Ludus – Sonja Švec Španjol

There are different types of love and passion. In most cases they are oriented towards other living beings. However, we can also be emotionally attached to objects and places that remind us of certain people and events, with passion often being a guiding principle in our work, hobby or career to which we have dedicated our life. Love can be romantic, sublime or obsessive, yet there is an amusing type of love – ludus. We perceive this type of love as play. It is free from expectations, from an extra burden, so it is truly enjoyed. The spirit of ludos can be found in recent works by Eugen Varzić as well.

Painting as a way of life. Life in which painting is like breathing. Life in which the answer to external and internal, positive and negative experiences of reality can be found in a painting. Eugen Varzić lives his painting. It is characterized by continuous research, experimentation and development. The sensibility that is constantly questioning, encouraging and pushing the artist forward has resulted in a collection of works under the title of Ludus. Its title reflects the feeling present in those creative moments within which Eugen Varzić’s art reaches a level when painting becomes pleasure and play turns into a process in time. It continues to be thematically linked to the world of figuration, with the motif of the human figure in the form of a portrait or self-portrait, but the approach to the motif and the content changes significantly. Each painting becomes a painting-concept, with its strength enabling it to be displayed on its own, irrespective of other works created in the same period. Each painting represents searching, questioning and taking a stand. Taking into account the experiences of Antonio López Garcia and Eloy Morales, after perfecting the technique, Eugen Varzić focuses on researching the psychological field of an individual. His earlier poetics of silence, present in some urban vedutas and forests like Forest Swords, has been replaced with a loud inner cry. Along with the perfection of technique, the expression without any censorship or restraint emerges as the most prominent feature. In his recent works a portrait is just a starting point for his own interpretation, the basis for the elaboration and creation of a completely new work, in the same way that ludus finds feelings that an individual possesses more important than the person encouraging those feelings. The painting becomes an area of freedom where a physical resemblance to the model is still present but there is a significant transformation in psychological interpretation. The merging of the visually recognizable outer person and the completely new impressed inner person creates a new identity, thereby resulting in the beginning of a painting’s life. The transformation triggers a wide range of reactions and emotions, from enthusiasm to apparent anxiety.

The portraits of close and well-known people such as the works entitled Winter and Slavonia, with stressed, warm ruddy flesh tones, are further highlighted by the captured light that forms the details, thus defining the final attributes of the face devoid of tension and agitation. His earlier portraits gradually give place to nearly achromatic portraits entitled I Woke Up like This and Mirror, where the tonal gradation defines the people that can be associated with the characters from some old films, i.e. those intriguing personalities with a story that is yet to be discovered. As a result, there are some highly expressive portraits, disguised, screaming from their inner selves in order to tell a story of a nation, idea, emotion or love. The key role in the expression transformation belongs to so-called transitional paintings that are created between the cycles. These are urban vedutas or the forest motifs that assist therapeutically in an unknown area of searching and creating something new. There is something intriguing and a bit frightening in those transitional works, especially in Contia and Babina Greda.While exposing the soul of the author, they simultaneously enable direct awareness through the vulnerable and the processual.  Play has resulted in freeing the colours, motifs and symbols in the works of a silent cry, drowning and portraits with closed eyes as well as the motif of arms telling a story and conveying a message in an equally strong fashion. The titles of the works are as important as the works themselves. Their source is real life and they convey messages given by the model. They never have the literal meaning; they rather tell a story or consolidate the impressed content. They can be the first or the final information on the work. As often as not unexpected, provocative or symbolic, the titles are sometimes brutal, but they always leave a glimmer of hope.  

