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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In terms of the historical sequence and continuity of developments in fine arts in Yugoslavia, the 1960’s are recognized as the most turbulent decade. This decade brought decline to the social realist theory of the early post-war period imposed by politics. The instructions which insisted that works of art had to relate to the reality of life of the socialist man became inreasingly rare. Nevertheless, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, like in other parts of Yugoslavia, social realism was not just a short episode which simply vanished into thin air from the domains of both theory and practice the moment ties broke with the countries of the socialist (Eastern) block. Ridding of social realism in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a particularly long process, possibly due the fact that in its center, which gathered the largest number of artists of all generations, unlike other areas, groups which emerged with a manifesto, or without one, failed to survive. There were attempts, e.g. the group Sarajevo 55, whose members came on the track of a kind of modernity by means of minimizing the object inventory and reducing it to associative or evocative elements. The group was short-lived; they only had two exhibitions, one in Sarajevo and one in Vienna. The same year, however, the Group of Four was formed in Banja Luka, far from the center, far from Sarajevo. They explained the reasons why the group was formed in two forewords, very much like manifestoes, in the modest catalogs of their first exhibitions. The interpretations and texts produced locally to date about this Banja Luka phenomenon create the impression of a kind of particular exquisiteness of this group. A more meticulous study would show the processes of group formation in Yugoslav fine arts were parallel and synchronous both in terms of timing and the issues they addressed. In 1953, the Yugoslav Association of Fine Artists held its congress in Ohrid, where recommendations were made regarding the ‘usefulness and necessity to establish art groups in all areas where conditions allow it’. So, the very same year a group called Danes emerged in Macedonia, whose manifesto promoted the idea that ‘our art should rely on international achievements, oppose outmoded views on art, create a new fine art audience and cultivate its taste’. Again, the same year the Group of 53 was formed in Ljubljana, whose ‘wish is to move forward off the beaten track’ in search for the ‘possiblility of new attitudes with regards to figuration’. One year later, in 1954, the Group of Six was formed in Belgrade, and the following, 1955, the December Group emerged soon after the Group of Four. As early as the beginning of the 1960’s and before the above-mentioned congress, groups were also formed for the reason of the lack of criticism and selection criteria when it came to collaborative exhibitions, such as the Belgrade-based group The Independent (formed in 1950).

The Group of Four was not formed for that reason, as there were no great artists or major art events in Banja Luka. The members of the group, Dušan Simić, Alojz Ćurić, Bekir Misirlić and Enver Štaljo, appeared on a rather empty stage, with the ‘idea’ it would be ‘easier for us to live, work and act as painters, if several young people joined together. In our conversations we never started from a manifesto, anything that might serve as a gathering axiom.’ (E. Štaljo) Thus, their getting together was rather circumstantial, whereas what looked like manifestoes came later. The circumstances were as follows: all four of them graduated from the Department of Fine Arts of the Teachers’ College (Simić and Misirlić were Banja Luka graduates; Ćurić and Štaljo also completed the first year in Banja Luka, in Prof. Božo Nikolić’s class, and the second in Prof. Radenko Mišević’s class in Sarajevo, where the Department later moved), they were all teachers of art, and along with their occupation, they were all also determined to paint. A number of research projects conducted in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Banja Luka have already elaborated on the fact the Group of Four were the cornerstone of the subsequent development of fine art in Banja Luka, as well as the education of its fine art audiences to view painting in a new way. This research has shown each of the four artists had his own stance and model of painting, despite the fact they all began by painting motifs typical of their home region, as well as from relapses of the Avant-Garde fine art of the first half of the 20th century, and then searched for ways to evolve through a relationship between heritage and modern expression, i.e. through reduction (‘transformation of the real’). This meant doing away with the three dimensions, local quality and modulation. The objects had to be reduced to flat surfaces; color had to undergo metamorphosis.

