indicating the beginning of less radical turns towards Abstraction. Among the other fronts that were started with the appearance on the scene of the avant-gardes at the beginning of the 1950s, and not only then, Murtić’s exhibition was one more salient on which the spears of art reviews were broken and the aesthetics implanted by tradition gave way. After he returned from America in 1952, just a year after the founding of Exat, Murtić was the first person not in Exat to publicly declare a break with conventional forms with his bold, suggestive and dynamic syntheses of the urban panorama of New York, which still had not split complete from identifiable figuration. Art critic and historian Radoslav Putar, on the occasion of the Murtić exhibition of 1954 told the conventional observer: “if the spectre of abstraction was met again in some salon, then there was no need to fear the end of the world.”
On this cusp of time and directions, all the time after these first breakthroughs, visual metaphors of unique stylistic ranges came into being. Painters like Murtić, Gliha, Šimunović, Tartaglia, Postružnik, Prica, Dogan, Ivančić, Knifer or Perić and many others who made up the core of the earliest phase of this less radical but not less important component of artistic strivings set out in the mid fifties, and some even earlier, to the boundary of figuration, creating, the ultimate result of their syntheses and condensations, their own personal stylistic paradigms. Some of the figures were caught up in their prime of life, having played major parts in the earlier sections of the first half of the century. We might recall only the oldest among them, Tartaglia, Postružnik, Šimunović or Šulentić, whose work had already been clearly incorporated into the history of Croatian painting. They developed a new and characteristic expressiveness of form on the basis of their own experiential groundings and on the tradition and so they were to be recorded as painters of the continuity. In most cases they are also the best examples of Croatian organic and lyrical abstraction, created in collusion with nature.
In less than two decades, three cohorts carried on in this chain on our visual horizon. Appearing on the art scene in the second half of the sixties, the youngest generation (Biserka Baretić, Ordan Petlevski, Josip Biffel, Nikola Koydl, Eugen Kokot and Zorislav Drempetić in his early phase, as well as many more), which some of the distinguished predecessors of the earlier phase had tutored and guided, with their open poetics at once made their names in the area of the new artistic orientations. It is not at all surprising that they should have been so rapidly involved in the adventure of testing out visual arts and of alternative transformations, that their formative growing up took place on the new visual discourses, and that there was no return here to the old.
Abstract art, indeed, on its own ground and through its own experience, as during the live course of events at the end of the sixties, as observed by Božidar Gagro, “renewed the genesis that had taken half a century in Europe by then and at the same moment was going to the closing of its classic phase”.

V

Equally unsurprisingly, landscape – that obsessive theme of Croatian painting, with its diverse perspectives and dimensions, micro and macro universes, blazed the trails, turning the evolution of many individuals towards abstraction, which at that moment meant at the same time getting in to the main highway of the international style of the epoch. Igor Zidić went further, claiming that it was the “landscape artists that paved the way for Abstraction”. He finds support for this in Babić’s discovery of the new perspective. “In this country, after the adumbrations of Emanuel Vidović (1906/1908), Ljubo Babić first of all discovered, from an elevated point of view, that planetary aspect of the Earth and definitely gave shape to it in his Zagorje landscapes (1936/1937), claimed Zidić, his eyes on Babić’s paintings My Native Region (1936) and several other versions of the cycle. This discovery of Babić’s gained in the abstract versions its paradigmatic epilogue – in the finest individual spatial syntheses that metaphorically structured that wonderful genius loci of painterly regions that some of the artists had either inherited from their home ground or had adopted, having fallen in love with it. From the elevated point of view, from the bird’s eye view, a completely new perceptive optics were opened up, and in them the Krk Dry Stone Walls of Oton Gliha and Šimunović’s Stony ground of Dalmatinska Zagora. After them many others too ascended to these vistas (Ivo Dulčić, Oton Postružnik, then the young generation represented by Nikola Koydle, Eugen Kokot, Vesna Sokolić and others). Such elevated vistas led their imaginations to certain states of ecstasy, of being taken high above the real and the descriptive, to the creation of mythic hyperboles concerning the space of this country, to vast structures, pure geomorphology, which in other words means to the very essence of spatial identity and of some new, alternative worlds formed from spiritual hypostatic visions of one’s own being.
It is worthwhile drawing attention to two premises of this process of sublimation. One is nature, when the motif is compressed and condensed to a hardly recognisable sign, to the very idea, to the essential structure of the motif, which is then shaped into an abstract image. The second premise is the opposite to this, when the painting emerges from internal visions, the forms of which are then associated with visible reality. From both points of departure, from the external, from nature, and then from the introverted, from the artist’s own spirituality, as if from mighty coils original visual thoughts were generated, the shapings of abstract ranges, without which our abstract painting would never have achieved the diverse exuberance that it did realise.

