Slavko Kopač, Lady in White, 1938

Slavko Kopač
Lady in White, 1938
oil on canvas
93.5 x 73.5 mm

Slavko Kopač painted his Lady in White shortly after graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1937. Expressing his gratitude to his mentor Vladimir Becić and the realistic and post-impressionist tradition in which he was trained, Kopač announces his new sensibility in this poetic portrait through the striking contrast between the prevailing “powdery” impression of the painting, achieved through numerous white-pinkish tones, and the energetic red color in details such as the decoration on the lapel, lips, cheeks, and hair.
Later in France, Slavko Kopač (Vinkovci, 1913 – Paris, 1995) was considered a true visionary and pioneer in the use of non-painterly materials. The artistic expression of one of the most important protagonists of Art Informel and Art Brut initially developed from post-impressionist realism towards Kraljević’s expressionism. It culminated during Kopač’s training in Paris in 1939, where he came into contact with the chromatic facets of Leo Junek. After being compelled to leave France by the war, he briefly taught in Mostar. In 1943, he went to Florence, where he significantly distanced himself from the realistic and academic style. Through more spontaneous and elemental expressions, he created impressionistic visions and watercolors close to Surrealism. He finally returned to Paris in 1948 and soon began collaborating with Jean Dubuffet. For over thirty years, they explored, worked, and collected works of L’Art Brut (raw art). Kopač served as the secretary and curator of the Art Brut collection. He also collaborated with André Breton and exhibited at the surrealist gallery À l'étoile scellée alongside the greats such as Max Ernst, Man Ray, and René Magritte.

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, senior 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

Slavko Kopač, On the Galapagos Islands, 1952

Slavko Kopač
On the Galapagos Islands, 1952
mixed media on cardboard, 73 x 92 cm

Slavko Kopač (1913 - 1995) was the most prominent Croatian modernist of a different figuration whose international career traversed Art Brut, Surrealism and Art Informel. In his 1952 book Un Art Autre, Michel Tapié ranks Kopač amongst the greatest artists, like Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, and pioneers of raw art. After having graduated in the class of V. Becić in 1937, he first painted in the spirit of Post-Impressionist Realism, then in the vein of M. Kraljević’s expression and L. Junek’s colourist facets. During his stay in Italy (1943 - 1948), he created impressionist vistas and watercolours akin to Surrealism. After having rejected Realism and Academicism, he created an elementary and primary expression – one of the precepts of Art Brut. In 1948, he moved to Paris, where the founder of Art Brut, J. Dubuffet, appointed him as secretary and curator of the Art Brut Collection. He remained in that position until 1975 when the collection moved to Lausanne. André Breton entrusted Kopač with the illustration of a limited edition of his 1949 poem Un regard des divintés (In the Eyes of the Gods). In 1950, he participated in the creation of the surrealist almanac Almanach Surréaliste du Demi Siècle, and in 1953 he exhibited at Breton’s gallery À l'étoile scellée. He painted and sculpted using new materials, such as sand, rubber and metal, as well as stone, wood, paper, glass and coal. Attributing to them the features of Luddism and primordial principles, he modelled people, various beings, plants and animals in the manner of Primitivism. Kopač’s painting On the Galapagos Islands (1952) reflects the polyvalent quality and dense material design and is an original depiction and a synthesis of the childlike and primitive expression presented with a multiple two-dimensional form on a two-dimensional background. It is a rudimentary symbol of the turtle with echoes of the exotic, fantastic, primordial and raw art.

Text: Željko Marciuš, Museum advisor at 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

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