For years, I have been following the artistic journey of Eugen Varzić, a solitary painter on the Croatian art scene, an autonomous individual outside of artistic groups and movements, who year after year advances in his artistry, growing from his need to transcend the boundaries set before him. Painter Eugen Varzić embarked on a new cycle with the intention of exploring reality, a new surreal world of feelings and emotions hidden deep within us. The exhibition through which we walk is a kind of corridor and roadmap of feelings and emotions that led the artist from the Dubrovnik exhibition at the Art Gallery in Dubrovnik in 2021: “All these paintings are OK, until today.”
The artist creates in a dynamically changing world, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate changes, social stratification, and the crisis of interpersonal relationships, all indicating an accelerated transformation of the world. All external manifestations of the environment in which we live leave their mark on his artistic contemplation, as painting is more than any other form of art a mirror of the reality we live in. The paintings are a mirror of the inner struggle that the artist goes through in the solitude of his studio, and the family is his island in the current, to quote the title of the novel by Ernest Hemingway, a place where he finds his foundation for further creation.
Compositionally, the exhibition is structured into four sections with a significant element for understanding the concept of the exhibition layout, primarily the artist’s documentary film “Ma de.” The artist as a narrator is an important factor in conveying the fundamental thought of this art cycle. This art cycle owes its cosmogony to the contemplation within layers of older experienced emotions, leading us into the uncertainty of mystical realism, a sort of quest for meaning in the present, the reality of a world in rapid transformation. The beginning of this emotional journey starts with the Caryatids – girls of the new age: Sleepless Angel, a girl emerging from the darkness of night, bearing the traces of a sleepless and wild night in the early morning after a party; Bella ciao, another girl with tattooed hands, who departs into the vast and unknown world, carrying the traces of youth and the masks she will need in her future life, the tattoos resembling codes of life’s mysteries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has alienated all of us and made us reevaluate, shedding all the unnecessary baggage of superficial friendships. I
In the fleeting moments of pandemic mornings, one of the two exhibited landscapes emerges in this exhibition “Foreign Lands.” It represents the visual theme of a world where migrants converge, the promised land to them and accursed to us, continuing the depiction of the same motifs in this artistic cycle. A smaller, dark landscape, set in the late twilight of a forest illuminated by an electric lamp, bears witness to the unrest, the unease in which we live. Simply put, the depiction of landscapes did not progress smoothly; the artist delved into the human faces during times of confusion and fear. “QuaranTeen,” a portrait of the artist’s son Ego, captures the bewilderment of the youth – deprived of regular schooling, only tethered to electronic lessons, while the artist’s acquaintances Ivana and Ivan, in the composition of “Black River,” exude a sincere surrealism of the moment. “Water” and “Empty Veins” probe fears, the hardships during crises, while the series of smaller portraits of the elderly: “Warm up for October,” an old man’s head, and “That Music,” “Sound,” “Fluctus,” “Bank,” “Matador,” “Slurp,” “blah, blah, blah,” “Muted,” “Evening,” “See You in April,” and “Drone,” all speak of the confusion in which we lived. The “Drone” has ushered in a new chapter of war in Ukraine; this magical machine watches over the sky, the battle, for we have lost our secrecy. We are monitored from the third dimension, losing a part of our freedom, exposed to sudden strikes on our intimacy; drones have become a new weapon in the game of war and death, as seen in the conflict that unfolded in Artsakh and now in Ukraine.
The cycle of four portraits of the elderly, “Warm up for October,” serves as a reminder of the portraits of Helga Testorf – the model for American painter Andrew Wyeth, displaying the skill of a great portrait virtuoso. “Evening” – an artwork depicting COVID testing, a diabolical ritual preceding any excursion to freedom, a return to once-ordinary daily life rituals: shopping, going to the cinema and theater. This offers a chilling reminder of what we experienced, conveyed through a cold palette of colors. The questions of state totalitarianism, the suspension of civil and religious freedoms, and the impossibility of realizing freedom in this enigmatic, unnatural pandemic – all of this has left its mark on Varzić’s new artistic cycle. The paintings: “Air,” “Svarožić,” “Exit,” “Entrance,” emerge in moments that precede yet another loss of human nature – as Croatian playwright Marin Držić would say, the era of war. “Svarožić” – the little god Svarog, the ancient supreme deity of the Slavic pantheon, presents us with Svarog’s moment – a moment of peace before the clash of two warriors on the battlefield, locking eyes. War has come, a Slavic war – a new era of turmoil, akin to the period at the beginning of the 17th century in the Slavic territories of present-day Ukraine and Russia, wrought by the tyranny of rulers.
