All your paintings are OK – dr.sc.Vinicije B.Lupis
All your paintings are OK – dr.sc.Vinicije B.Lupis

All your paintings are OK – dr.sc.Vinicije B.Lupis

MY FACE
»(…) My Face
Soul of your scorched deserts
Incessantly carried away by the spirit of weary dreams(…).«

Karol Wojtyła, Song of the Hidden God

INTRODUCTION

I approached the writing of this text about the painter Eugen Varzić, an exceptional figure in the Croatian art scene, from the stance that it should be viewed through the prism of an autonomous art, one that does not draw on any artistic trend, or any interest group in the artistic life of Croatia. He is his own, proper to himself. A painter who respects tradition, he is steered away in his wanderings from the traps of contemporaneity so-called and taken in the direction of painting that is apparently traditional, and yet completely contemporary and critically focused on everyday life, socially aware of the disintegration of European civilization, above all of the ruins of Mitteleuropäische culture. Varzić – the artistic path of whom I have been following for years – who in many ways follows his own dictates in his search for an artistic direction, took me in his work to numerous questions about how to interpret someone’s work of art, artistic stimulus, no matter how banal it seemed. The pathway of painting, i.e., creativity, is often a labyrinth of memories, composed of the artist’s training and their sensory and spiritual reactions to previous situations in life. The philosopher Plotinus (205-270 BC), who worked in the twilight of Graeco-Roman civilization, believed that art is beautiful because it contains a spark of the spiritual, bringing into it the concept of form. Shape is something that the artist gives to raw matter. In fact, it is form that comprises that element of spirituality and soul. Therefore, the beautiful is something that is an internal and a human concern, something that the artist bestows on the unprocessed object. For the one that is looking at the work of art it is beautiful because it sets up, as Plotinus says, a harmony with his soul. If something is created from the soul – and the face is a mirror of the soul and the theme of this exhibition – one who observes the work recognizes that and sets up a consonance with the transcendental self.

Art, according to Plotinus, ennobles the works of nature. The artist gives nature a spiritual factor and forms it into a beautiful shape. Plotinus also thus defines art: a work of art is not beautiful in terms of its form, but beautiful in terms of the soul of the artist. A work of art is not beautiful because of symmetry or appearance, because the appearance of some statue is produced with the agency of matter, and matter cannot go from the ugly and unformed to the beautiful and the formed all by itself, but only through the artist’s soul in which this beauty is already inherent. This theory of Plotinus largely holds true for Varzić’s artistic oeuvre as a whole, and very much so for this latest cycle.

The individuality of an artist is very often evident in his communication with the observer, and with the very message that his work conveys. Strong personalities whose artistic expression is distinct and strong are not popular in their milieu and often tend to be kept in isolation. The verses of the poet Konstantin Kavafis (1863– 1932), in the poem Che fece … il gran rifiuto: “He who refuses does not repent. /Asked again, he would still say no .Yet that no, the right No, drags him down all his life” are as if written for such people.

EUGEN VARZIĆ – ARTIST OF THE BEAUTIFUL

In a consideration of Eugen Varzić within the imaginary context of artists who choose to remain outside artistic trends, we might well recall the ambiguous Dubrovnik painter Milovan Stanić (1929-1989), and even more so the painter and illustrator Arsen Roje (1937-2007), who for years lived and worked in New York and Los Angeles when on the American art scene, from the 1970s to the 1990s the leading trends – Pop, Minimalism, post-painterly abstraction, hyper-realism, conceptual and performance art, the use of photography, experimental film and video in the new artistic practices – were born and replaced in a tempestuous unfolding of events. But Roje remained his own identifiable self. Arsen Roje did his creative work inside a very strong system – museum-gallery, market and mass-media – which rode roughshod over any individual artistic position, however prominent. The same thing holds true for Varzić’s visual quotidian, for it has to cope and find its way in the same ruthlessly competitive conditions in art – the challenge for every actor in this system is to make a breakthrough, succeed, make a reputation, and then survive. Varzić the painter is in a constant visual search, creating fresco cycles, great murals, public mosaics, easel painting and sculpture; an artist, then, of huge potential. Like other outsiders on the Croatian art scene, he was always very well aware of what he was getting into, accepted the struggle for existence forced upon him, completely aware that there could not be and should not be any drawing back. Varzić is not in this alone for there are several Croatian artists who have made a successful world career, but have never been acknowledged in their homeland.

Croatian art history students will never learn about Kristijan Kreković (1901-1985), a prominent Croatian painter and architect who spent most of his life in Peru; he was trained in Vienna and Paris, and during the last part of his life he was settled down in Palma de Mallorca, founding the Museo Kreković. The painter Kreković is certainly one of the most important Croatian painters to be involved in the art of the portrait. Art critics consider him one of the greatest portraitists of the 20th century. He portrayed, among other people, Mahatma Gandhi, of whom he was a personal friend, the British Queen Mother, Sweden’s King Gustav V, and many others. They will not learn about the world-famous painter Justina Cici Tommaseo- Sursock (1923-2015) either. This is an artist who is a one of a kind on the Croatian art scene, whose destiny in life makes her only comparable with the painter Ida Verona from Prčanj. In the course of her artistic path, Cici Tommaseo painted portraits of crowned heads and VIPs – such as members of the Rockefeller family and Farah Diba. She painted a portrait of one of the most famous Lebanese singers, Nouhad Hadda, aka Fairuz; and it was in front of this portrait in Beirut, that in 2020 President Macron bestowed on the singer a major French decoration for services to culture. These examples, two artists, whose work was done in the privacy of their studios, yet in contact with all the glamour of the world’s jet set, are never going to be evaluated in Croatian art history as parts of the canon, for what is involved is above all a selective interpretation of art history.

Cherry-picking is a constant in the ideological ambivalence of society, and there is a similar problem in Croatian literary history, which has been unable to fit banned writers or Croatian poets from abroad into the school curriculum. It has been unable to create an integral art history or literary history of the Croatian people, only to follow the well-established totalitarian examples permitted in the cultural structures of the state. Thus, we will not even mention the name of the great Croatian Dominican aesthetician Rajmund Kupareo, of world renown, whose new departure brought a new division of the whole of art to the art of the words, the art of line and the art of movement. In the field of aesthetics, that is, the theory and critique of art, he published one book in Latin, five books in Spanish (of which the central work is El valor del arte – axiologia estetica, Santiago de Chile, 1964) and three books in Croatian The Artist and the Riddle of life: essays, 1982; The Speech of Art: Essays in Aesthetics, 1987; Man and Art – Essays in Aesthetics, 1993), and a series of articles. In the essay Art as a Special Human Value According to Thomas Aquinas, Rajmund Kupareo clearly noted: “Art differs significantly from theology, which according to Thomas uses metaphors for ‘necessity and benefit’, while art uses them to achieve ‘artistic pleasure’.”1 In this postulate, Rajmund Kupareo called it a “modern theory of the disinterestedness of art.” He held that art, even when it depicts evil, sharpens the sense of good and ennobles the reader and viewer, and it is the “outsiders” of the Croatian art scene who all their lives aspired to art with the aim and purpose of celebrating the joy of life to the world around them.

In the canon of the new, secular, hierarchy of values, Dubrovnik bishop and cultural studies specialist Pavao Butorac, author of the major work of cultural studies Problem of Culture, of 1966, fared not a whit the better than Kupareo.

It is worth quoting from this book, which is emblematic of the current period as well: “Modern ideological and social movements are marked by extreme radicalism and, what is still worse, exclusivism. All of this has come together in such a way that, against the basic ideas of Christianity, man is ground down in the machine. This very collocation man-machine is an offence against the nature of order, but it is a major offence when it is implemented in life so ruthlessly that a man cannot stand against it without being crushed. Only virtue and truth can refresh freedom and advance culture. Modern social and political movements have proclaimed virtue weakness and truth deceit…. If our generation does not live from the sap of the past, and the future from our endeavours, only a glimmer of a memory will remain of culture.”2 This very art was of civil inspiration and it has been, that neglected part of Croatian art history, its core during the centuries. Silence, torturous silence and contempt, and the degrading attitude of the non-purged in the process of systematically working to silence great middle class intellectuals or push them into a corner, tending very deliberately toward their oblivion. In spite of the marginalisation of the artist-cum-Croatian defender, who wove his youth into the creation of a better society, the painter Varzić is building his own world.