Prompting from nature

Coming back in 1952 from New York, Edo Murtić conveyed to the Zagreb art world the still live impressions of his fascinating Experience of America. In this powerful orchestration of colour, reduced to the reflections of the urban prospects of New York, Murtić condensed his expression while adopting at the same time some of the elements of the gestural individual style of the American Expressionists (Klein, Mitchell, de Kooning), which, in the words of Zvonko Maković “were soon to be common property”, as well as the elementary expression of Murtić’s gestural individual sign. To an extent, we have forgotten that Murtić needed a long time, almost half a score of years, to liberate himself from direct contact with nature and with the world of objects from which he set out. And his next, Mediterranean, cycle, Hearing of the Sea, also started off from nature (1953). In this, Murtić returned again in space and emotion to the domestic space, to the fascinating submarine world of the Adriatic, and this obsession finally brought him close to the line of abstraction. From the marine depths, and also from the dark material of stone and the Istrian land, his gesture was set free, and at the beginning of the sixties burst out, erupted in fact, onto the surface from his dynamic being, a brilliant improvisation marking his abstract oeuvre with its gesturality that became a kind of synonym of Murtić’s painterly individuality.
The imaginative transformations of Albert Kinert were also spurred by nature. With a wide range that enabled very different readings and approaches, Kinert’s imaginary world is full of illusions and inspirations, which tells, in a most uncommon way, of the creative adventure from which, as if in a musical score, the wonderful harmonies of a dreamed world were composed. This is an organic world, although abstract, with a densely granulated facture, with bio-forms either floating in it or growing out of it, drawn up by his fantastic imagination, irresistibly arousing a desire to distinguish them. In Kinert’s transformation, we are dealing with a qualitative break, which in the words of Jagor Bučan “was not prepared by any intellectual premeditation of an author fond of discursive conclusions, rather, the pragmatism of a painter sensitive to every external stimulus, of a painter who notices and recognises.” Boris Dogan’s visualization of the natural wellspring started off from the soil itself. Looking from low down, with an angle of vision snug against the ground, he caught the surface layers of the earth’s surface, its thick swathe of vegetation, the plant cover, which is transformed on the paint film into a finely knitted weave. He filled the surface vertically with it, as if on an extended screen, leaving just a narrow strip of space for horizon and sky, which make his landscape compositions still more particularly marked. The landscapes of Boris Dogan, “great yearner for times gone by”, as Mladenka Šolman calls him, “recreate marvellous oases of brightness or break upon us with terrifying signs of nothingness”. The very personal “Dogan-esque vegetation” is painted with a refined graphism immersed in the very substratum of nature. The individual graphism of reticular structures, very close to the language of Art Informel, materialised Dogan’s vision of nature, raising it to the level of myth. The visual perception of Zlatko Prica, although mostly occupied with figuration, with a mythic dedication to the female figure, fed on the fruits of the soil in the sixties. His impulses too were emitted from nature, which with some special allusiveness referred to the space of Istria. In Prica’s paintings, nature was recognisably formed with great eloquence of colouring and a cardinal innervation, the graphy of which in these years was codified from “an analytical exploration of the internal nature and structure visible material”. And his vision was determined on the “delicate equilibrium of intellect and emotion, construction and process”, of relativised objectiveness and powerful emotional metaphor.