The tendency to amalgamate the national with the modern was an important characteristic of the 1990’s. A range of themes from the cultural or ethnographic heritage came to the fore again, and activities were aimed at finding an art morphology based on the national sentiment. A motif was not selected for the purpose of mere reproduction. For a great majority of Yugoslav artists working in that period, a particular motif became the signature or sign they were recognized by. They would transform, decompose or synthesize it by means of color and shape, keeping it on the borderline between figurative and abstract. Many of them used a single motif to create a number of paintings, and some never abandoned it (e.g. Gliha or Šimunović). At that time, finding themes and inspiration in their own surroundings was equally the motto of the professors of our Group of Four, Božo Nikolić and Radenko Mišević. The first did not exactly face the dilemma as to how to use a motif to create a painting which would not be an imitation but a creation; throughout this decade as well his painting preserved the characteristics of Poetic Realism dating from the 1940’s. The other one, Mišević, returned to Bosnia to be a ‘painter of Bosnia’ and its rustic power, but also to exploit specific themes in order to examine the plastic elements of the painting.

So, these two people would also train Alojz Lojzo Ćurić; when he stepped on the art scene together with the other three members of the Group of Four, he presented works which expectedly revealed his professors’ influence and his search for other models. We have no knowledge of the works he presented in the first exhibition the Group held in November 1955, after he completed national service in Zagreb, except for the portrait called ‘Grandmother Kata’ (still kept as part of his legacy), painted in 1953, during the time when he was B. Nikolić’s student, with wrinkles on her face in the form of hatches, which his tutor also used for a while. We know that year he began to paint in series, which remained a permanent feature of his work. The series presented separate unities, but also indicated innovations in his work. That particular year was marked by a series of drawings entitled ‘On the Track of Kočić’s Tales’, which he showed the following year in an exhibition dedicated to this author. The commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Kočić’s death most probably led to the creation of this series. During the time Ćurić worked as an art teacher, the topics of Kočić’s stories were often the assignments he gave his students as well. Some of the best works were used later to illustrate various publications of this writer’s works. In Ćurić’s dilemma over ‘what and how’ to draw or paint, these drawings would not remain a short-term episode, but rather an indication of his future inclination towards a specific kind of landscape characterized by a kind of robust liveliness and powerful dramatism. When it comes to figures and his rare figurative compositions with people and animals, evidently he was more engrossed in a specific type or posture, in a movement, rather than in their characteristic individuality. Hence there are barely any portraits in his opus. Thanks to their forms distorted in an expressionist manner, the few portraits that do exist leave an impression he hurriedly sketched his excitement at traces of human existence, mainly built in the faces of highlanders or his grandma ‘at the end of the voyage’. As for the period he was member of the Group, one of his first oils on canvas remains – the ‘Self-Portrait’ – typical of his ironic discourse. It shows the figure of a young man stepping into the world to conquer it. The inital title of the painting was most probably the ‘Dancer’, while the one used subsequently to display the painting, ‘Self-Portrait – A Dancer’, was added later. As for still lifes, his legacy contains only two pieces, the ‘Quinces’, a watercolor bearing no date, and ‘After the Feast’, an ink drawing made in 1957.

Ćurić generally formed as an artist by 1965, and this process of artistic genesis was marked by various transformation, disfigurement and deformation models. It features works such as the ‘Stone Wedding Guests’ and ‘Girls’ from 1958, painted in tempera, which took him a long time to free from, as he acknowledged it. Those works were probably a part of a larger set, or perhaps simply a series of paintings featuring no focus or accents, characterized in terms of action by a kind of petrified motionlessness. They possess a kind of arabesque and decorative quality, achieved with a separating line uniformly enclosing colored surfaces, its facture lean, its matter gloss-free. As Ćurić himself acknowledged it, there are several landscapes and animal paintings from that period apparently made under Lubarda’s influence, weighing out the effects of colors and shapes of rudimentary, unspoilt nature. He modelled them after those paintings by Lubarda which Miodrag B. Protić classified as falling in the ‘domain of associative Expressionism, at times even Surrealism’.

