Julije Knifer, Composition III, 1960

Julije Knifer
Composition III, 1960
oil on canvas
66.5 x 97 cm

The meander is the predominant motif in the oeuvre of Julije Knifer (1924 – 2004), one of Croatia’s most important 20th century painters. Knifer’s reductive abstraction is characterised by a selection of one single motif and his systematic treatment of it. Firmly fixed by the painting frame and painted in equally important black and white surfaces, the meander had been Knifer’s only theme since 1959. He adopted the term meander ideated by I. Zidić. Knifer’s entire oeuvre is defined by the consistency of repetition of the rhythm of the meander and the continuity of space and time. Pronounced absurdity, paradox and irony brought Knifer closer to the ideas of the Gorgona Group, of which he was a founding member (1959). In 1961 he participated in the first exhibition of the New Tendencies. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1956 (Đ. Tiljak) and completed his postgraduate studies under the mentorship of A. Mejzdić. His strict and repetitive non-psychological Self-portraits (1949-1952) and drawings of Stenjevec (1952) – behind the motif of which the structure of the meander is observable – are the prototypes of his anti-painting, which is what he calls the meander in the 1960s in his diary-like Records. Composition III (1960) is not yet titled Meandar, but its visuality and free association imply it. We see the sublimation of the motif as the ultimate absolute of flat white and the ultimate linear absolute of black; like the positive and negative of motif marking of equal value. In Knifer’s system of uniform, monotonous rhythm, we recognise influences ranging from the philosophy of Existentialism and Absurdism, to Malevich and Cézanne (Z. Maković). One of Knifer’s favourite Renaissance artists – which is no coincidence – was Piero della Francesca. By having increased the dimensions of the meander, he also designed ambient installations (Tübingen, 1975). Since the 1970s, he lived and exhibited in Germany and France, and in 2002 he received the “Vladimir Nazor” Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also a passionate football fan.

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

Boris Dogan, Vegetation, 1960

Boris Dogan
(1923 – 1992)
Vegetation, 1960
oil on canvas
97 x 110 cm

Boris Dogan is one of the most prominent modernist post-war painters. His early paintings created in the 1950s are already characterised by psychological mastery and colouristic-tonal poetics, refined colourway and discreet graphism. The experience of these paintings is often supernatural, unreal, fantastic. In this sense, Dogan’s tendency to poetically experience reality and reflect on the mystery of nature, frequently taking, as the motifs of his paintings, vegetation, soil and life in general, and mortality, as an inevitable disturbing fact. Later on, in the late 1950s, under the influence of Art Informel he started to use new creative forms (automatic dripping, tachisme, pasty layers of paint).
After a difficult childhood and participation in the partisan movement, in 1952 Dogan graduated from the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts in the class of Ljubo Babić. He worked as an associate in Krsto Hegedušić’s Master Workshop and was a member of the heterogeneous Mart Group, led by Hegedušić himself. He continued his artistic training in various cities in Europe and America. In 1988, he became a full member of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts. He worked as a stage and costume designer, book illustrator and he also designed tapestries and posters. He has held numerous exhibitions, and was awarded the City of Zagreb Award in 1982 for the monographic exhibition at the Modern Gallery (today, the National Museum of Modern Art).
Dogan’s view, according to which there is an unbreakable and intrinsic link between man and nature, is also present in the museum painting Vegetation from 1960, created with a sprayed covering of vegetation. Somewhere in the network of intertwined traces of impenetrable greenery hides the secret of life and death, the eternal theme of every thinking being.

Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023

Zlatko Prica, People and Fruits, 1960

Zlatko Prica
(1916 – 2003)
People and Fruits, 1960
oil on canvas
145 x195 cm
MG- 2541

Zlatko Prica painted People and Fruits, from the series Fruits of the Earth, in 1960. The series was created between 1959 and 1966. The primary motifs are white and green fruits, tree trunks, trees and an occasional stylised anthropomorphic association of a human figure. The painting is dominated by white, brown and blue colours, and the composition has no descriptive character. Still, by reductively abstracting the motif, Prica achieved an intense, visionary component of the image.
Zlatko Prica was born in 1916 in Pécs. He was a prominent representative of Croatian intimate, lyrical and reductive figuration and Abstract art. Prior to enrolling to the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, he received the backing of Krsto Hegedušić, while Omer Mujadžić was a great role model and supporter at the Academy, where he graduated in 1940 under the mentorship of Ljubo Babić. He held his first solo exhibition in 1941 at the Art Pavilion. In the same year, he was taken to a concentration camp near Koprivnica where he documented camp scenes with drawings. In 1943, after joining the partisans, together with E. Murtić, he illustrated the print-literary portfolio of I. G. Kovačić’s poem The Pit (1944). In the early 1950s, he travelled to Paris, India and Brazil which broadened his horizons. Indian culture (frescoes from Ajanta) influenced his graphism and the two-dimensional flatness of his compositions which he achieved with striking colours. His stylistic-creative phases are divided in cycles. He is the recipient of the Vladimir Nazor Lifetime Achievement Award (1981), and since 1988 a regular member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. In 2002, in honour of the artist and his wife, the Zlatko and Zdenka Prica Gallery was opened in Samobor.

Text: Lorena Šimić, trainee curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb , 2023

Oton Postružnik, A Rotten Stump, 1960

Oton Postružnik
A Rotten Stump, 1960
oil on canvas
98×146 cm

Oton Postružnik (1900-1978) was a socially and critically engaged painter, graphic artist and sculptor in the pre-WWII period and one of the most prominent representatives of Lyrical Abstraction. In 1915 he enrolled in painter Ljubo Babić’s private art school. In 1917 he took part in anti-Hungary protests, when he gave a fiery speech, because of which he was warned by the authorities. In 1920 he left the College of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb and moved to Prague to continue his studies under painter Vlaho Bukovac. After he returned from Prague, he continued his studies at the newly founded Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, where he graduated under Prof. Ljubo Babić in 1927. Postružnik was one of the first students to work in ceramics under Prof. Hinko Juhn. In the same year, he opened a private painting school together with painter Ivan Tabaković, with whom he exhibited The Grotesques series of drawings akin to the German New Objectivity art movement at the Ullrich Salon. This series of drawings heralded the critical and social agenda of the Earth Association of Artists (1929-1935), which he was a founding member of. He studied in Paris in 1925 and 1926 under painters André Lhote and Moïse Kisling, which may have influenced his monumental painting Klek Mountain from 1929. He often stayed in Dalmatia, where he developed a distinctive Colourism based on bright and open colours, and a powerful and free style. In the 1950s he started reducing his figural templates to flat signs, pure colours and compositional glows of light. Postružnik’s A Rotten Stump painting from 1960 is an example of the way in which Postružnik would reduce his objective motif to its sign at the crossroads of Organic and Lyrical Abstraction on the one hand and softened Art Informel on the other. He taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb between 1958 and 1970, and won the 1964 Vladimir Nazor Lifetime Achievement Award given yearly by Croatia’s Ministry of Culture.

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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