Metaphor of space – genius loci

Oton Gliha and Frano Šimunović are classic examples of painters who were completely identified with the motif of their place of inspiration and entirely metaphorically determined it. Linking their destinies to the landscape of a given region, they incorporated its essential geomorphological structure that continued to exist and served as a sign of identification, as genius loci of their home grounds, by birth or adoption. Gliha’s Dry Stone Walls and Šimunović’s Stone boundaries of Dalmatinska Zagora in their imaginations, and in a similar way, by the method of abstraction and reduction, were transformed over a long period of time. Attentively analysing the structure of the landscape space, they merged the landscape distinctiveness into a new sign system reduced to the limit of the associatively discernible motif of the source. Later, when concretisation was condensed to an arabesque, the final threshold of abstract representation was crossed. The idea of the specificity of a certain topos was formulated with a gestural expressiveness, which in the case of Gliha was more vehement and open, and yet the structured material in both case filled the painted surface from edge to edge. At the end, the inception was discernible only in the idea. The almost completely abstract elementary painterly formation worked as a “highly organised whole” in which chromatic material pulses with the same exciting rhythms of a natural phenomenon that has been “elevated to myth”. Both Gliha’s Dry Stone Walls and Šimunović’s Zagoras were without doubt the first paradigms of such a reinterpretation of a concrete landscape perceived from a raised, bird’s eye perspective that had been inaugurated twenty years earlier by Ljubo Babić. As creator of a new comprehension of the world that glanced out of the empty surface of the canvas under the artist’s brush, Gliha was convinced that precisely when “it seemed to the painter that he was the most distanced from nature he was in fact the closest”. After Gliha’s and Šimunović’s synthesis, on our fertile soil of landscape painting, a multitude of similar “regions” came into being, but few painters outdid their uniqueness. The cases of the remote view through the window of Marino Tartaglia, which through frequent interpretation from a clear focus was increasingly muddled becoming in time the privileged property of the painter, is also without a precedent in our painterly practice. And this is a matter of an aspiration that it is not things that are painted rather the essences of their phenomenality. It can only be sensed ethereally from an entirely exfoliated motif articulated into a genuinely heraldic device in which the layers of the assimilated culture of an exceptional painterly sensitivity were deposited.
Ivo Dulčić, a painter of a very vivid visualisation, sensitive to colour and dynamic sensations transferred the euphoric experience with a still greater vehemence from his urban and natural surrounding, also looked at from on high. Dulčić is without doubt the most spontaneous of all the painters who in the fifties were occupied with boundary experiments. Hypersensitive, he perceived the world around him as a shining sensation, which simply seethes in his paintings. A trenchant imaginative charge directed his typical style, with its high-strung gesture and powerful chromaticism. In this unique transformation of a Mediterranean clime he spoke out with the strength of a pure pictorial reality. With an impulsive, automatic painterly procedure, he incisively evoked the emotional experience of a condensed and exciting optical reflection (vision) on the border of the figurative and the abstract. From the same elevated perspectives, painters of the younger generation too, Eugen Kokot and Nikola Koydl, also surveyed the spaces of their regions. While Kokot with a particular palette mixed according to the hues of Istria (its ochres, browns and red terra cotta, the blues and greens) identified himself with the nature of the Istrian soil, with a flat and characteristic structuration of the spatial elements that were organically merged into the integrated tissue of the land, Koydl’s developmental parabola went in a different direction in which he had neither model nor support. At the beginning his spatial synthesis too was purely painterly, was very refined and reduced to a characteristic scale of single-hued broad fields of powerful sonority that were at once abstract, and spatially universal, glowing and washed with light. With a complex superstructure of a third dimension, new raised formations of soft plastic forms stretched out in the space are turned into a plastic sign, which powerfully alludes to the relief aspects of the landscape configurations. Although his work has approached more radical poetics “it remained true to the objectives and principles of an autonomous programme: the concept of creating a new, imaginary image of nature.” As a scion of the Mediterranean component in our Croatian painting, Ante Kaštelančić, painting scenes from the upright position, with the classical perspective that is, created a powerful metaphor of space. It was as if, out of his meridional temperament an expressive explication of powerful gesturality and colourist verve had spoken forth. Extracting from the coastal area an iconographic inventory of symbolic recognizability – sails, the coastal cargo boats, brazzeras, and sailing boats – Kaštelančić expanded and introduced new identification elements into our landscape theme. Reduced and condensed, but still recognisable, the coastal motif is condensed in his pictures to a degree of symbolic significance. One more artist who synthesised a transformed landscape, Zlatko Šulentić possessed the strength of combinatory condensation with deep sediments in which a cultivated personal experience of chromatic expressiveness had agglomerated. Unlike Gliha or Šiminović, Šulentić was a real reporter from time and space, which constantly nourished his imagination with new initiatives, remaining to the end on the ground of figurative representation. And although in him the genius loci is not as primordially incorporated as in his predecessors, in the characteristic motif of Plešivice Vineyards, he managed after all with the repetition of motif to give a sublimated elaboration of the metaphor of space, and evoke the elementary this-ness of the landscape with his chromatics.

