Dry-Stone Walls, 1964
“It all started one day in 1954, when the landscape on the island of Krk, furrowed by dry-stone walls, suddenly appeared to me as some old tablet with letters carved in Glagolitic script. This association may seem strange, even ridiculous, but for me in that moment, it was fatal and it helped me unravel all the excitement I had carried within me for years as I observed this strange geometry, architecture and sculpture that man inadvertently created in his struggle with the stone. Freeing the miserly soil from the stone, he then captured it again with that same stone, enclosing it with dry-stone walls. This is how those rectangles, squares and circles were created, this fantastic rhythmic vortex of lines and surfaces.”, this is how Oton Gliha described his paintings in 1958.
Gliha was born in 1914 in Črnomelj, Slovenia. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb from 1933 to 1937, and in 1938 he received a one-year scholarship to study in Paris. After World War II, he travelled around Bosnia and Herzegovina and then Italy in 1952; the paintings he created in that period still show no signs of the cycle that he will gain recognition with and that Gliha, once he conceived it, will paint for the rest of his life. His first solo exhibition in Zagreb in 1954, however, offers some indication that landscape painting will soon lead him into pure abstraction. The drawing we showcase here is an example of one of the early uses of felt-tip pen in Croatian art. Of the felt-tip pen as a tool, Gliha says: “During years spent studying dry-stone wall complexes on the island of Krk, I used only the felt-tip pen. I felt it allowed me to fix multitude of points of different shapes and sizes, as some symbols of stones deposited in those dry-stone walls. At the same time, the point started to build directions and surfaces and to live its own independent life.”
In 1976, Gliha was the recipient of the “Vladimir Nazor” Lifetime Achievement Award, and he died in Zagreb in 1999.
Text: Klaudio Štefančić, curator of the National Museum of Modern Art ©National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić©National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb