ANTO JERKOVIĆ – Retrospective

Premature died painter Anto Jerkovic (1958-2005.) was one of the most distinguished artist on the current croatian art scene. His first public performances in the mid-eighties of the last century attracted attention of critics. From the first one-man show at Studio Gallery Forum in 1984., where he showed similarities and differences with the central trend of so-called „New images“ to the last held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb in 2005. called “I sign all that is blue“.

Anto Jerković  – Retrospective 

When in 1984 Jerković exhibited his series of black and white pictures rich in content and with decisive, vehement gestures, the critics had recognized in them points of departure of a young painter tied to abstract expressionism, Vedova and the new German expressionism. Those initial images, and the later ones even less so, did not share at all that type of “joy of painting” that inundated paintings of his elder colleagues. In that respect, Jerković appeared grim, serious, preoccupied with dark visions that presupposed a morally responsive painterly act. His abstract gestures demanded and found the figurative echo on the verge of the recognizable, the meaning of which naturally was not some aimed for return to the position of associative abstraction, but rather the coagulating of an intense painterly approach and subjective adhering to the ambiguous linguistic pattern. In the images created in 1987 – 1988 there prevailed a characteristic figure dynamics resembling El Greco’s elongations, simultaneously pared down to the ideograms close to those of A.R. Penck.

The motives of the densely laid and upturned forest tree-trunks, opaque to the ideas of spatial suggestion, were treated anti-aesthetically, possibly alluding to painting of Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz. Further methods deepened the relation to the amount of the material used within image; finally Jerković reached for the nontraditional painting materials -ground, sawdust, enamel paint, coal, ashes, straw, applying them onto canvas in vehemently spilling heaves. Precisely at the peak of such materialist painting, historically actualized for the second time, Jerkovic suddenly turned to the meticulous painterly filling of canvas surfaces in the spirit of pure geometric abstraction. Simultaneously he began to paint in a third mode, neither brutally expressionistic, nor abstractly-geometrically refined, but monochromatically. Depersonalized one-colored canvas surface was no longer the result of an analytical procedure and literality, but quite the opposite, the result of the auratization, which in Jerkovic has achieved an alchemic computation. Purifying, extraction, condensation are the alchemical terms which he now adopted and applied through his new painterly methods. He transformed into an artist who seeks and finds the support for his work in vast spiritual, speculative, religious, magical and philosophical realms, without which the art, the painting, the individual artistic effort would remain impoverished. Painting is the way of being that craves the universal, the spiritual, and the absolute. In words and deeds Jerkovic defined himself as the follower (not the prisoner) of Yves Klein in the new circumstances. He blended the monochromy with letters, inscribing the words denoting universal ideas (Cosmogonies, Universus, Emptiness, Memoria). He did not do it redundantly, but sublimely, revealing in the painterly field the essential things through the alchemical key. But, under the direct impact of the war events from 1991, Jerković had these freshly initiated picture-words from the metaphysical arsenal transformed into picture-prayers taken from the Catholic prayer practice. Not by chance. Both atheists and agnostics in times like those have experienced the existential craving for God. Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory Be to the Father. The Angelus. Queen of Heaven. Hail Holy Queen, were the textual prayers that, mainly in Latin language, Jerkovic inscribed on blue acrylic surfaces in several variations: with black acrylic, with gold and silver-tinctured granite letter styles, with monumental Roman capitals. In 1993 he painted the series of twenty-one acrylics entitled Medallions, with the textual fragments from Salomon’s Song of Songs. Beatitudes with the New Testament fragments date from the same year; the most powerful in the series were Ignoto Deo (To the Unknown God) from 1993 and two by size largest canvases (Ignoto I, Ignoto II) painted in 1995-96. The series as a whole represented a unique example of the vertical, conceptual reference to Christianity in contemporary art, which with the rest of the world shares, for the longest time, the barren land of godless reality. From the mid-nineties and onward, the Jerkovic’ vision of the world again became more relative, more truculent, even cynical. By creating a group of nouns he now relied on the word selection which cited Peter Sloterdijk in his introduction to the Critique of Cynical Reason: God, universe, theory, practice, subject, object, spirit, meaning, nothing; big themes of philosophy which have become mere nouns, the words whose time has expired. Jerkovic exhibited these nouns (often combining them with the blue-colored tennis balls) in galleries, museums, in the vaults of the Diocletian Palace, culminating in their inscription on the infamous stone jardinières that were removed from Peter Preradovic Square in Zagreb, tossed and hidden in the future even more infamous “ratsville” of the city’s core center and their later exhibiting on the walls of the Požega market place (2000). Jerković had experienced the truth of the general trivializing of everything majestic taking upon him the role and position of Diogenes (from his barrel) among the artists.  

Text: Zdenko Rus, curator of the exhibition