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