Malcolm Gee in his book Dealers, Critics, and Collectors of Modern Painting: Aspects of the Parisian Art Market between 1910 and 1930 wrote that in 1981, the market was the main arena in which non-academic painting was valued.3 Europe went through a period of intense dehumanisation, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In 1948 Bartlett Newman wrote: “Modern art, caught without a sublime content, was incapable of creating a new sublime image, and unable to move away from the Renaissance imagery of figures and objects except by distortion or by denying it completely … We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been the devices of Western European painting. Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or “life,” we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings. The image we produce is the self-evident one of revelation, real and concrete, that can be understood by anyone who will look at it without the nostalgic glasses of history“.4 What is, in fact, modernity, at all? The concept of modernity in art history was brought in by Baudelaire in his essay “the Painter of contemporary life” published in Le Figaro in 1863.5

History of art is mostly founded on the art criticism of the destruction of beauty, and it will often happen that we do not seek from artists of middle class art that they be incorporated in the many other forms of sacredness in everyday life, and it is actually such themes that the great painters have transformed into a new quality.

To be frank, by way of comparison we should mention as an example of design the Chapelle du Rosarie of Matisse (1869-1954) in the town of Vence on the French Riviera. This sacred space, which is reckoned one of the better known modern sacred spaces, is lit with stained glass windows designed by the great French artist, in almost the same decade, in which Ivo Dulčić, in the then Socialist Republic of Croatia created much higher quality and more wondrous approaches to stained glass and frescos in Croatian churches – we might recall just the Church of Our Lady of Health in Split, or the revolution in religious art on the other side of he Iron Curtain. All of this has been put forward for the better understanding of he artist Eugen Varzić.

He has modelled himself on he takes his cue from, the Old Masters, working in the museums of Europe at getting into direct contact with the great masters and their techniques of painting.

Special places are occupied in the investigative focus of Varzić’s interest in achieving excellence in art by Rubens and Velázquez. Las Meninas, the masterpiece of Velázquez, has always attracted huge interest from art criticism, Fritz Saxl having written: “We are confused for we feel that Velázquez has suddenly turned this genre theme into a representative court painting”6. Achieving grandeur from ordinary motifs, from ordinary people, and their transformation into a new category of value, is a feature of the Varzić style of painting.

We have already cited a number of art historians and their diagnoses about the constant of the destruction of beauty. For instance, Guy Sircello in the essay A new theory of beauty sets up a hypothesis in which he turns the attention of the reader to the situation in the 20th century: “Western civilisation of the twentieth century is paradoxical, for although it has created beauty in abundance, it has not paid serious attention to the understanding of beauty. Many of its artists either ignore beauty or else spurn it. Although they have not been able to stamp it out, they have often succeeded, although not as often as legend pretends, in making beauty artistically beside the point.” Sircello claimed that the beauty of an object cannot be comprehended only in its properties. Beauty cannot be brought down to just physical properties, but has to be observed in its natural setting, non-material substance, while in a definition of beauty it should not be reduced to just its physical make- up.7

Varzić is an inheritor of the old values and without any inhibition creates a personal world, when from a portrait of some person he transforms his personal message into a message addressed to the observer of his artwork.

