TOMISLAV BUNTAK: Pilgrims – Vision of Mystic Journeys

Eutopia revival

The exhibition Pilgrims – Vision of Mystic Journeys is the crowning point in the artistic oeuvre of Tomislav Buntak (to date). Although its sheer power must have some reference to the ambiental majesty of the architecture of the Art Pavilion and the importance that individual exhibitions held within it have in the curriculum vitae of every artist, this project is driven by an ambition, to achieve peak in that dedicated and obsessive devotion to visual expression that has been since childhood a part of Buntak’s everyday life. For us who, as organisers and critics have for years followed the development of his career, it is a rarity to have an encounter during which he does not draw the lines of yet another in the endless sequence of drawings. Personally, I have already written words and words telling of the many situations in which fortuitous passers-by and visitors, fellow artists and professionals have looked in amazement at the skill of creation by hand with which Buntak produces his majestic wall compositions.  There is no parallel in expression to describe, except with the word gift, the moments during which one can simply feel that in the awareness of the observer, with admiration, a romantic idea is aroused about the magic of artistic creativity, an idea about the special, privileged and rare spark of the god-given artistic talent that the unintentionally mediatised artistic practice has in the eyes of the public made obsolescent and unnecessary, a mere eccentricity of times that have gone forever. Indeed, this literal miracle of creation, sublimated in the fluidity of Buntak’s brushstroke with which, for example, he will produced a figure bigger than himself from the outline of a heel while lying squeezed between scaffolding and ceiling – an act that he does not himself consider anything exceptional or supernatural, but the result of a whole lifetime of continued exercise in draughtsmanship – has nevertheless in more than one way rocked suppressed views and expectations about the exceptional nature of the artistic act, open only to individuals.  The experience of watching Buntak at work – still more impressive because the figuration he deals with primarily involves the specific execution of the motif of the human figure (in fact, because of the rapidity with which his drawn compositions are created an ideal form of presentation would be a process open to the public, a public performance) – in a contemporary worldview formed by a pragmatic scientific positivism manages to arouse a suspicion of some magical and irrational strata of reality. How this level of significance of the production of Buntak’s works overlaps with his spiritual worldview will be discussed in the second part of this article, but for the moment we shall saw that the basic impulse of his creative work derives from sincerity of conviction, Roman Catholic in its origins, about the spiritual foundations of the world.


Pilgrims in the Art Pavilion are not drawn directly onto the wall surfaces, which the artist must for certain have intended. The compositions presented are in a technical sense determined by the rules of the use of the space. Although the occupation or appropriation of the wall surfaces by drawing, in the tradition of both site-specific and ambiental set-ups in the pavilion, and his own personal site-specific wall drawings, because of the impossibility that such a production can be permitted, will remain an unachieved desire, Buntak will compile, with separate compositions meant for every wall of the pavilion, in a painterly ambience, his own personal favourite and particularly important Bible stories.  In the execution, Buntak has relied on his own experience in the making of fluorescent murals lit up with UV light, which he has made since the collective exhibition Walls and Space in 2003. Since direct work on the wall is ruled out in the Pavilion, the production procedure used the scanning of original drawings done in a reduced scale according to the proportions of the walls of the pavilion, and their enlargement to the real dimensions of the intended walls, and their printing in segments on rolls of paper that then, fixed onto the walls, are fitted into a complete composition. At the end, the composition, by the neutral ground being painted with acrylic paint, is put in shape for the desired effect, which will be made possible in its fullness by the radiating sensation of fluorescent lines under beams of UV light. The ambience that will be conjured up in the dark by the floating and flaring fluorescent drawings is apparently separated from the support, giving off, at the level of visual effect, the mystery of a secret and the specific spiritual atmosphere of revelation. Art historians who have followed the development of Buntak’s work from the very beginnings in the nineties have referred to his overwhelming failure to fit in with the spirit of the time. At the moment of the expansion of multimedia, Buntak chose as the domain for the realisation of his artistic credo the traditional disciplines of the fine arts. At a time when engaged art is most highly valued, together with a critical attitude towards positions of power from a subjective authorial angle, Buntak’s poetics developed into a complex and speciously unconnected epic narration about exotic worlds and fancied a-historical societies, without the expression of the personality of the individual in appearance, behaviour or expression. In the epoch of technological hyper-mimesis, his works have been characterised by technical simplicity, a high degree of stylisation, a cartographic perspective and frozen sequences of movements. In spite of all these impossibilities, Buntak’s sincere focus on the realisation and perfection of an expression that has a deep meaning for him, abetted by the satiation of experts and public with directed works and pragmatic programmatic strategies, and the newly awakened interest in both traditional visual art and in untypical representatives of the time, finally, nevertheless, resulted in his reputation as an artist being completely made. Buntak’s indeterminate poetics and iconography, as a result of his entire dislocation were first of all interpreted as na?ve phantasmagoria or fairytale new-age escapade, but gradually began to be interpreted as critique of civilisation, a post-history escapist utopia and finally as the annunciation of a thoroughgoing reformation that, although shown pleasantly to the eye, judging from the emptiness of its landscapes will be neither easy nor comfortable. Since critical interpretation of his ever more ambitious and larger projects has gradually moved from the discourse of art and icon to the consideration of the social and cultural implications, so Buntak’s personal position within contemporary social discourse has at the same time, in the works themselves, become every more clearly defined and more pronounced. The feeling of the general spiritualisation and the symbolic charge of the stage setting the morphology of which has linked into a single stylistic pastiche thousands of years and thousands of kilometres of differing worldviews, cultures and aesthetics, and that with time was to become Buntak’s recognisable personal style and the basic repertoire, of just a few types of human figures, with which the diversity of mankind is represented, together with the profundity of humanity’s dilemma, developed into an idiosyncratic illustration of the worldview of Christianity. 