The Slavic war rages on the golden fields of Ukraine, while the pandemic endures. Ivan serves as the model for “Svarožić,” the central painting of the Dubrovnik exhibition, marking the end of the old and the search for a new path in a new estranged world, a loss of all the values in which we were raised.
The last cycle leaves us astonished; at first, we have the feeling that we are in the studio of the mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (?1527-93.), who presented the seasons in a grotesque manner by arranging fruit into anthropomorphic portraits. We shake our heads, open our eyes again, and we find ourselves in the magical world of new realism of a new spiritual dimension: Mother, Am I Still Your Son?, Mother-in-Law, Opium Mother, Mother East, Mother’s Labyrinth, No Mother, Does God Exist, Mother?, Hive, “Substitute Mother,” “M(other),” “Harbouring your secrets, mother,” “Eye of the Mother.” One Hundred Years of Solitude, the inner turmoil of the artist at the crossroads of reality and the dream of his artistic world, is at the center of the new cycle: Hearts – a mother’s heart, which in Western Christian art is placed at the center of understanding, love, piety, and joy. A mother’s heart looks within, not outside. The heart that blazes signifies the ultimate religious fervor, and a sword of pain is thrust into the heart. Varzić’s heart is crowned with a double cross. The painter explores the mother’s heart, wounded and crowned in a personal experience known only to himself.
Through this artistic cycle, Varzić presents the spiritual challenges of our lives, much like the Italian writer Italo Calvino developed a tendency for the atypical and the astonishing, and allegory in the historical figures of his work “Our Ancestors.” The challenges of false Mothers are reflected in Opium Mother and Mother East, as symbols of the otherworldly from the cult of the Mother protector of the hearth and the future. This painting explores the position of women in Eastern cultures. The artwork depicts a woman with a painful expression on her face and an empty gaze, symbolizing the complexities and challenges that women face in Eastern societies. The painful expression on the woman’s face signifies the emotional burden and inner struggle that they endure due to societal norms and gender-defined roles. Painting aims to shed light on the experiences, struggles, and resilience of women in Eastern cultures, prompting viewers to reflect on societal expectations, limitations, and pressures that women often face in those contexts.
The empty gaze in the woman’s eyes suggests a sense of resignation due to societal norms of behavior imposed on women. The symbolic confessor – Harbouring your secrets, mother – a well-known artist’s model, embodied as a surreal religious leader, whose scars on his face, written by life, and the secrets hidden on his face, reveal a duality in his attitude towards women and mothers. The costumed figure of the symbolic confessor seems to have stepped out of a scene from a film by Franco Zeffirelli, offering to take on the confession of sins and relieve the Mother of her burden, so there would be no more Substitute Mother. Paramotherhood, surrogate motherhood, the pinnacle of the new paganism of the time when Family is fragmented. The mother is cold emotion, not truly a mother, far from the guardians of the hearth mothers from the past. Surrogate mothers, serving as breeders for the wealthy, are a paradox of values imposed by the spiritually empty West, questioning the emptiness of maternal emotions. The painting “Eye of the Mother” delves into the psyche of a mother consumed by her need for control, offering a poignant insight into the complexities of maternal instincts taken to extremes. Through a discreet palette of colors, expression, and clear composition, the artist skillfully illuminates the nuanced interplay of power and emotions within the mother-child bond.
The painting “Does God Exist, Mother?” – a new depiction of the Virgin Mary, adorned with a blue maphorion and a fairytale-like yellow background mist, with a heart on her forehead, thoughts that hurt us, tormented souls. The faded golden elements symbolize the transience of life and worldly possession. The contrasting dark background reflects the gloom and uncertainty expressed through shadows. This contrast of pale gold against darkness highlights the duality of life, where beauty and true love can be found even amid difficult times. This element of mystery invites viewers to interpret and contemplate the emotions and stories hidden within the tired eyes.