Irfan Horozović interviewed Ćurić, Misirlić and Štaljo, and this interview was published in the catalog for the Group-in-retrospect exhibition held in 1980 at Banja Luka’s House of Culture; in this interview, Ćurić says: ‘It was from Božo I fell into the habit to look for colapsing buildings, old houses, which eventually turned into a kind of a social relationship for me... I wandered around, drew, and looked for motifs. It was only after I went to Mrkonjić that I found what I needed.’ Thus, in 1958 he made a host of drawings of Mrkonjić and the surrounding area, and many more ensued later. Many of them still submitted to realist aestheticism; they may even be completely factographic, like paying back the debt to his education on the proven principles of figurative art. These motifs helped Ćurić to understand that in the future, he needed to be in immediate contact with everything else. For that reason he made numerous drawings on the spot, at the actual place of his experiences, wherever he went with paper, ink, brush, stick (a sharpened piece of wood), candle and ruling pen. These drawings allow us to follow the intensity of his experiences. Some were born out of pure contemplation, and others out of ecstasy; some emanate the sensation of control and consideration. They range from a rational discourse in a coordinate system of vertical, horizontal and sharp diagonal lines, to irrational gestures, whose rhythm is associative and abstract. When he did not go to Mrkonjić, he sought inspiration in Banja Luka’s surroundings, in Gornji Šeher, the canyon of the River Vrbas called Tijesno, or at the banks of the River Suturlija, in search for ever more powerful and suggestive natural forms. All these drawings accentuate his indisputably excellent graphic skills, as well as his attitude to drawing as the only medium which he could use at that time to elaborate studiously his thoughts on plasticity. This means he did not wish to present the forms which nature offered him as their mimesis. Plastic elements such as the line, shape, sometimes color (in his watercolors) are not used to describe but to symbolize, but not as symbols used to signify – rather used as the essence deconstructed to what the eye sees at first glance. Thus, Ćurić attempts to replace what is seen with a creation, the existent with the imaginary. This was one of the main postulates of his teaching method: he demanded the same attitude towards what is seen from his students, at least during the time he was also my teacher, which is from 1957 to 1960. His drawings from that period are like a seismograph – records of the many occasions when he felt bliss, ecstasy and exaltation before nature’s forms. The reasons why this exaltation, which he felt with all his senses, subsided and could not be retriggered before a canvas, and what stayed in its truncated, ‘chamber’ form could not be developed into monumental works lay mostly in poverty and a cramped working area. The reverse sides of these drawings, half a sketchpad sheet in size, have on them bad drawings made by his students; he kept the good ones for the rest of his life, and they make a large portion of his legacy.

His first coherent series of paintings made in oil on canvas is the 1960’s series ‘The Suturlija’. He previously sublimated this theme using drawing as the medium, and it shows best the same exaltation could not be transformed into a painting; yet, he certainly wanted and tried to record it in that form as well. Something phantasmagoric and convulsive found its way into the geological and biomorphological forms of this theme. The only importance of this series lies in the fact it shows how Ćurić’s ideas of plasticity moved from surreal to associative and abstract. The escalation of aggressive forms inherent both to nature and the subconscious is achieved by means of play of colors and shapes, their mutual permeation, but also their stark contrasts, as well as strong and brisk movements of the brush. It is as if ‘The Suturlija’ paintings emanate the feeling of fear in anticipation of the chaos and breakdown which might occur as a result of unfinished tectonic processes. Their complicated composition lacks balance; as paintings, they show the landscape we actually walk through on foot and perceive with our eyes and the one committed to our memory are not necessarily the same, that nature’s beauty and the beauty of a painting do not have to be the same. His elimination of concrete externality in favour of the artistic essence of a painting and using it to reveal nature’s hidden meanings, which he experimented with in ‘The Suturlija’ series and which was a bit toilsome, was to be interrupted abruptly. There were no paintings or drawings in 1961.

