In addition to nature and seasonal changes in vegetation, recent paintings and drawings by Toni Franović are related to motifs that have been largely transplanted from the area of traditional easel painting to the media of photography, artistic ambiance and land-art, while in the medium of painting they are only diffidently present in continental and Mediterranean landscapes. This is undeniably due to the theoretical attitude that the notion of beautyhas largely been banished from painting in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Motifs of flowers and vegetation are viewed with suspicion as a type of painterly provincialism that wants to please the beholder.
This attitude is being increasingly refuted because hedonism, color, contemplativeness and splendor have grandly and inexorably returned to painting. Recent painting of this type in its “intimacy signifies the return of color, the subtle suggestion of form, providing the circumstances for clear-
eyed painting, the principle of saper vedere, instead of saper construire, emphasizing the value of the material and structure,”1 i.e., returning to the origins of the intimate painting from the 1930s and 1940s.
So far, in Toni Franović’s work we have been able to follow a stylistic line of expressionist origins through an emphasis on color values and the construction of compositional relationships in a picture using a thick black line. In the painter’s new works, he has retained the croquis approach
to motif, even when painting in acrylic, although the surface of the drawing or painting is never so dynamically agitated as to provoke irritation. The equilibrium between Franović’s expressionistic vocabulary and the intimate atmosphere of his observation of nature leads us to the thesis that “intimacy is not a stylistic category but, instead of the stylistic or morphological determinants implied by this term, we mean a certain state of mind in Croatian painting.” 2 However, in new works a certain morphological-spiritual shift of unprecedented range has occurred.
The register of painterly themes and motifs has not changed but for the first time a rather disintegrated landscape appears that in some of the works leads to surrealistic impulses, while in the other direction toward the hallucinatory landscapes of modern American graffiti-art or even tribal painting traditions. Every painting or drawing has undoubtedly been created in a specific, elated state of consciousness, at a moment when it is difficult to separate the external incentive to create from the hidden, inner impulse, in which the motif is merely a well-masked alibi for the transmission of the artist’s stream of consciousness to a canvas or sheet of paper. Together with all the intimate-realistic references in the painterly world of Toni Franović, his new works are increasingly hermetic and autoreferential, as if the artist is hiding behind the many faces of nature in a resourceful and skillful metamorphosis of stylistic variations— a heresy in contemporary Croatian painting for which we can only forgive Ferdinand Kulmer.
Even when we are being ostensibly benignly bombarded by the glowing colors of some wild southern region from Franović’s canveses, in them are is always concealed that which only to the artist isthe artist’s private the cataclysmic and simultaneously decadent melancholy of the South, while in the cold, black-and-white winter dying is the positively intoned pulsation of a new awakening and renewal.
Text: Iva Körbler
Translated by Margaret Casman-Vuko
1 Domac-Ceraj, Smiljka: Intimizam u hrvatskom slikarstvu(exhibition catalogue),
Moderna galerija, Zagreb, 2009; 6