My Experience of the Occupation of Zagreb, 1974 – 1978
oil on canvas, 138 x 196 cm
Ivo Šebalj (1912-2002) was a modest individual, yet a classic of hermetic, meditative Lyrical Abstraction which is always correlated with a figural motif. Šebalj’s painting of existentialist intimism occupies the interspace between the concrete and the abstract, between the chromatic and the achromatic, between drawing and painting, where even in his most abstract works he painted figurative motifs however difficult they may be to recognise (Z. Rus). Through a relatively few themes (the smoker, the painter and his model, (self)portraits, female nudes, rooms, his experience of war, sacral motifs), Šebalj’s oeuvre always sustains a feeling of his personal insignificance in respect of the art of painting. Having taken a few gap years, between 1934 and 1942 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb under Lj. Babić and O. Mujadžić, and graduated under M. Tartaglia. He worked as a clerk, and it was only in 1954 that he started working in his profession – as a teacher at the School of Applied Arts and Design, and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb from 1961 to 1978. Šebalj’s oeuvre can be divided into several stages: after a period of anonymity, he started exhibiting as late as 1970 at the age of 58. The 1970s were the decade when he was discovered as an artist, the 1980s when he became famous, and the 1990s when he became universally acclaimed. The posthumous evaluation of his oeuvre is the final stage. Šebalj’s body of work transcends both local and national boundaries, and is his personal and impenetrable valorisation and revaluation of modernist painting (P. Picasso, F. Bacon, J. Dubuffet). He stated: while Picasso narrowed the world to a motif, what I tried to do was to expand the motif (according to art historian I. Zidić). Šebalj drawing is distinctive, and his colour palette ranges from dark and dense to completely pure. Ivo Šebalj’s painting My Experience of the Occupation of Zagreb (1974-1978) confirms the expressive-existentialist, intimate subjectivity towards the theme of the occupation of the city, echoes Picasso in the drawing-painting suggestions, as well as the achromatic and chromatic palette expanded by white interludes and realised in the interdependencies between the concrete and abstract parts of the coded visual complex.
Text: Željko Marciuš, museum consultant 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