EUGEN VARZIĆ – MY FACE

The painter Eugen Varzić is a particular personality in the Croatian art scene for he has directed his growth in visual art, the path of his artistic research, in a different direction. We are dealing here with the building of the visual art of a contemporary Croatian painter on the heritage of the current visual trends of American painting of the 20th century, which is formed on the basis of a heterogeneous visual heritage created on the waves of immigration.8 Contemporary American painting has always been directed towards naturalism and realism in the visual presentation. The tendency for creation in the literalist spirit of the trompe-l’oeil, relying on pragmatism – the American philosophical trend – is a constant in American art the whole of the 20th century.9 Here we are not talking about illusion, the magical need for the reproduction of reality, but of giving new meanings to the persons and objects that surround us in everyday life.

In this uncertain quotidian, awaiting for new times, the disappearance of all and any scruples, we wonder if there are any people who are capable of change. With a cynical smile we mention the word conversion. Perhaps in human history there was but one conversion, which led to a change of spiritual values and the writing of new pages of history from the ground up. Artistic conversion is very different; it is a conversion of a material nature, but with the development of spirituality, the artist does indeed experience his or her own conversion, of which the new visual cycle is the confession. Painter Varzić with his powerful drive to respect material, the painterly tradition and the search for new paths, entirely follows the doctrine of St John of Damascus (676-749): “I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation I venerate it, though not as God.. …Do not despise matter then; it is not deserving of contempt, for nothing that God created is despicable.”10 Artists are in a constant battle in their tussles with angels of the spirit in order to retain the spirit, knowing that the OT patriarch Jacob in Genesis wrestled with the angel in order to keep god by his side. Various reactions arose in the 20th century to the continuum that had been sustained in the art historical context: revolt against tradition, experimentation with media, techniques, forms and contents, radicalness in all forms of creativity, in which both artist and work took on new roles. Christians are like Jacob in a constant fight, wrestling with the angel of the ego.

In one of his essays about art, Tin Ujević wrote: Art is, after all, an opposition to order without soul, and an opposition without order…” Respecting order and matter more than most Croatian artists, Varzić created a well-received sacred cycle, but in his painting he is a great critic of contemporary social movements and with it he impulsively addresses criticism to the society in which he lives. His painting is not a painting that is its own raison d’etre, rather a form of painterly resistance to a society in crisis.

Going along his painterly path, Varzić must have for certain have borne the flotsam and jetsam of artistic training, aspirations and searches, and the approximately American-oriented trend of figural

painting led him purposively to the last visual cycle started in 2016, the gradual development of which led to the cycle presented here. It all started with the portrait Nona [Italian/Istrian for grandmother], which appeared in an earlier cycle of paintings, Noire. But the figure of Nona, a person with whom the artist has a special emotional relationship, opened up totally new worlds for him and took him along on new paths of art, leading him, as Archangel Raphael took the little Tobias, towards freedom of creation. The future will show how Nona became an artwork that introduced Croatian contemporary art, in the person of Eugen Varzić, to a new undertaking of visual investigation on the horizon of the general European artistic scene. The wisdom of a woman who survived all the changes of Istria during the 20th century, from the fascism that strangled things Croatian in the land of Istria, to the communism that got into Istria with the Croatian liberating struggle and yet suffocated the general Catholic humanism with the murder of the blessed Miroslav Bulešić. Departure without return, the coming of the new men – all that Nona, personification of Croatian Istria, has observed, leaning on the washing machine on which there is an ordinary kitchen tea-towel. This cloth with which the past is covered: sediments of the Grdoselo inscription, the Istarski Razvod, the plagues, wars, exoduses – codes of the memory of the Sacred Wisdom. Nona is Sacred Wisdom, the Saint Sophia of the land of Istria. Varzić the painter is like Grant Wood with his painting American Gothic, has with respect to motif created an iconic image of the state of the Croatian identity of Istria and the historical fraughtness of the 20th century – in the eyes of a woman, guardian of the hearth and of tradition. This is not the weary Europe of an earlier cycle, it is the iconic figure a a woman interpreted with a contemporary visual language, where the banality of the scene is raised to the throne of spirituality for all times.

