Zagreb, 1996. text by Stanko Špoljarić
ne would expect that the artist's interest will be drawn relatively often to sport, a human activity so dynamic, so full of motion, and typical for the complex and diverse relations among the participating figures. Still, this "important minor affair" seldom inspired the artists to take part in contests and races by means of the brush or the chisel.
In the Croatian art of the first part of the century, for instance, with the exception of Babic and Mujadic, renown for their paintings of football matches, there is no sports spirit to be spoken of. More recently, "The Bomber" by Hegedušić appeared, as well as „The team I'm supporting“, a somewhat scandalous painting by Ratko Janjić, whereas Bojan Stranić, a sportsman himself, found inspiration in several sport disciplines. Another example worth mentioning are the „Female Swimmers" by Tomislav Ostoja, which graces the environs of the Sava swimmingpool in Zagreb. Of course, the subject of these remarks is surely not „The Sport in Croatian Art“: they act solely as the reminder of some works which could fall under such a common denominator. The actual motivation behind this introduction is „Cyclus" by Vasko Lipovac, the most sportive exhibition in Croatian art to date, which through the theme in question creates a multilayered work.
The content is contest, recognizable at the same time as a form of entertainment, as well a symbol for the struggle for life. The search is at the same time a form of relaxation. Plan und unpredictability, beauty and disappointment; and art itself as a form of play. Serious, but still frank in a
childish way, simply because through play, both as artistic subject and deed, great truths can be expressed. Just how often is a great artist himself a great child? The ability to express the purity of playfulness is a privilege, which, almost without exceptions, gives positive results. On the other hand, it is often necessary to follow a form of reduction that is based on experience, in order to make visible the elementary, the basic principle, the origin of every play.
Lipovac never renounced this ludic aspect, even if he avoided remaining at the surface, where play would be its own purpose. On the contrary, the play became for him a method of revealing his own world. In dealing with sport he managed to reach for the extreme, to scratch beyond the surface, and to expose man with all his faults and virtues, doubts and traumas, as well as to express the sincere joy of living. Finding beauty in simplicity, he succeeded in bringing in witticism and irony into the story, with a lot of sympathy for the somewhat clumsy cyclists. Depicted is an amateur race, seen by a professional artist and a connoisseur in the true sense of the word. In his large body of work, Vasko Lipovac has developed a personal style, a form of poetics where the descriptive and the stylized coexist brilliantly, aspiring so to a form which will retain its connection with the ambiance reflected, and to an aspect of figuration where, through the means of visual reduction, a figure becomes a sign.
The brightness and the light of the South call for a clarity of vision, for a human warmth which accomplishes to find greatness in the smallest of things. Therefore, his sailors and wedding couples, saints and promenaders are reduced to a basic framework, illuminated by the Mediterranean, and filled with a gladness which can turn into melancholy at any given moment. The theme is reiterated in numerous reliefs and sculptures, always with a streak of the curious, constantly retaining certain freshness in the way the artist develops his stories of the simple and the ceremonial, elevating the humdrum and the intimate on a pedestal. Thus, his sailors are deck boys and stately captains at the same time. In formal treatment single figures and groups are identical. St. Sebastian doesn't differ from the apostles systematically grouped around the Lord's Supper in a tendency towards order, a solemn stillness, with only a trace of motion. The new Cyclists series is a further development, created through the bearing between the single units and the group.
Lipovac builds a form from the pure silhouette of a driver bent over his bicycle, creating/suggesting velocity, through the means of amassing and distending the numerous circles - the wheels of the vehicles, which, in themselves, create an interesting rhythm of rotation, with the unceased revolving energy being transmitted further on to the driver. The sum of this individual effort, of the single magnetic lines, defines the intensity of movement which permeates the group. The introduction of the idea of movement isn't simply a neat wittiness on Lipovac's side, but an important development in the topical layer of his work. Formerly, Lipovac restricted himself to a sympathetical depiction of the past, looking back on events, situations and persons from a time gone-by, whereas with the Cyclists he places his characters in a position which unites the past and the present, leaving an eye directed to the future. In other words, the dimension of time is introduced.
Observing the figures, we long to know the score too. We become supporters. Lipovac has already chosen the winner. Keeping his mind's eye on the great, exhausting races through Europe, he has already imagined his runners, chosen the one with most luck, skill and, of course, the fastest one. A story is developed where one awaits the outcome with excitement. It is possible that, among the anonymous drivers, there is one with the passion and endurance of the masters of this sport, of the legends like Fausto Coppi, or the contemporary Indurain. Forming his heroes, Lipovac is bound to have thought of the above-mentioned.
Still, his race lacks the tempo of the great European Tours; it is the race of the simple man. And the cyclist is a symbol of the enduring driver, who amasses kilometres, aiming for victory, for happiness eventually. These are not participants in a race lasting a couple of days, but in one that repeats itself during one's life. This is not entertainment, but an unending struggle for success, one that doesn't always end with laurel wreaths. Lipovac has, conforming to his personal formative principles, renounced all portrait traits, but stylizing the face and thoroughly purifying the volume, given expression, mood, shown even the lust for victory. Through the severity and consistence of the pebble,
he managed to bring across a large number of messages, so that one recognises not only those participants of the race who bring themselves into fully it, and to whom defeat
means tragedy, but also those who always end up satisfied, and who bring a kind of competitive spirit into the battle, as well as those who are taking part just for the sake of it. They all appear on the same stage, but are completely disparate in their roles, each with his own thoughts and degree of engagement. Lipovac manages to develop a sports scene, but doesn't define it at a single level of perception. Even if this would be fully sufficient for a complete understanding of the subject matter, he doesn't exhaust himself in it. Therefore, artistic motives aside, it is no accident that Lipovac chose the cyclists for his subject. Ahead of them lays a trip full of uncertainties, the victory itself being a kind of search for purpose, even if some have taken the road without any preconceptions. And the group?
