Visual Artist
Ludus – Sonja Švec Španjol
Ludus – Sonja Švec Španjol

Ludus – Sonja Švec Španjol

There are different types of love and passion. They are often directed towards other living beings. However, we can also emotionally attach ourselves to objects and places that remind us of certain people or events, while passion is often the guiding thread in our work, hobbies, or calling to which we have dedicated our lives. Love can be romantic, sublime, or obsessive, but there is also a fun type of love – ludus. We perceive this love as a game. It is free from expectations and additional burdens, and it brings genuine enjoyment. The spirit of ludus is found in the new works of Eugen Varzić.

Painting as a way of life. A life where painting is like breathing. A life where the response to external and internal, positive and negative experiences of reality is always found in the image. Eugen Varzić lives his art. It is marked by continuous exploration, experimentation, and development. The nerve that always questions and drives the artist forward has resulted in new works brought together under the name Ludus. The name characterizes the feeling present during the creation – the moment when Eugen Varzić’s art reaches a level where painting becomes a pleasure, and the process becomes a game in time. The thematic area remains the same – the world of figuration with motifs of human figures in the form of portraits or self-portraits, but the approach in the treatment of motifs and content has significantly changed. Each painting becomes a concept image, possessing the strength to stand independently in space, regardless of other works created in the same period. Each painting is simultaneously a search, an exploration, and a stance. Influenced by the experiences of Antonio López García and Eloy Morales, after mastering the technique, Eugen Varzić focuses on exploring the psychological realm of the individual. The previous “poetics of silence” present in urban views and forests like “Forest Swords” has been replaced in the new works by a loud internal scream. With technical perfection, the focus shifts to unfiltered and unrestrained expression. Just as in ludus, the feelings possessed by the individual are more important than the person who evokes those feelings, the new portraits become a starting point for their own interpretation, a basis for developing and creating entirely new works. The image becomes a realm of freedom where there is still a physical resemblance to the model, but there is a significant transformation in psychological interpretation. The merging of visually recognizable exterior and completely new internal impressions creates a new identity, giving life to the painting. This transformation becomes the trigger for a whole range of reactions and emotions – from excitement to visible unrest.

Portraits of close and familiar individuals like “Winter” and “Slavonia” with emphasized warm incarnate are further highlighted by captured light that shapes the details, giving the final character to faces free from tension and unease. Previous portraits gradually give way to almost achromatic portraits like “I woke up like this” and “Mirror,” where tonal gradation defines individuals who evoke characters from old movies, those intriguing personalities with stories yet to be discovered. Ultimately, highly expressive portraits hidden behind masks emerge, screaming from within, seeking to tell the story of a nation, an idea, an emotion, or love. The transitional images, also known as “prijelazne slike,” play a crucial role in the transformation of expression between cycles. These are urban views or forest motifs that assist therapeutically in the unfamiliar territory of seeking and creating the new. There is something intriguing and somewhat intimidating in these transitional works, especially in paintings like “Contia” and “Babina Greda.” While they expose the artist’s soul, they also allow for a direct realization through vulnerability and process. The game has led to the liberation of colors, motifs, and symbolism in works of silent screams, submersion, closed-eye portraits, and even motifs of hands that equally powerfully tell a story and convey a message. The titles of the works are equally important as the works themselves. They come from real life and convey messages given by the models themselves. They are never literal; instead, they tell a story or combine the imprinted content. They can be the first or final piece of information about the work. Often unexpected, provocative, or symbolic, the titles can sometimes be brutal, but they always leave a glimmer of hope.