This painting is the key to the understanding of the new cycle of pictures, created as the fruit of personal development in the visual workshop of Eloy Morales in Spain and constant independent building upon visual capacities and thinking of the moment in which one lives and creates. Instructed by the experiences of Antonio Lopez Garcia and Eloy Morales, Eugen Varzić, after totally mastering the contemporary technique of oil painting is focused on the investigation of the psychological area of the individual. Morales offered contemporary realism and the transformation of the ordinary into the out-of-the-ordinary, in the classical manner, and at the same time into the contemporary portrait. Morales conveyed the classical painterly principles – arte figurativosa – to the international painting community that attended his art workshops. Varzić profited from the Spanish setting, understanding first of all that there is a different world that the selective art criticism in Croatia has no knowledge of, the phenomena of which it is unable to assess in any trustworthy manner.

We have to underline how much the current art and critical scene has been created upon the destruction of civil or middle class Croatia, the negation of the tradition of middle class painting. For many critics, figural painting is a kind of elitism, sometimes avant-garde, but isolated from the mainstreams of contemporary art.12

The Croatian contemporary art scene has been too long apart from the many visual circles within the Western European ecumene, however much it vaunts its own openness to visual trends in the former regime, that of the second half of the 20th century. Varzić’s artistic path is a certain testimony to the search for reconnections with the contemporary European visual avant-garde, in the circles, what is more, of visual artists of the highest quality.

We have to look at Varzić as non-conformist and perfectionist, as an example of the excellence of the Croatian artistic scene, as antipode of the great Armenian-American painter Tigran Tsitoghdzyan and his understanding of the contemporary portrait, through the transformation of the face with the hands – in the mirror of the soul.13 Tsitoghdzyan is of the same generation as Varzić – both of them had their own particular artistic path and created in other parts of the world their own visual language of contemporary figuration, a new and vital portrait in the mystery of artistic creation.

Pietro Annigoni (1910-1998), who in 1947 gathered around his manifest of Modern Realist Painting the painters Gregorio Sciltano, Carlo Guarenti, Xavier Bueno and Giovanni Acci, offered a new realism, arising organically on the tradition of Renaissance art, as the polar opposite to the avant-garde that burned all bridges with tradition and aesthetics. As art historian Bernard Berenson said, Pietro Annigoni was a painter who was intelligible to all for his visual language was simple, the language of the pure heart open to everyone.14 Hence he was a painter of crowned heads, artist whom painters respected, artist who stood out against the tyranny of anti- aestheticists, the invented elitism of art for a small circle of the chosen – progressives, constantly asked whether he was into verismo, naturalism or realism. He like Varzić was just a painter of the beautiful and the intelligible, the painter everyone wanted to paint their portrait.

EUGEN VARZIĆ AND HIS FACES

Eugen Varzić belongs in a group of painters that transcend national borders, one that is closest to the phenomenon of the New Realism and the New Portraiture in post-war American art, as we have already pointed out, the best known representative of which is Jamie Wyeth. Both of them had the experience of war – one in Vietnam, one in his own country in the Homeland War. The similarity in character and in the artistic vein could not be more apparent. Varzić is an artist who heeds the world around him and wants to record the things that interest him, for painting is a way of recording the world, and it is his world. Painting is in fact his personal journal. Painter Jamie Wyeth in one interview clearly said that painting was his way of thinking, as playing is to a pianist – every day one has to practice, to fight with the empty canvas. We can say of painter Varzić that he is a painter of the truth, like the proposition that Romain Rolland put forth in his novel about Michelangelo: “The science of the truth and the art of the truth have always existed and will last forever.” 15

Like Jamie Wyeth, Eugen Varzić is constantly in search of new artistic techniques and open to experimentation. Eugen’s self-portrait is among the very peaks of the genre in contemporary Croatian fine art, while with the portraits of Andy Warhol (1976) and JFK of 1967, Wyeth put portraiture in a prominent place of American painting, as painterly answer to social issues. Like Annigoni, Varzić shapes the world of faces in hieratic isolation, transforming them into socially committed messages. In his portrait Varzić has with outstanding technique shown his concern for the morrow, and with his look suggests to the observer that many things are still unsettled, many processes of the national catharsis not yet finished. The self-portraits of the periods of the Renaissance and the Baroque, and all the way to our age, are the most interesting in terms of painting, for the artist looks critically at himself in the reflection of reality.

