Katamaran Art

Exhibition opening: 10.8. at 9 p.m.

Curated by Iris Slade

Edo Murtić, a protagonist of one of the key phases in Croatian painting during the second half of the twentieth century, was born one hundred years ago in Velika Pisanica. When this wizard of colour and lavish painting gesture died in 2005 in Zagreb, he left behind a rich opus that testifies to a wide range of creative interests. He built his impressive artistic career, which started with a solo exhibition in 1935, mostly by painting, although he was also involved in graphic arts, book illustrations, poster design, theatrical scenography, wall decoration and mosaics, ceramics, enamel, and tapestry. The craftsmanship and colour sensibility that he acquired and developed in Zagreb at the School of Crafts (professors E. Kovačević, K. Tompa, and E. Tomašević) and the Academy of Fine Arts (professors K. Hegedušić and Lj. Babić) as well as the private school of Petar Dobrović in Belgrade were the basis on which Murtić’s art developed in a constant and dynamic oscillation between figurative and abstract idioms. He reached cult status during his lifetime, his work was institutionalized, and his exceptional popularity provoked a great demand for his works. Owning “something” by Murtić became a matter of prestige and good knowledge of “what is worthwhile.”

In memory of the painter, we present nine artworks by Murtić in Jelsa and Split, at this year’s Katamaran Art. These are oil paintings and a gouache from the 1950s and 1960s from the Museum of Fine Arts in Split, the National Museum of Modern Art in Zagreb, and the Art Gallery in Dubrovnik. During this period, the artist transformed his artistic expression from figurative to abstract and he remained dedicated to non-objective painting until the end of the 1970s. Focusing on the Mediterranean landscape, he then returned to figuration with intoxicating and chromatically sonorous depictions, only to passionately immerse himself in abstraction again towards the end of the 1990s, painting with a restless gesture and a powerful colour gamut on large format canvases.

His stay in North America on two occasions, in 1951 and 1952, where he was particularly impressed by the paintings of Jackson Pollock, whom he also met in person, as well as Willem de Kooning, James Brooks, and Richard Diebenkorn, is considered a key event that defined, or rather accelerated Murtić’s path to abstraction. At the beginning of the following year, he exhibited the series of paintings Experiencing America (1952-1953), demonstrating an open and ideologically neutral attitude towards art. A megalopolis such as New York, with its skyscrapers, bridges, and streets proved to be an ideal stage for a painting process aimed at reducing the details and stylizing the forms to the basic feature of the motif. Enhancing at the same time the role of colour in painting and making it independent of the mimetic tradition, the artist in some of his works strikingly interpreted the vistas, energy, and dynamism of the city (Sky over New York, 1952). Although the Experiencing America series can be considered an important station on the path to abstraction due to the adoption of a new painting technique, Murtić would not sever all ties with the objective reality for some time to come. On the contrary, he continued to paint series inspired by Mediterranean motifs, although with a far more radical abstraction of the manifest reality, reduced to the borderline position between objective and non-objective. Combining astral and highly stylized figurative elements, he came close to lyrical abstraction while underlining its origin in the objective world with titles (Wounded Shell, 1954; Veljun, 1955; Carnival in Dubrovnik, 1955). Instead of a radical break with figuration, Murtić chose a gradual and obviously more acceptable path to abstraction. Via tachisme he came to the materic painting of Art Informel (Two Red Dots, Dark Composition, both from 1959), which emerged “from the Istrian landscape and the red soil that (particularly) attracted him.” The magmatic charge of almost monochromatic surfaces soon gushed violently through the tattered relief impasto of earthen tones, as well as the scratched and colour-splattered surfaces in the compositions of specifically Murtić’s painting of matter and gesture. Moving towards abstract expressionism, in the mid-1960s the artist returned to colour in a synthesis that manifested an abundance of creative and life energy with a powerful gesture (Untitled, Green Calm, both from 1965). From then on, colour remained a characteristic feature of Murtić’s work, through which the painter would come to raise its expressive possibilities to an astonishing level.

The exhibition remains open until August 31, 2021.