The new works are a kind of diagnosis of our reality. Eugen Varzić, with careful observation, great insight, and a rich imagination, records the state of man and time. The first work that emerged as a concept image is “Andragathia.” As the artist himself emphasizes, the painting depicts the face of Europe today. Starting from the Greek and Roman ideals on which the culture, philosophy, and art of the Western world are based, through devastations, to the moral sales and degradation of human beings, where we have all become commodities for exchange or better sales, is summarized in the face dominated by a penetrating gaze with alternating emotions of passion, anger, coldness, and sobriety experienced. The portrait communicates directly, focused and soberly, with the observer, completely denying the scarred and bloodied face from which pulsating blood drips. The white mask intensifies the impression of coldness, further highlighting the exposed gaze. The eyes reflect our past and, potentially, our future as individuals, communities, nations, or ultimately, all of humanity. The silent scream is present in another masked self-portrait titled “Asshole.” The face embodies the psychological evocation of all the feelings and mental states of a nation. It is the pain and disappointment of people who are leaving, but also a strong criticism of the system, society, and politics that slowly, but surely, lead to the self-destruction of one’s own country. It is not a drama that has scattered in all directions; rather, it is an expression concentrated in the soul of an individual who carries the burden of the entire nation. The feeling of awareness of the situation and the impossibility of changing the reality for the better is more tormenting than any physical maltreatment. While during physical infliction of injuries, an individual can mentally disconnect, when the state gnaws at a person from within, the psychological pain is greater than any physical pain. This state is confirmed by the incredibly strong expression on the face masked by the Croatian national symbol.

Displayed in close-up, like the two earlier self-portraits, the work “Night, my love” is a portrait of the artist’s wife, but instead of a silent scream, there is a concentration of content within the mind of the female figure. By closing her eyes, communication with the observer is interrupted, leading to a state of contemplation within the soul itself. The slightly raised head, the series of small but clearly visible details drawn on the face, the strongly shaded eyelids, and the color of rotten cherries on the lips, as well as the hair in rainbow colors, all clearly express the suppressed rebellion. The honesty that permeates every work of Eugen Varzić in visually and emotionally powerful critiques of society does not support despair but calls for action, and every action begins with an idea, reflection, or reaction. Otherwise, indifference is the most evident confirmation of a lost battle.

Remaining in the realm of figuration and realistic representations, Eugen Varzić once again discovers what we have never known or have not had the courage to perceive. In recording visible and psychological reality, the crucial process that liberates and stimulates new ways of expression is important. The nerve that does not rest and constantly drives forward, supported by truth and newfound freedom, and certainty in expression, opens up a whole range of new possibilities. In the process of experimentation, the work “Mother” emerged, where the intense blue color directs the observer’s attention to a gesture formed by the spontaneous movements of the palms and fingers, resulting in a sign language expression that gave the work its name. The painting “Sunday” hinted at maturity and the beginning of a new chapter. The figure of an old woman emerges from the darkness, with the dark background further emphasizing the portrayal of humanity. Soft gray hair, a face illuminated by the sun, a hand resting on the table, and a thoughtful gaze to the side. Every detail on the face, body, and clothing of the old woman is a piece of the puzzle of a life lived. The words of Paolo Segneri, that the face is the throne on which the soul reigns and manifests its dignity to everyone, seem as if they were written for Eugen’s portrayal of the elderly woman. Furrowed skin reveals years, and a face inscribed with life tells a story that becomes part of collective memory. The common thread connecting all recent works is the complexity of depicting human beings. The layering and expressiveness influence the observer, and emotions and reactions fluctuate depending on the experience and perception of the individual.

At the moment when technical mastery is achieved, and the mind is mature and liberated from barriers, the game begins, giving way to expression, i.e., baring the soul in all its aspects. And that is done without restraint, calculation, or hesitation. Eugen Varzić’s works contain both good and bad, beautiful and ugly, happiness and sadness, praise and criticism, hope and despair. The artist interprets the world honestly, intuitively, and freely. Through continuous work and development, he seeks to evoke an emotion or reaction that has an impact on individuals, communities, and the world. In his intention, he reaches the very limits of brutality, occasionally breaking moral barriers. To shake a person, i.e., to trigger even the slightest vibration of the soul, gives meaning to the entire action.

Sonja Švec Španjol, MA in Art History.