Yohanan Ha’Matabil, a young Croatian intellectual, carried on the waves of a deformed society abroad, is crushed with his spiritual fractures, testings of himself, the loneliness of distance. The desert of distance – the tender flesh of misunderstood man becomes one of the key figures of the final part of the cycle that was born upon the profound wisdom of Nona – that great painting of Croatian contemporary painting. Bloodshot eyes of sleepless nights are a condemnation of this current Croatia of the privileged , the monstrous political structure and the hypocrisy of equality Andagrathia / Ndrangheta / ἀνδραγαθία – heroism, its consequences that leave fractured soils, are painted in the artist’s self- portrait in such a way as to leave the scars, a kind of reminiscence, with an entirely Schiavoni-esque strength, of the portraits of Eloy Morales.

With his face in the self-portraits Aswir shakhsi’, Asshole, F20, War in my head, First days of madness, 45, the artist looks at the world in a committed way. With the self-portrait, hooded, Trieste, he speaks of the process of seeking for the first City, a place of civilised encounter, place for the exchange of ideas, culture and inward- lookingness, and not just a place where one[s daily bread is bought, because it is cheaper than in the Croatian shops caught up in the steel embrace of foreign capital, which sucks out the lifeblood of Croatian people. Aswir shakhsi’ , which is Arabic for portrait, depicts the artist masked in a black mask, like a commando, ready to have it out with the injustices of the time.

The portrait 45 is a lyrical portrait of interior spleen, an observation on the transience of life First days of madness can be seen as a contemporary reminiscence of Titian’s composition Allegory of Prudence where the artist paints himself as king of fools, just like Titian, pondering whether by fleeing from everyday life he can achieve the fulfilment of justice.

Who can be king of time?

The artist’s wife Romana and their children and friends are constant sitters and are transformed into new imaginary worlds of portraits – Christine, Winter, Night, My Love, Night. Two portraits of Romana as Romana orans and Romana femme fatale, certainly create an interesting diptych in the new Varzić cycle. Romana – eyes fixed on heaven, hands clasped in the manner of Tsitoghdzyan, where reality of mother and wife are brought out in all the coarse reality, like Varzić’s Nona is a reflection of an Istrian Croatian woman, guardian of the hearth.

This Pop Art posing is an upgrading of contemporary religious feeling, inheriting from the great masters of earlier periods who created a new iconography. Like her antipode, the fatal Romana is an observer of the world to which she is every day exposed, from the corrupt state establishment, the fight for the family, and in the illusion of glamour is the queen of her world. With the bravura of his artistic technique, which many envy him on, with his portraits the painter Varzić has set new canons of post-modern iconography.

Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia is a kind of triptych in which in the figures of three Pula girl students the fates of the three countries are pondered, their feuds, fears, historical ballast and uncertain pledge for the future The triptych for the first time tests out the allegories of the three countries and the fates set out, like the famed portrait of Sharbat Gule, the Afghani girl from the front cover of National Geographic by Steve McCurry of 1984. The smeary makeup tells of the loneliness of these girls in the wee small hours, coming back from their evening out.

What comes after the night?

A new day comes, and time flies and brings an uncertain future. In the same way, the tender and fragile Slavonia, with a look fixed directly on the observer, interrogates our wretched politicians, slaves in the service of invisible powers that be, asking them what they have made out of the granary of Croatia, why it is impoverished and abandoned, this noble land?

A new goddess Flora – Merjema, garlanded with flowers, dripping makeup in the composition Sleepless Angel or Last Night, is a new beauty – chipped innocence, while petals open in the early dawn with the first gleams of the sun.

His daughter Eva is another common motif in Varzić’s painting, in pictures like Crossfade, Davide, Rock and Roll, Sirens, Heroin, Eva, Coming back to life.. These are topics that test out contemporary parenting, all the traps, all the dangers that wait for the contemporary family.