Is it a company ready to lend a helping hand, or does it see in each participant a form of disagreeable competition? Is the single competitor stronger because of being in a group, or is he endangered from it? Questions pose themselves, and show that the race we're observing isn't a banal pastime, but that it opens all the complexity of the relations of the imagined road. There is, actually, a genuine track on which Lipovac places the figures, but it is only a segment of that which awaits to be attained and conquered. By means of cohesion of visual organisation, Lipovac gave tactility to this race-track, so that one feels that the participants aren't haphazardly placed, but that the intervals are active, equally important as the sculptures themselves, at times so compressed that the bodies contact, but still remaining opened for a new start. Along the track, the density of space constantly varies, from concentrated driving in pairs, to the loner who stands off from the crowd, as if not to notice it. This enables the author to leave the various interpretations of the outcome open. Although
not a sculptor who would give much thought to the psychological dissection of figures, he succeeds in creating from the somewhat typical (not as the result of creative exhaustion, but, more likely, of the pertinency of style), the spark of the individual through dialogues and positioning.
The charmingly sculpted faces, with just outlined eyes, moustaches, lips, that have all undergone a slightly geometrical treatment, result in a jovial appearance, underlined by a strong chromatic component. The colour here isn't a supplement to form, one that would simply enrich it, but an equal and integral element of the sculpture, enhancing the splendour of the whole. Lipovac paints his racers with immense phantasy. Bright and chromatically complex, their garment could be the last cry of fashion. The structuring of colours corresponds to the diversity of national banners. The same could be said of the division in stripes: Lipovac uses them in diversity, not simply in order to demonstrate the numerous combinations possible, but to achieve a kind of chromatic harmony. We are speaking here of a sonority which allows room for the minute surfaces (for instance the details of the cap), which are necessary to make the great volumes more prominent. At times, his colour is aggressive, conforming thus to the common notion of sport, as well as luminous to the point where, if it wasn't in the hands of such a colour-sensitive master as Lipovac, it would verge on the tasteless.
Lipovac intentionally toys on this borderline, because sport isn't a subject characterised by timidity; it has to be obtrusive, and this is achieved here through the garish
noise of the garment. The artist conforms to a show-off taste: â€œIf I am not to win, let me at least be noticed.â€? It is perhaps somewhat paradoxical that Lipovac, who considers the pebble, or more precisely, its indentedness, an ideal, should raise such a chromatic temperature. Still, colour is used here in its basic form, and through its dynamics and the qualities of light, its impasto and ductus, bound directly to form. What we have here are pure surfaces of red, blue and violet, with occasional achromatic touches brought in as a kind of repose from the fully saturated colour.
Lipovac uses the garment to show that his is a race of individual contestants, not national teams. Each participant wears a T-shirt differing at least slightly from the others. True, they all conform to the same fashion, but only because Lipovac creates within the related, constantly adding along the horizontal axis, as if this rhythm would raise the speed of the race. This motion could be the finishing sprint as well as a slight acceleration in the mild, wavy shape of a plain. Colour accompanies the expressive anatomy of the figure. Lipovac closes his figures in a block, from, or in which, the extremities assume the shape of a column, with an accent on the characteristically shaped fists.
This basic outline follows the growth of the whole body, and the bodily parts, formed as a unique mass, shape a synthesis of the organic and the geometric, so that underneath the cylindrical, spherical form, one feels the pulse of life. Lipovac determines particular surfaces by chromatic shifts, where the sharp border of colour is linked with the softness of the silhouette.
The precision of work, the utmost diligence, removes these polyurethane or wood constructed figures from
reality. They are bound to the racing-track, but removed from the ground. The refined shaping of the surface accentuates the material, but at the same time, through the somewhat neutral action of the hand, which is in itself a sort of renunciation of handwriting, the object loses its realness. This is a space, which Lipovac reserved for himself, of a specific figuration, which could remind an absent minded viewer of a doll or a toy. Therein lies the very strength of
his expression, one that doesn't shy away from developing, or contracting, a never declining poeticality, and which, due to its stylization and cheerful colouring, seemingly departs from a form of visual arts exhausted by intellectualism. Because truth, contrary to the common belief, can often, given the right form of creativity, be attained in a deeper sense if the author decides to be direct, and develops a kind of visual scene that touches a sincerity of viewing which one tends to forget with the passing of time.
Lipovac unites the initial flash of natural talent with an experience of life and the arts. His primary postulate is clarity, which is not diminished even by the throng of the cyclists. They invite us to move around them, take different perspectives, and even though they intersect at points, the clarity of the concept is in no way disrupted. It would be no surprise if the cyclists were saluted on their way by sailors, greeted by the newlyweds, or if they took the road beside which the church consecrated to St. Sebastian stands. Stanko Ĺ poljariÄ‡