Edo Murtić
On Guard, 1946
oil on canvas
138×108.4 cm

Although it dates from the period of Socialist Realism, Edo Murtić’s On Guard painting from 1946 departs from its poetics in a self-confident way. It fits in with Socialist Realism only formally (i.e., with its theme), but it departs from it stylistically and figuratively (i.e., with its Post-Expressionism). The painting manifests the socially and critically unrefined heritage of the Earth Association of Artists and ‘pure painting’ of the Group of Three. The painting seems to embody Picasso’s statement from 1945: “Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.” Reminiscences of Francisco Goya’s distinctive Naturalism – which arose from the tradition of 17th-century Spanish painting (Diego Velázquez) – are also woven into the engaged expressive figuration of the partisans in the painting. In the early 1960s Murtić developed a recognisable abstract style of painting characterised by dynamic gestures and intense colours. This made Murtić the most influential and most widely known artist of High Modernism in socialist Yugoslavia, with a respectable career on the international arts scene. In the early 1950s whilst in the USA, Murtić met Jackson Pollock, which gave him fresh creative impetus. Unlike Pollock’s gestural Action Painting automatism, Murtić’s expression is more colour-centred. Murtić learned from the greatest artists of his time at the academies in Zagreb and Belgrade (Petar Dobrović, Ljubo Babić). As a staunch socialist, he joined the partisan movement during World War II. Being a prominent cultural worker, he later advocated democratic values. He had a highly intense and influential career that lasted for sixty years. After his figuration period in the 1980s, for the rest of his life and career he remained an abstractionist who created a diverse oeuvre.

Text: Željko Marciuš, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

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