Similarly, son Ego in the compositions Dyslexia, Ego and Starcatcher bears the message of the riddle of contemporary upbringing, parents’ fears and concerns for the welfare of their children. Portraits Paris, Seagull (her name is Greta), Adam, Testamatta, YR, Future, R(p)ain, I woke up like this, Christian, Star of the Sea (najmat albahr), Missed, Death – frightening, liberating and inevitable, Professor, Closer, Summer kisses, winter tears, Morning sky and Vasputnik, create a group that was born out of the memories of the artist.

The ugliness of a French model of African origin has its own message – as if it had come from some of the artworks of Spanish painters who painted the world of dwarfs and court jesters. The physiognomy reminds us of the head of a tortoise, for here the artist, like the Mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, plays with associations from nature. The composition Alice, only with its uncommon appearance, confirms the artist’s interest in the model, which both Velázques and Caravaggio also went for. Models of people with their life stories are interesting with their particularities. Portraits are created with the patient work of taking over the white of the space with numerous sketches, among which Scylla Charybdis, a study of the eye, confirms Varzić as a virtuoso of the drawing.

All the models recall some event, some moment of the artist’s life. But his mother – Room has its deep lyrical strength, for the emotions and the inner pulse of maternity are visible on her, expressed in the sfumato of the morning light. The composition Mother (signing) and Doused, in a sense are deviations, but they have the poetics of twilight, which also shines out from the composition Bella Ciao, a young girl in the recognisable S-line of the Gothic Madonnas.

Kiss and 100 are certainly themes chasing up the Baroque topic expressed by the phrase Sic transit gloria mundi. The transience of emotions, the gleam in the eyes of Varzić’s portraits – faces of our everyday life, of situations in which we have all been, tell of a profoundly human painter with a huge painterly charge, who leads us in the direction of the truth of the beauty of everyday. It is very important to confirm the fact of the great technical adroitness of this artist of ours, which dominates all the portraits, one of which has been decanted into a great mural in Vukovar with a message of peace and toleration in this unquiet world.

The series of portraits of his own family, of acquaintances, suggests a lasting interest in the process of examining private life, for in conversation with the model, the artist can shape a creative interrelationship. American painter Jamie Wyeth, painting his father Andrew, went this same way through the 1960s. Painting is in fact Varzić’s diary, a constant fight with the whiteness of the canvas and a search for new challenges. He has thus opened a new chapter of Croatian contemporary painting, in a completely separate direction. With his independent development, inherent in himself, he took it off into the course of American art, and is surrounded by friends, absorbing the best of European experience, achieved a painterly technique worthy of the Old Masters.

LANDSCAPES

Shown at this exhibition are landscapes that form a particular unit in the artist’s work. We would mention at the outset two landscapes : Going to Town and Ordinary Day, made in the manner of the American Precisionists, drawing on Cubist realism. Belonging to the same group are the landscapes Casisa, Šibenska, Life, Morning has broken (the silence of night). This American art trend deals with urban topics, reducing and analysing the form of monumentalised entirely ordinary visual topics. The members of this trend are Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Morton Schamberg, Preston Dickinson and Ralston Crawford.16 Like Pop Artists, the Precisionists in the 1920s and 1930s, as metaphors of moral integrity, painted modest buildings, streets… The line of real modesty, humility and visual sincerity is a constant in Varzić’s painting. In visual themes of everyday life we can find finding the self along the lines of the American painting of Andrew Wyeth who, in his isolation and solitariness, with extraordinary skill, presented the world around him, creating a kind of poetics of loneliness.17

