PAINTINGS, GOUACHES 1998-2000
Looking into the continuity of Edo Murtić's painting, it is easy to see in it thematic wholes that, like fugues, have in recent years developed, varied and complemented each other. The central place in this exceptionally fertile artistic work belongs to landscape, even at those moments when at first glance we find it difficult to find in the picture any concrete references to things. This is because the painter never has the ambition of reproducing the seen motif, taking it rather as a stimulus, turning his own internal charge, his emotions, his temperament into the real substance of the work. Put more simply, the motif selected from the real landscape enters into the personal inventory of the artist, of things like style or selection of colour. When in about 1960, at the height of his Art Informel period, Murtić did a series of paintings on which the red Istrian soil was the only objective content, he directed all his attention to the expressive effects offered by the earth itself: earth understood as texture. There were no accompanying elements from which we could decipher the meaning (in terms of things) of the dense application of different ochres and reddish browns. The painter cast aside every kind of descriptiveness, sticking to the bare, raw, crude matter. The fragments of friable red earth represented an impulse completely adequate to set off his imagination. Everything was equally important, even the tiniest detail, for the coming picture. The picture seemed to ferment in the air, in the forests, just as in the impressions grasped by the painter’s eye. Things faded in the strokes of pure, vehement colour that pulsed from the ground and conjured up more of a state and a situation, less individual parts of a seen, described view. The gestures spontaneously expanded, condensed, crossed and dissolved on the ground without any idea of having to signify anything other than their own bare presence.
Frequently we learn more from the titles and less from the description within the artwork that it was landscape that was the origin of the picture. The allusions and associations directing us towards the motif that the painter has occasionally deconstructed to the point of unrecognisability are contained more in the colour than in the network of lines. However non-mimetic the colour might have been, it did contain an exceptionally persuasive potential with which the painter managed to bring to mind the traits of the landscape fixed upon. Or better: the state and situation of the landscape. The real life motif is for Murtić in fact most frequently a reason for painting, but not the ultimate end. There is no wish to put its appearance into the picture through the act of painting, and for this reason it will tend to seem abstract. In the series of works, oils and gouaches, created over the last couple of years, Edo Murtić seems to have created a certain resumé. What pulls the works together into a whole is their chromatic register. From picture to picture, from sketch to finished work, the same colours and the mutual relationships of them are involved. With dense, opaque black strokes the powerful rhythm and structure of the work are marked in, while with several ochres and greys the effects of the black are quietened down. Rust reds, brown siennas, and raw umbers pick up and follow the various blues: from transparent and brilliant Paris blues to those sombre shades that are worked into the dominant black grid.
In this works Murtić seems to be returning to those done in the seventies, when the forceful black strokes set out the fundamental structure, and were picked up by pure reds, blues, yellows and greens. At first sight it would seem that a radical break has been made with the paintings of the early nineties linked to the Istrian landscape with the Montraker Quarry and the artist’s garden in Vrsar, the most common stimuli. And yet there is no sense here of there being a real return to or revival of the classic Murtićian abstractionism. The unexpected and accidental similarities to the older paintings do not mean any forgetting of the contents of the more recent works. Among those matters of substance that do appear in the continuity are certainly the character of the gesture, the stroke, the key element that here determined the structure of the painting. While the strokes of the later seventies affirmed the painting’s planar nature, they have now imparted to the firmness an agility inherited precisely from the more recent works in which gestures describe the spatial plenitude of the landscape. The line of the hill, of the characteristic quarry rock, tree or island do not extend across the surface of the painting without a reference to the roundedness of the volumes from which they derive. In other words, the turbulence of the black lines, broad and heavy, sharp and jagged, and the pulsing planes of ochres, rust reds, blues and greys cannot be imagined at this moment without the experience that the painter acquired painting the Istrian landscape through the seasons, formally getting further away from it. Finally, talking of his paintings of the seventies, from the time of his most vigorous Abstract Expressionism and gestural painting, Edo Murtić himself says that he "drew these colours out of the Istrian landscape" and that it would be possible to talk of "some essence of colour".
The Montraker cycle confirms in the very best way the limiting position of the recognisability of some given motif. Here the elements of the concrete landscape both spread and dissolve, condense and coagulate. They spread out into broad, impetuous strokes that have their origin in the lines that did once describe a real scene. They coagulate into the sign that through colour or characteristic outline connotes a given prototype that the painter has remembered in the near space of his Istrian home. Writing many years ago about the paintings of Edo Murtić of that time, Jean Cassou observed very precisely that "in him, everything is energy, whether of content or movement". Looking at the most recent works, mainly large format paintings, this observation made long ago seems marvellously precise and up to date. The firm, certain gestures in an extremely simply way determine the structure of the work. However, at the same time they exude energy: in quick, forceful strokes that slide unstoppably over the field of the painting, filling up the whole space. If in these works we have been able to find a kinship with works from the period of Murtić’s most powerful gestural painting and have seen synthesis as the most important feature in them, this kind of conclusion does not have to be in any way binding. In this painting, changes have often been the rule. In temporally almost regular rhythmical intervals, stages of maturation can be perceived, full formations and then a kind of wilful abandonment of the primary painterly idea. The artist apparently betrays himself, but this treachery is always only on the surface, the core being ever untouched. If anything at all is relative in the painting of Edo Murtić, then it is the question of continuity and discontinuity. One and the other are interfused, and often stand at some border position that allows of easy transitions across to the other side without any consequences being incurred. Put simply, in this art, there is just one rule: there is no rule.