Colmena, a blue woman adorned with a smile, crowned with a stylized bee head, akin to a fairy crown, is a symbol of chaos, the impotence of creating new images. According to iconography from olden times, the beehive was a reward for the faithful and persistent. Nature warns us with an accurate sign that we have reached our goal. That sign is joy. Joy is announced whenever life prevails. Where there is joy, there is creation, and the richer the creation, the deeper the joy. He who is certain, completely certain that he has created a work that will endure and last, does not need praise; he knows it himself. With this cycle of paintings, Varzić has proclaimed to the people and to the world his artistic confession, emotional and social dilemmas, his vision of the world and the future. The mother’s heart is great, and in all doubts, it is the lighthouse of faith, heralding the coming of a new day: “After all, tomorrow is another day!” as Scarlett O’Hara says in the final scene of the movie “Gone with the Wind.”
In conclusion, it must be highlighted that in the previous cycle concluded with the Dubrovnik exhibition, the artist explored the external appearances of characters, their transformations. Here, I would like to repeat a previously stated assertion: “Painter Eugen Varzić is a unique personality on the Croatian art scene because he has directed his artistic development, or rather his exploratory artistic path, in a different direction. This concerns the construction of the artistry of a contemporary Croatian painter on the legacy of current artistic tendencies in American painting of the 20th century, shaped on the basis of heterogeneous artistic heritage that emerged on waves of immigration. Contemporary American painting has always been oriented towards naturalism and realism in artistic representation. The tendency to create in the spirit of trompe-l’oeil, relying on pragmatism – the American philosophical stream, has been a constant in American art throughout the entire 20th century. This is not about a spell – a magical need for reproducing reality, but about giving new meanings to people and objects that surround us in our everyday lives.”
Eugen Varzić remains a subconsciously faithful follower of Andrew Wyeth, perhaps his greatest follower on this side of the Atlantic. With this last cycle painted entirely in the manner of mystical realism – which by definition is the term for a naturalistic style of painting that seeks to depict objects as faithfully as possible while imbuing them with effects that give an impression of the unreal and visionary. Mystical realism always emerges during times of social crises, as a response to the absurdity of the moment, thus developing in the second decade of the 20th century under the influence of metaphysical painting. This artistic trend, articulated differently in different communities, manifests differently and is categorized as Valori plastici in Italy (Giovanni De Chirico, Giorgio Morandi), Neue Sachlichkeit in Germany (Georg Schrimpf, Alexander Kanoldt, Carlo Mense), and in the United States around 1930 – primarily in the works of Andrew Wyeth and Peter Blume. In Croatia, artists like Marino Tartaglia and Vladimir Varlaj were painting in this style. Mystical realism is also highly sophisticated painting, the skill of an intellectual artist who reflects on the world around them, not a craftsman. Eugen is aware that art carries the reflection of perfection, which a noble soul aspires to. It cannot conflict with morality if it contains that reflection. Art offers perfect symbols of virtues and vices, as well as various pleasures, among which is sentimental pleasure. Feelings accompany our perception; they are like a bridge between instinctive and psychic life. The new cycle of mystical realism offers the contrast between the rational and the supernatural as prosaic reality, building a new iconography on the Croatian art scene – or better said, on the Mediterranean and international scene, as we must emphasize again that Varzić is detached from Croatian art movements
, oriented towards foreign art circles and centers, where he enjoys a considerable reputation. He collaborates with Galería Artelibere, which represents and guides him in exhibitions at the Pictor Gallery in New York. He twice exhibited as an invited artist at the exhibition “Algo más que realismo” in Zaragoza, which brings together some of the best realist and hyperrealist painters worldwide. As the sole Croatian representative, he exhibited at MEAM/Museo Europeo de Arte Moderno in Barcelona, alongside the best world portraitists. He collaborates through various platforms like IBEX insiders and Poetas Artis in Chicago. He will soon exhibit at the group exhibition “PAINTING THE FIGURE NOW 2023” at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, USA (which will be open from September 8th to October 28th, 2023). He was featured by Beautiful Bizarre Magazine from Sydney, Australia, which focuses on contemporary art, and he has been presented on their platform, the Beautiful Bizarre Artist Directory. All of these international art contacts have provided him with lasting artistic autonomy and objectivity.
Dr. Vinicije B. Lupis, Ph.D.