Buntak’s mystic visions presented in the Art Pavilion are almost entirely filled with young athletic male and female figures with elongated fusiform bodies and limbs.  This is the typology that, within his poetics, symbolises persons on the way to enlightenment, those who have achieved eutopia, the “good place”, in which they are safe from evil and temptation.  The challenges are behind them, and the barriers and dangers in the idyll that they now inhabit are just a memory of the past and the mystery of hope and salvation. Buntak’s interpretation of the Biblical motifs is at first glance confusing.  It seems that he is able as author and artist to keep at the same distance the worlds to which he so thoroughly belongs, the world of religion, the world of art.  The contemporary visitor and art critic will tend to miss the symbolic meaning of the Biblical allegories about the deliverance from the fiery furnace, the guardian angels, St Christopher and a unicorn, the scenes of the New Jerusalem and the events in the Temple, or, on the Tree of Life, and their artistic interpretations makes them, again, close and centuries away from the medieval spiritual space in which they place the treatment of religious topics. On the other hand, the believer will most probably get the impression that the nude athletic bodies in the New Jerusalem, in front of and inside the Temple, the robust boy Jesus, and the good-natured dragons and fantastic beings, actors in the religious mysteries, pronouncedly unorthodox.  When one recalls Buntak’s very abundant exhibitions, what comes at once to mind is that his previously only directly religiously organised exhibition was concerned with pain and martyrdom with an expressiveness uncommon to him. The exhibition in the Art Pavilion is dedicated to the opposite pole of Christian doctrine, that based on the light of peace and of achieved sanctity. Indeed, Buntak’s creative work deals with a new humanism, with a topic that in many ways has occupied contemporary Catholic doctrine. The western world, in the general understanding, is experiencing a profound crisis of disillusionment with the basic postulates of the scientific worldview that has given way under the pressure of interests and the lures of profit. The authority of the Church, in the statements of its highest officials, is being opened up to dialogue and tolerance, which offers collaboration to the intellectual elite in the development and revival of a threatened civilisation that the Christian religion created and profoundly determined, a civilisation that, splitting away from the negative aspects of dogma, has sacrificed the positive postulates of the Christian worldview and above all of the understanding of love that like truth and goodness is an inseparable part of God as creative Reason. In conclusion, we should point out that Buntak has put on his most striking show to date in the most magnificent domestic exhibition architecture, a building that all in all can be called a shrine of the fine arts. This is an occasion for celebration that is echoed in all the segments of the exhibition Pilgrims – Vision of Mystic Journeys, and above all in the clear articulation of the humanism so characteristic of the author. What will not be missed by those who follow his oeuvre with a little more attention is the great dedication to the architecture that has never before to this moment and in such different forms been present in his work. It is the architecture that is the vehicle of historical memory, practically a cultural cloak over the bare extra-temporal bodies that symbolise the pure human spirit, in the environment of which the pilgrims will meet their female match for the beginning of a new cycle of civilisation. The vision of the birth of a new age of happiness and sincerity with the trio of angelic heralds and St Christopher as force that has found purpose in faith must be most powerfully symbolised in the figure of the hovering Jesus, a boy that the history of iconography has not yet recorded. For this reason we have no doubt, rather we rejoice, for before us are the challenges of the accomplishment of eutopia.

Text: Branko Franceschi

References: The Speech of Pope Benedict XVI. at the La Sapienza University in Rome (tr. Ivica Ragu`)