Programme Curator: Leila Mehulić
Curator: Zvonko Maković
Catalogue written by: Zvonko Maković
Design: Nika Pavlinek, Aleksandar Kovač
Radnička Gallery, 26 May 2014 — 26 June 2014
Writing more than a decade ago about Edo Murtić’s paintings, Jean Cassou correctly observed that “everything about them is energy, be it content or movement”. The artist was then, colloquially speaking, at the peak of his force. However, looking at the works from this exhibition – the paintings made later in his life, more accurately, towards the end of his life – this old remark made by the renowned French art historian seems equally true and present. Solid and secure gestures here also utterly simply determine the basic structure of the work. In the painting there are no uncertainties, the strokes are spontaneous and confident and emanate energy. With quick, forceful motions of the hand, and the entire body as well, Murtić instilled power and impulse deeply present in him, both as a human and as an artist. Motion is the critical code of this art, from its earliest to its final days. Late works, precisely the ones exhibited here, contain some important traits even in the fact that they were made. They can be rightfully perceived as a certain synthesis of a long and fruitful creative process. What immediately preceded them was related to Istrian landscape. In the 1990s, Edo Murtić intensely painted Istrian vistas, his home in Vrsar with a view on the garden full of different plants, nearby small islands and the old Montraker quarry and its peculiar silhouettes. He also painted motifs outside Vrsar, visiting the landscape and leaving behind numerous works imbued with exceptional freshness. However, this was not so much a sign of the artist’s return to a specific motif in the literal sense. Rather, it seemed like he was establishing a balance between figuration and abstraction. Outlines of towns and, in general, the models he was observing and portraying were discerned, but this was not his final objective. I believe he aspired for something outside the limits of the recognisable world. Speaking back then about his 1970s paintings, the time of perhaps the purest abstract expressionism and gestural painting from his rich body of work, Murtić pointed out that “he drew these colours precisely from the Istrian landscape” and that “here we could talk about an essence of colour”.
Indeed, there is no more precise definition, not even when we are discussing the artist’s late works, made towards the end of his life. Even though these are expressly non-figurative, i.e. abstract painting, references to a series of paintings from the 1990s depicting Istrian motifs, as well as their models, are easily recognisable. Murtić now extracts colour from the world he observed and represented in these earlier paintings. However, the colour now no longer has the mimetic role it had before, it is liberated from every other function besides representing itself, because it is reduced to its essence, as the artist himself nicely put it in a different context. The whirlwind of brushstrokes, broad and heavy, sharp and jerking, and the pulsating flatness of ochre, rust brown, blue and grey tones are still unimaginable without the experience the artist gained by painting the Istrian landscapes in all the seasons, although he formally detached from it. Even when he abandons colour and adds rhythm to the painting surface only with black strokes, the echoes of the concrete world are still discernible. If the Montraker cycle of paintings from the late 1990s was the finest delineation of the borderline position between discernibility of motifs and stepping into abstraction, in his later works the artist seemed to have embraced complete freedom. Elements of objective landscape are both dissolved and densified. They dissolve in wide and forceful brushstrokes that originate in lines that once described an actual scene. They densify in a sign whose colour or idiosyncratic outline most often evoke a certain motif remembered by the painter in and around the familiar space of his Vrsar home. This motif is now dissected and in a way even destroyed, but only when the visual aspect is concerned. In terms of colour and handwriting, reduced mainly to gesture, the imagery is particularly consistent and outstandingly strong. Rarely a painter keeps such energy and vitality until the last moment like Murtić did. It was probably because to him painting was, in its most elementary sense, like breathing, a real and true existence. The paintings exhibited here could therefore be understood as a sort of confirmation what it means to paint until the last breath: completely freely, without a hint of retreating.