Micro-landscapes

The visual synthesis of Oton Postružnik is marked by a consistent independence of metaphorical expression and micro-motifs picked out of the greatness of nature. His way of a gradual dissolution and transformation of form led him to a degree of condensation with which he stepped over the boundary line of abstraction and reached the ultimate end result of his personal style. The perceived motifs – the leaves, branches, stumps and stems – were gradually transformed, until the vision merged into an imaginary significance that ripples over us with harmonic accords of compact chromatics. From this developed an original iconography of luxuriant autumn vegetation that at the same time evokes processes of decay and with its pictorial polyphony is in fact associated with the germs of a new beginning. It is as if a vibrating elementarity of nature had settled into these new little worlds in a process of eternal renewal. And while Postružnik’s imagination fed on the plant world of nature, island woman Mila Kumbatović turned, at a certain moment of her obsessions with the native Krk landscape to a stirring micro-landscape of stone. In the eroded structure of the hard mineral material she discovered a mysterious world of stone that the weather had formed and transformed since the very beginnings, and that arabesque in stone moved her to an entirely abstract and practically Informel-style articulation. Her visual art prompted by the life of the stone with the newly-discovered micro-universe wrote an addendum of one more iconographic motif to the theme of the alternative landscape. One might say in brief about Ordan Petlevski, who was formed though his absorption of the first lessons of abstract work that had already taken control of our art practice that he was at first inspired by nature, but that his imagination in its own way corresponded to the external world. The strange organic formations of the invented world appeared after some ur-forms, embryonic germs of new forms of life. Still not clearly formed, densely filled with paint from which pure materiality spoke out, it is as if his ur-forms welled up from the stirring depths of the painter’s intellectual world providing associations with some new better worlds. Šime Perić’s firmly organised structures, of heavy but spare earthen chromatics, go on from this organic materiality, and as in Petlevski they seem to have derived from nothing outside. The cosmogony that has surged up from his inner power station of the spirit also invokes the creation of new worlds that are formed abstractly and are associated, in a certain degree, through the structure of their matter and the grave earth tones in a distinct sample, with the beauty of the very elementariness of the earth’s surface.

