MURTIĆ AND TIME
(alongside some old pictures at a new exhibition)
What can someone who, starting out as a child prodigy in the not particularly large city of his childhood, in a small country, expect for and hope for, if he lives long enough and wakes up one day, as Murtić does now, on the verge of his eightieth year? This is the life span of a patriarch, a sage, an anchorite... Can you possibly imagine him as a crotchety, practically autistic figure who has long since become fed up with long-drawn-out public discussions, or as a grumpy old codger, a loner, who ages ago rendered up all that he had to give and is now faced with a moribund brush. Can you imagine him at all as a weaver, weak and tired, who has got entangled in his own yarn, or as a painter who, while still alive, has become a historical figure: figura temporis acti. But our contemporary, man of the end of the 20th century, will also find it hard to imagine him as a youngster, who still breeds hope and who has not yet said his last; as a master who is still looking for (and finding) things in front of himself, not behind. He is, indeed, one of that most unusual breed among the painters of today; one of those whom you cannot persuade to live in the past, those for whom the cares of today are more important than the pictures of yesterday; one of those have kept their vigour and strength until a great age, as well as their temperament, their curiosity, freshness of ideas and precision of hand, one who, in his winter studio, during the hours of his working quotidian, is still looking for the new. How many such people are there, here or elsewhere? I can vividly remember those long-past student days when I first took up the Collected Works of Ljubo Babić that important Croatian painter, writer and teacher - and Murtić's first instructor. The second page of the fourth volume imprinted itself into my consciousness, to stay there for the whole of my life. It was the Gold Age of Spanish Painting (Studies and Memories). Here was printed the motto of the book:
Francisco Goya y lucienteo
in his 80th year.
Isn't Edo Murtić today saying that "I am still learning" of Goya's, in Goya's years, with a similar experience of a time that broke above the head of the individual (Murtić witnessed the collapse of three states in this region), presenting himself, sincerely and simply, as a long-lived and indeed eternal pupil of the inexhaustible art of painting, and still more inexhaustible nature. If he is now concerned with work, research, constant learning, what can he have been like in his fifties and sixties? Even then, his painting was a synonym of challenge and trial, or more precisely, of a diary of a struggle. He fought against imposed constraints against conventions, modernist scholasticism, against misanthropic poetics, against faint-heartedness and mediocrity He fought to the top of his bent, with all that sappy and creative "handwriting" of his. If we can remark anything at all on the margins of his oeuvre, without any fear of making a mistake, then it would be that contradictory, almost blasphemous, statement that even in the abstract paintings Murtić achieved the fullness and substantiality of the physical, the corporeal. Shall I be forgiven if I say that at every other opportunity this kind of theorising would be a bit dubious to me too; but when it is about Edo... His power to make concrete has been, indeed, remarkable. Where did it come from, what was the source of this power? Murtić never lost his connection with nature, never turned his back on the surroundings, never fell out with the real world. His palette is not invented, not made up in the head. Murtić is an observer; he brilliantly analyses and commits to memory pictures that have been offered, but also jealously reserves his right to make changes. He is no one's slave, and it would be a mistake to imagine that his respect for nature goes off like some ritual of copying. From everything, it has to be clear that the painter's journey to Tachism, Informel or the sign differed greatly from the trodden path. His reliance on the concrete has always been unambiguous. He has fed on the earthly (stone, earth, leaf ..), the marine (water, sand, rock, weed...), the atmospheric (clouds, dark, light in the sky)... It was from such daily encounters that Murtić's palette was derived, and this explains its fullness and authenticity. In some dogmatic perception, this would be a very disputable and unclear position. One foot in one world, the other in a different. The fact is, however, that Murtić, despite all prejudices, was set off in this way. Fifty years on, seen with hindsight, his path looks like a royal road towards (his) Truth. As usual, dogma has been given the lie by life; what has subsisted, despite all the nay-saying, must have been powerful, full of vitality. It was with these attributes that Edo Murtić went from the mid-1950s into his next period - the sixties, seventies, and on towards our own present time. His impulsiveness, his ecstatic feeling for matter and material and colour and his almost erotic feeling for canvas have made him an offender against borders. These constitutive elements have made him able to be concrete and abstract at a single moment, capable of leaping across imaginary lines of division put up here and there. For some, his sins might be labelled Montraker or One Morning, for others Art Informel or Painting of the Sign. Without needing to make reference to Sedlmayr, we shall say that Murtić's painterly power, as we can make it out today, was in the resolute occupation of a boundary position. This gave him a wider space of inspiration, let him hold in the one hand the great Concrete of Nature and in the other the great Abstract of the World.
November 2000 Igor Zidić
(Museum of Modern Art-Zagreb)