Composition VII, 1959
oil on canvas
The meander is an anthological motif of the oeuvre of Julije Knifer, one of Croatia’s most important 20th century painters. Firmly fixed by the frame of his paintings, and painted in black and white surfaces equal in size and importance, the meander had been Knifer’s only theme since 1959. Knifer’s entire oeuvre is defined by his abstractionist reduction to one single motif, his systematic treatment of the motif of meander, and the consistency of repetition of the rhythm of the meander as the continuity of space-time. Knifer adopted the term meander ideated by art historian and critic Igor Zidić. Pronounced absurdity, paradox and irony brought Knifer closer to the ideas of what became in 1959 the Gorgona Group of Croatian Neo-Avant-Garde artists and art historians (1959-1965), which he was a founding member of. In 1961 he participated in the first exhibition of the New Tendencies art movement. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1956 (under Prof. Đuro Tiljak) and earned a master’s degree under Prof. Antun 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. Julije Knifer’s Composition VII from 1959 features a vertical and minimalist arrangement of upright rectangles in grey, black and white. According to art historian and critic Zvonko Maković, a range of influences is recognisable in Knifer’s system of uniform, monotonous rhythm – from Existentialism and Absurdism, to Kazimir Malevich and Paul Cézanne. One of Knifer’s favourite artists – which is no coincidence – was Piero della Francesca. By having increased the dimensions of the meander, he also designed ambient installations, such as the one executed in Tübingen in 1975. In the 1970s, he moved to and exhibited in Germany and France, and in 2002 he won the Vladimir Nazor Lifetime Achievement Award given by Croatia’s Ministry of Culture. 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: Ana Janković
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb