My Experience of War, 1956-1960
oil on canvas
Ivo Šebalj (1912-2002) was a modest individual, yet a classic of hermetic, meditative Lyrical Abstraction which is always correlated with a figural motif. He was a painter of existentialist intimism. According to art historian Zdenko Rus, Šebalj’s painting 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 of paintings he was a painter of figurative motifs however difficult they may be to recognise. Šebalj’s oeuvre developed through a relatively few themes (smokers, the painter and his model, (self)portraits, female nudes, rooms, his experience of war, sacral motifs), but 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 Prof. Ljubo Babić and Prof. Omer Mujadžić, and graduated under Prof. Marino Tartaglia. He worked as a clerk, and it was only in 1954 that he started working in his profession, i.e. that he started to teach art at the School of Applied Arts and Design, and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb (1961-1978). Šebalj’s oeuvre can be divided into several stages. After having spent decades of his life and career unknown and nameless as an artist, 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 oeuvre as a whole transcends both local and national boundaries, and is his personal and impenetrable valorisation and revaluation of modernist painting (Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet). According to art historian Igor Zidić, he stated that, while Picasso narrowed the world to a motif, what he tried to do was to expand motifs. Šebalj is an artist of distinguished drawing and an impasto, with his palette of colours ranging from dark and dense to completely pure. Ivo Šebalj’s My Experience of War painting (1956-1960) is an existentialist-expressive evocation of World War II. He had many exhibitions set up, and received many awards and acknowledgments, the most important of which is the 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