When he started painting again, we see he had transitioned from the vicissitudes of nature to the fruits of human labor, replacing the turbulent composition pattern of ‘The Suturlija’ paintings with the geometricized constellation of the ‘Mills’ series, using a completely different color spectrum, where the transition to abstraction is somewhat more careful. His 1962 legacy contains a number of small sketches, evidencing Lojzo was preoccupied with the study of this theme a long time. It also leaves the impression he thought about the way to transcend the boundaries of the visible externality of an object and achieve nothing more than a hint or idea of the motif selected and the sense that motif evoked in him. The first impression is he essentially no longer deforms an object, but rather compresses it into the fragments of a whole. He analyzes the principle underlying its structure, the tissue it is made of. In terms of the form and rhythm of his shapes, the alteration of surfaces and volumes – though never a strictly geometric pattern, rather a kind of loose geometry – and the dynamism of artistic language, the style of the ‘Mills’ series may be classified as a variation of Post-Cubism, or a kind of Cubo-Futurism. The fragmentation of the structural elements of a mill as a product of construction and the tectonics of geometricised surfaces conjure up the interaction of matter and energy. After all, the mill is the symbol of a reality, a reality which is a process in itself, the process of transition from one state to another. The composition of the ‘Mills’ is mainly a skeleton of vertically or horizontally sequenced surfaces. A diagonal line often intersects these surfaces, bringing in the sensation of speed and movement. The color range of the ‘Mills’ is narrow, although they are rich in tonal shades. The mid-tones are harmonious, with the dusky hues of the interior grading from light to dark and from warm to cold. Pure spectral colors are rarely applied. The facture is smooth and the movement fused; the color of soot and floury patina, which pile up on the skeleton like sediments of time, is never applied in thick layers. Metaphorical and symbolic associations contribute to the monumental impressiveness of both the large and many small paintings of this series. The readable presence of the forms of grindstone and windlass calls up meaning outside and beyond the data painted. Undoubtedly, there is ontological signification in the notion of the mill, as well as the pack-saddle painted later. Ćurić uses them to offer a key to his existential feelings and his view on the world. It was also thanks to this that the two series corresponed to the spirit of the times, so one of the mills, ‘Mill IV’, was included in the great exhibition ‘Yugoslav Painting of the 1960s’, held at Belgrade’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 1980. If we know the paintings of this series were made in the 1962-1964 period, during the years we may still consider Lojzo’s beginnings, then Venturi is right in saying that the ‘beginning is often maturity as well’. The ‘Mills’ and ‘Pack-Saddles’, a minor series which followed, are the most mature and the best part of Ćurić’s opus.

At first glance, it is difficult to espy, to sense and anticipate his new thematic series, the transition from the ‘Mills’ to the ‘Pack-Saddles’. The ‘Black Mill’, where the winch hook and the circle of the millstone disappear, is an announcement of this change of theme. At first, the same mid-tones used in the ‘Mills’ were used to paint the ‘Pack-Saddles’, while in the last the chromatic scale changes and is brighter thanks to the warm ocher shades used. The ‘Pack-Saddles’ were painted following the same geometrical principle, although horizontal lines are somewhat more prominently motionless. Remains of the real are barely recognizable in them, as if they were the next stop on the way to associative abstraction. We should not forget this object-symbol was also taken from our local rural environment, so dear to him, which is another allegorical symbol of the hardships of living, synonymous with burden or toil. We do not know what happened next, as he never spoke about it; we do not know whether after the ‘Mills’ and ‘Pack-Saddles’ series he became afraid of a kind of formal lartpourlartism and substantial emptiness, or perhaps grew tired and quitted; anyway, after these series, Ćurić took another, longer break, which lasted from 1965 to 1972.