His recent works are a certain diagnosis of our reality. Close scrutiny, great assertiveness and a fertile imagination are the means that help Eugen Varzić record the state of man and time. The first work that was created as a painting-concept was Andragathia. According to the artist, the painting shows the face of Europe today. The Greek and Roman ideals representing the foundations of Western culture, philosophy and art followed by devastation, then moral corruption and the degradation of human beings when all of us have become a kind of commodity to be exchanged or sold are all condensed into a face dominated by a penetrating look with alternating emotions of passion, rage, coldness and sobriety caused by what has been experienced. The portrait is communicating in a direct, focused and sober manner with the viewer, while completely negating the wrinkled and bloodstained face with droplets of pulsating blood dripping off it. The white mask intensifies the sense of coldness and highlights the exposed look as well. The eyes mirror our past and possibly our future of an individual, community, nation or ultimately the whole mankind. A silent cry is present in another disguised self-portrait entitled Asshole. The face embodies a psychological evocation of all the feelings and emotional states of a nation. It is a pain and disappointment of those who are leaving but also severe criticism of the system, society and politics, which is slowly but inevitably leading to the self-destruction of the country. This is not a drama spread all over the place but rather an expression concentrated in the soul of an individual carrying the burden of the entire nation. Being aware of the situation while not being able to alter the reality is worse than any type of physical abuse. When injuries are being inflicted on a person, he/she can distance himself/herself emotionally but when that person is being emotionally injured, mental suffering becomes nastier than any physical suffering. This is confirmed by an incredibly strong expression of the face disguised with a Croatian national symbol.

Being a close-up portrait just as two of his previous self-portraits, the work entitled Night, My Love is a portrait of the painter’s wife, but instead of a silent cry, there is a concentration of content within the female character’s mind. By closing her eyes she prevents communication with the viewer, which leads to the contemplative state within the soul itself, while her head slightly erect, a series of tiny but clearly visible details drawn on her face, heavily shaded eyelids, the colour of rotten cherry on her lips and her rainbow dyed hair clearly express a concealed resistance. The sincerity pervading each work of art by Eugen Varzić in visually and emotionally powerful criticisms of the society does not support despair, but rather calls for action, with every action beginning with an idea, reflection or reaction. Otherwise, indifference is the most obvious confirmation of a lost battle.

By remaining faithful to the area of figuration and realistic representations, Eugen Varzić reveals what we have never known or we have never dared see. When recording visible and psychological reality, it is important to have a process that will liberate and encourage new ways of expression. The sensibility that makes him feel restless and constantly pushes him forward, supported by truth and newly gained freedom as well as by self-confidence in his expression, opens up a wide variety of new opportunities. A work entitled Mother was created during the experimentation process. It got its name from a sign expression formed with spontaneous movements of the palms and fingers; actually, the work is dominated by the intensive blue that steers the attention of the viewer to the gesture that forms the said sign expression. A painting entitled Sunday suggests maturity and the beginning of a new chapter. The image of an old woman emerges from the dark, with the dark background outlining the component of humanity. Her soft grey hair, her face illuminated by the sunshine, her arm resting on the table and a pensive look to the side. Every detail on the woman’s face, body or clothes is a piece of the puzzle of the lived life. Paolo Segneri’s statement that a face is a throne on which the soul sits demonstrating its dignity to everybody seems to have been written just for Eugen’s image of the granny. The wrinkled skin reveals her age and her face with a life written on it tells a story that becomes part of collective memory. The thread that links all his recent works is a layered representation as a reflection of the complexity of humans. Such a layered representation and expressiveness affect the viewer, while the emotions and reactions alternate depending on an individual’s experience.

Once the technical aspect has been mastered and the mind is mature, free from all barriers, play begins and gives place to expression, i.e. to the exposure of the soul in all its aspects. All this without any restraint, calculation or hesitation. Works of art created by Eugen Varzić include the things good and bad, beautiful and ugly; they also involve happiness and sorrow, praise and criticism, hope and hopelessness. The artist interprets the world in a sincere, intuitive and free manner.  Through continuous work and development he attempts to stimulate an emotion and reaction that could affect an individual, the community, the world. In doing so, he reaches the boundaries of brutality, while occasionally breaking down moral barriers. To shake up a human, that is to stimulate even the slightest shudder of the soul gives meaning to the overall activity.

Sonja Švec Španjol, art historian