Andrew Wyeth, painter who lived in harmony with the world around him, with an integrated vision of the world,18 is close in his investigative vein to the painter Varzić. Such are also pictures of static atmosphere and an internal poetic of the kind that we find in numerous American art schools, like that of Keith Jacobshagen and his calm landscapes. The painting of Andrew Wyeth might, in its sombre range of colours and the stylisation of the landscape, be correlated above all with the earlier cycles in Varzić’s painting.20 From the Istrian scene of Contia to the Slavonian Babina Greda one can see in the melancholy, the dusky tones, some kind of search for peace. Dark and subdued landscapes are characteristic of both Andrew Wyeth and Pietro Annigoni. Eugen Varzić draws on the tradition of American painting and thus in the artistic dynasty of the Wyeths we can find the guiding principle with the help of which he builds and develops his art. Here it is primarily about Andrew’s son, James (1946), who started his career as an artist with a posthumous portrait of John F. Kennedy (1967), stemming from thorough research into the late American president.21

With this cycle of faces and drowsy landscapes, Eugen Varzić has rounded off a period of five years, once upon a time of the [now] politically proscribed term of “five year plan”, but the number five is generally a mark of the expansion and dynamic development of a great visual talent – the broad Slavonian spirit, nourished on and drawing on the tradition of the new figuralism of the Hispano- American visual tradition.

Vinicije B. Lupis


[1] Zdravko GAVRAN, Ljepota kao prosjaj vrijednosti i umnosti, u: Rajmund KUPAREO, Um i umjetnost: eseji, Zagreb, 2007., i pretiskano u: Rajmund KUPAREO, Prebivao je među nama. Tri suvremena prikaza o jednom davnom događaju, Zagreb, 2019., 179–181.

[2] Pavao BUTORAC, Problem kulture, Dubrovnik, 1966., 7–8.

[3] Briony FER, David BATCHELOR, Paul WOOD, Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art between the Wars, Hong Kong, 1994., 3.

[4] Ann Eden GIBSON, Abstract Expressionism; Other Politics, Yale, 1997., 9.

[5] Briony FER, Introduction, u: Francis FRASCINA, Nigel BLAKE, Briony FER, Tamar GARB, Charles HARRISON, Modernity and Modernism. French Painting in the Nineteenth Century, edicija  Modern Art Practices and Debates, tiskano u Italiji, 1993., 9.

[6] Jonathan BROWN, Images and Ideas in Seventeenth-Century Spanish Painting, Princenton, 1978., 87.

[7] Guy SIRCELLO, New Theory of Beauty, Princeton, 1975., 3.

[8] Jules David PROWN, American Painting: From Its Beginnings to the Armory Show, Skira/Rizzoli, Ženeva, 1987., 7–9.

[9] Barbara ROSE, American Painting. The Twentieth Century, Skira/Rizzoli, Ženeva, 1986., 7.

[10] Contra imaginum calumniatores, I., 16, izd. Kotter, 89–90.

[11] Santiago SÁNCHEZ ECHEBERRÍA, Ciclos, procesos y consciencia, u: Eloy Morales Dibujos y pinturas 1996–2011, Madrid, 2011., 3.

[12] Briony FER, David BATCHELOR, Paul WOOD, Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1993., 1.

[13] Rebecca KILLMAN, Tigran Tsitoghdzyan: Reflections in the Age of Technology, u: Visual Language Magazine, 3 (7), New York, 2014.

[14] Bernard BERENSON, Annigoni, Pagliai Polistampa, Firenca, 2000., 1.

[15] Romain ROLLAND, Michelangelo, Zagreb, 1940., 17.

[16] Barbara ROSE, nav. dj., 34.

[17] Barbara ROSE, nav. dj., 48–49.

[18] E. P. RICHARDSON, Painting in America: From 1502 to the present, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1967., 420.

[19] Jules David PROWN, Nancy K. ANDERSON, William CRONON, Brian W. DIPPIE, Martha A. SANDWEISS, Susan PRENDERGAST SCHOELWER, Howard R. LAMAR, Discovered Lands, Invented Pasts, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1992., 190–192.

[20] Betsy JAMES WYETH, Wyeth at Kuerners, Press of A. Colish, Inc., Mt. Vernon, New York, 1976.

[21] James H. DUFF, An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art, Little Brown & Company, Boston, 1987., 57.