Malicious tongues used to say Ćurić described his visions to his students and let them paint them for him. He retorted to such slander with lots of irony. To stop the slander, Kemal Širbegović and the curators of the Art Gallery scheduled a joint exhibition for him and Širbegović in 1972, giving him plenty of time. He agreed and said he would display watercolors, while Širbegović was to present his linocuts. The technique of watercolor was not new for Lojzo, as he had made them before, in almost all of his series. After this exhibition it became practically the only technique he used in almost all his future work. This transition to watercolor changed both his themes and syntax: neither his handwriting nor his temperament nor the colors were the same as in his oil paintings. The sophisticated mid-tones of the ‘Mills’ and ‘Pack-Saddles’ and the deliberated and more explicitly contemplative method used in their making were to be replaced with brisk gestures and a broad watercolor palette. As this technique demands it, he used watercolor to capture single-moment scenes along with his rapture. This rapture was caused by the banks of the River Vrbas – not the dark brown ones of the canyon, but rather the ones guiding the river into the lowlands. In these watercolors everything is made softer, more poetic, and the richness of the relations between colors, shapes and their contours reaches maximum saturation and expression. The outlines of a landscape turn into a cascade of hues. The ‘Banks of the Vrbas’ is the title of this next series, which also contains the largest number of paintings. Ćurić painted these banks to produce countless variations, but each of these variations features something constant, the central element of the river bed and a single cataract. Sometimes the impression is it is the same scene repeating. However, there are numerous cataracts like this on the Vrbas. Surrounding it are sinter rocks, fences, bushes, trees and houses, showing through from around it. These surrounding elements look as if there were an energy source which alternately drew them to and dispelled them from that center. There is an ‘ambient quality’ to the hues used in the first watercolors of this series, with shades of blue and green prevailing. Later, he enriched this tonal palette with increasingly lively and vibrant accents of the colors purple, yellow and red, causing him to add these color attributes to some of the names of the banks. When it comes to shapes, they are details whose topography is hardly recognizable, like the beginning of a particular impression hidden in its further elaboration by certain hieroglyphic, stenographic and punctuation signs, which conjure up the micro and macrostructure of biomorphological origin, including the murmur of water. The movement is almost expressionist, brisk, and the whole painting exudes a kind of impressionist concept, enriched with associative and abstract forms. A real potpurri, where his verbal and artistic expressions practically become one.

He continued to paint the ‘Banks of the Vrbas’ for the next twenty years, until 1993. Jaded by their mannerist repetition, he strayed at times into the themes of Mrkonjić Grad, Lijevče Field, River Suturlija; from 1980 to 1983, he tried to return to the theme of pack-saddles, using both the oil and watercolor techniques. We could see that Lojzo painted pack-saddles in the first half of the 1960’s, less as a symbol, and more as a theme and the next phase of his experimenting with object deconstruction. The symbol was recognized by the disciplines of linguistics and metaphysics. However, it was right at that time that a whole series of young painters emerged in Yugoslav art (Damjan, Miljuš, B. Aleksić, Zaimović, etc.), whom M. B. Protić labeled ‘painters of the new symbol’, whose paintings implied – let us cite Jung here – ‘something vague, unknown and hidden from us’. Ćurić’s pack-saddle was no such kind of symbol. If today, forty years later, we consider his long silence after 1965, if I recall the occasional conversations about tendencies in art from then until the end of his life which he participated in, where he spoke with sarcasm about artists who immediately responded to all those shifts in art, it becomes understandable and clear that Lojzo did not wish (we cannot pass judgement as to whether he was capable of it) to search for himself – or see himself within it, for that matter – the scope of the art issues of the moment. Looking at the ‘Pack-Saddles’, which were made in the early 1980’s, we may conclude he tried that as well. In the early 1980’s, both local and international art took a ‘new turn in painting’, the ‘new painting’ emerged, and Postmodernism began. Complete anarchy took control of art, a kind of ‘nomadism’, individualism. From artist to artist, from country to country, paintings were created fully disharmonious in terms of the use of color and composition, where arabesque prevailed, a drawing element expressed by means of accentuated shape contours. It became fashionable to quote or paraphrase works created in the recent or distant history of art, call on the experiences of German Expressionism and French Fauvism, and mimic children’s drawings, even kitsch. The intentional mixed with the unconscious, imagination, instinct and the primary stimulus became the only reason for painting. Ćurić made a contribution to this Postmodernist situation by returning to his old theme. Only then did he try to reduce the pack-saddle to a symbol, but in the form of a pattern and using the Fauvist palette. He painted several oils and made dozens of little sketches, and then discovered felt-tip pens and got lost in the garishness of their nuances. This garishness may have been a symbolic cry caused by his daughter’s illness, which he undoubtedly felt as his own suffering.

