Frano Šimunović, Boundary Walls in Rocky Terrain II, 1958

Frano Šimunović
Boundary Walls in Rocky Terrain II, 1958
oil on canvas
67.5 x 131.5 cm

Frano Šimunović (1908-1995) is a classic of pre-WWII Modern art and Gestural Painting of High Modernism. He was the son of writer Dinko Šimunović (1873-1933). In the earlier stages of his career (i.e., 1932-1946), he was extremely socially and critically engaged (e.g., his paintings The “Sloboda” Inn, 1936; A Circus, 1941). He studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in Zagreb until 1934 (under Lj. Babić and J. Kljaković). In the mid-1930s, he continued his studies in Madrid, where he made copies of both F. Goya’s and D. Velasquez’s work. Šimunović used to wander around the suburbs of Madrid making drawings, which deepened his social and expressive affinities. He drew scenes from Madrid’s outskirts, cripples and beggars – those at the bottom of the social ladder – underscoring the cruel irony, drama and grotesqueness of life. Šimunović exhibited his works from Spain at his first solo exhibition in Zagreb in 1935. He also painted vedutas of the outskirts of Zagreb and landscapes of the region of Dalmatinska Zagora (Dalmatian Hinterland) in intense colourways under the influence of Vincent van Gogh. During WWII, he drew and painted not only refugees and concentration camps, but also circus scenes inspired by Francisco Goya. After WWII, he painted mythical and rugged landscapes of the region of Dalmatian Hinterland: stone fences, boundary walls, piles of stone, polarised between a dark and earthy palette of colours on the one hand, and flickers and glimmers of white on the other. He became permanently preoccupied with this motif. In Šimunović’s Boundary Walls in Rocky Terrain II (1958), the terrestrial landscape is bounded by stone dividers and balances between a realistic three-dimensional motif and its transformation into an aerial visual two-dimensional representation. Materiality and organic expressivity spring from the pictorial sublimate. With this early work, Šimunović already anticipates the projections that will be freed from the descriptive almost completely (Abandoning the Darkness, 1977) and transformed, by the dispersion of light, into a cosmic landscape, nearing Gestural and Organic Abstraction. Šimunović also created illustrations (e.g., for a collection of fairy tales by the Grimm brothers, and D. Šimunović’s short stories). In 1992, he donated a part of his and his wife and sculptor Ksenija Kantoci’s oeuvre to Modern Gallery (today, the National Museum of Modern Art). He became a member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1963, and received the 1972 Vladimir Nazor Lifetime Achievement Award.

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

Vladimir Kristl, A Variation, 1958

Vladimir Kristl
(1921 or 1923-2004)
A Variation, 1958
oil on canvas, 59.4×72.8 cm

Vladimir Kristl (1921 or 1923-2004) was a painter, animator, film director and screenwriter, draughtsman, cartoonist, poet, professor and lecturer. In short, a polyhistor and a polymath who was active in the period from Post-Socialist and High Modernity to Postmodernism. In the field of the visual arts, his work includes paintings and drawings, caricatures and graphic designs, animated, experimental and feature films. According to art historian Igor Zidić, Kristl was an intriguing and great artist of provocation who gained cult status. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1949, and was one of the co-founding members and painters of the EXAT 51 group of painters and architects (1951-1956) and exhibited at the group’s first public exhibition of abstract painting (together with artists Ivan Picelj, Božidar Rašica and Aleksandar Srnec) held at the Croatian Architects Association in 1953. During the early 1950s he was one of the pioneers of Abstract Art in Croatia and the most orthodox in the pursuit of geometric abstraction. In the late 1950s, he neared the concept of the materiality of painting as it was advocated by Art Informel. In 1959 he started painting a black and white series of positives and negatives, in which paintings became monochrome screens and which were painted in only achromatic white, for example. Kristl’s A Variation painting from 1958 is divided into three ascetic achromatic sections and features, according to art historian Ješa Denegri, a deliberate uncertainty of execution. The painting’s irregular grid pattern heralds his Variants and Variables series from the early 1960s, in which he uses cheap (non)painting materials (e.g., wire, thread, paper, wood). He authored two anthological films of the Zagreb School of Animation: The Piece of Shagreen Leather (1960) and Don Quixote (1961), whose characters are reduced to ideograms and in which he experimented with animation. Because of social pressure and because he felt misunderstood by the other members of the Zagreb School of Animation, he moved to what was then West Germany, where he became a leading figure of key events in German cinematography.

Text: Željko Marciuš, museum advisor 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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