Dimensions of space and time


And while painters of virtual reflexes were mainly occupied with space, external reality, nature, or imagined new forms, calling up associations of the natural biosphere, painters oriented towards an emotional gathering of the world input to the thematic complexity of landscape the spiritual dimension of time, which tells of their personal, emotional discovery of themselves in time and space. It is in fact difficult to say what binds us the most, what most of all determines our destinies, time or space. To live a life “here and now” is a great theme and the painters of such sensitivities have born witness, with their gloom or positive associations, between the two prominent painterly mythologies – the dark and the suffering, the light and the euphoric – leaving thus behind them a trace of their passage through their time.
In these emotional conditions of the spirit and experience of the world around and in the self, the first to distinguish themselves are the dark visions of Ljubo Ivančić. His painting is much more than the expressiveness of an autobiographical account. This is a dramatic testimony that above all concerns itself with the spaces of the Dalmatian home ground, injecting into their image a fair amount of bleak nostalgia for these depopulated spaces, and then this feeling of existential gravity turns into an increasingly personal confession in which his destined space increasingly condensed and darkened, bearing in the dark materiality the fraught messages of its own fate. The “dramaturgy of tones” of his refined chromatic register, impossibly restricted to the clashes of dark and light, with which he extracted “his inner charge, anxiety, fear and unease” has almost no comparison in our visual horizon. Although in terms of motif it never ultimately split off from the figurative, from the world of objects, in the sense of content it was much more layered, and more abstract than many abstracts. The painterly imagination of Biserka Baretić set off from almost the same emotional reflexes, except that in her visual correlatives she resorted to the abstract idiom. This is an extremely hermetic and enclosed painterly explication, a rudimentary image of the world clad in the tragedy of personal experience, the weight of existence and the accumulated fears of human subsistence. Grga Gamulin found in the paintings of Biserka Baretić “a mysterious pregnancy that is felt in their interiority, and when she achieves full consonance and accord between idea and expression, from the painted surface a quiet dread begins to stream”. These are hermetic and introvert worlds of amorphous forms, the stratified deposits of which, sometimes dissonant in their tonal harmonies, merge and become carriers of certain spiritual states and meanings. Zorislav Drempetić Hrčić, whom we remember best for the reminiscent landscapes of the Zagorje landscape in which imaginative metaphysics are interwoven with romantic allusions, had to respond to the challenges of the contemporary moment that were immanent in the absorptions of the cohort of the sixties. Relying on the motifs of the space of origin, a summary vision crystallised out in the paintings of this time: from the deep darkness a blinding light bursts out, scattered fragments of memory turn up, and an elegiac chromatic orchestra resounds. This early dedication of his to the home ground, the personal immersion space and time was turned into ecstatic flashes of light and thus caught hold of an imaginative metaphysical dimensions. One more painter of the younger generation, Josip Biffel, at the end of this period, created a masterly continuation of the destiny-creating experientiality of the human individual in the existential void of the contemporary world and time. Biffel is a more orthodox figurative artist than Ivančić, and yet with muffled but warm, condensed and restricted tonalities he managed to input a sublime dimension of the spiritual wretchedness of contemporary life on the peripheries of the urban world. The broad and denuded Biffel expanses, the cataclysmically enchanted spaces of elegiac chromatic charges very far from euphoric colourism are one more alternative to real space and time.

There is a wide range of components that give this key period of Croatian 20th century art the characteristic of an “epoch”. The inimical general climate, whether we call it a ground not prepared or adverse circumstances, could have borne fruit only thanks to the liberated creative spirit and that was essential. Artists who carried out this epoch-making breakthrough that was exactly in step with contemporary trends in all directions and lines had come out of a terrible war and put all their creative energy into the confirmation of their autonomous status in the newly won peace. A real revival period occurred, completely unexpectedly, for which we have an exceptional population of painters who came to maturity in several cohorts to thank; like waves, they rolled in one after the other, making one contribution after the other to the phenomenon of the artistic moment, after which Croatian painting could never be the same again.
Alternative landscapes and worlds of these just mentioned pioneers of peaceful artistic transformations reached, with their chromatic expression and iconic significance reached a new dimension of the emotional and discursive approach to the identity of space and time. This and similar ways of reducing the vision from description and account to sign and metaphor that they passed, we may well agree with Grgo Gamulin “was the great royal road of our modern painting”. Not only because it was ours, this path was and still is great because it was truly authentic.

Ivanka Reberski, curator

 

 
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