After this digression to the subject of the ‘Pack-Saddle’ series, Ćurić returned to the pulsation of records, combinations of blots and signs in the ‘Banks of the Vrbas’. During the 1992-1995 conflict he stayed in Banja Luka. In that period, he filled several notebooks with drawings in ink and pencil, definitely in the manner of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. After the war, for the first time ever, he introduced into his drawing opus some Christological and religious themes, miniature crucifixes, full of allegorical and metaphorical meanings. He made allegories a kind of homage to Banja Luka’s Clock Tower, whose destiny he compared to that of St. Sebastian.

His health impaired, with a hurting hip, he could no longer wander around Banja Luka, which was the soil that inspired him. The banks of the River Vrbas were no longer the same for him either. Yet, he could not make do without them. He returned to them in 2002, not in their actual reality, but in an imaginary encounter, through poetic fiction. He created the last series of the banks paintings, rich in associative shapes, for which he used lyrical pastel hues. All the watercolors made during this last phase possess the gentle quality of a pastoral. Everything in them is ethereal, almost immaterial. The tissue of the whole set disolves into the rhythms and contrasts of relatively large or small colored areas, and only the graphic quality of those wedge-shaped forms (roofs in this particular case), so dear to him, interrupts the absolute dominance of pastel hues both in the space and among the forms. These paintings are no longer a product of fast, momentary expression; they are an outcome of meditation, of memories of experiences of long ago and of reminiscences of the real world of those banks, whose every little corner he once became familiar with. After this final great series, he returned to notebooks one more time, but this time to words and not drawings. They are a legacy for some other researchers. Interestingly, there is little literary potential in the titles he called his works, while his records and notes abound in it, as did his speech, surprisingly. Perhaps this was his way of arriving from the accumulated to the reductive.

Lojzo dedicated almost 50 years of his life to painting; in his work, he mainly turned to nature, which he adored, which revealed the secrets of life to him, and through whose forms and phenomena he visualized his own spiritual conditions. In terms of shapes and iconography, his repertory also touched upon layers of the subconscious, while he, in love with the primordial, searched for something archetypal, as well as for some new semiotic roots. The reasons for the metamorphoses that his shapes went through, i.e. for their morphological variety lie in the techniques and materials he used to express himself. Owing to that, his opus may be divided not only into series, but also into periods when he used tempera, ink, oil, watercolor, even felt-tip pens, with the same equal passion. Ćurić slightly resembles an artist whose creative history is discontinuous. This discontinuousness reflects in the series and greater or lesser formal variations. As befitting the time when he began, he started with realistic signs and went to eliminating them, preserving their associative quality, while doing away with their illusional spatiality (his tempera paintings and his first oils). Next, he reached the gestural spontaneity of the watercolor through the controlled calm and tamed expression of the ‘Mill’ and ‘Pack-Saddle’ paintings. We could see that his complete opus consists of several series; yet, there is a whole cycle of minor, unelaborated series as well, left in the form of sketches, which have failed to be relevant for either his opus or our art life. As such, they have rarely been exhibited. They were probably significant for him as they helped him define his limits, more in terms of observation and imagination than novel experimentation with plasticity or search for the significant, that which lies behind illusion. His sketches feature the following sporadic themes: bulls, horses with pack-saddles, torsos or compositions imbued with eroticism. Some of these sketches may have been published somewhere as illustrations, as Lojzo did a lot of illustration work for newspapers and magazines, and also illustrated several books. His beginnings in a cramped space, his poverty, dedication to art education, reading and writing, his recording of what he saw and experienced with distinctive, sometimes mysterious metaphores, took away the time he could spend painting and exhibiting. In his lifetime he only held four solo exhibitions, and only one and a half in Banja Luka. That was sufficient for him to become one of Banja Luka’s legendary artists.

 

                                                                             Meliha Husedžinović