From the Happy City of the Renaissance and thephilosopher-adventurer Franjo Petrić (Franciscus Patricius La Cittŕfelice), to the America of the sixties of the twentieth century and theformation of Marko Spalatin, painter and printmaker, there is a huge span withinwhich the Croatian modern cultural universe came into being. As Croatiancontemporary history locked certain phenomena into ideologically determinedenclaves, neither Franjo Petrić, a man of the world of the times gone by,nor Marko Spalatin, our contemporary global citizen, could find an adequateplace, at least not within the coordinates of the Croatian contemporary history,although they, without any doubt, belong there. As Andrija Mutnjaković,Member of the Academy, once broke the silence by initiating the edition ArchitectonicaCroatica, so also the Cabinet of the Graphic Arts of the Croatian Academy ofArts and Sciences highlights, by presenting the works by Marko Spalatin, theopus of an American artist, of Croatian origin, enjoying exceptional renownamong his peers all around the globe. Out of the rich biography, andbibliography of Marko Spalatin, art critics would first of all select hisretrospective at the Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, Ohio) in theCatalogue of which a distinguished art critic, John Yau, wrote:
“If we thinkof Josef Albers as one of the first modern artists to devote himself to thestudy of color, then Spalatin must be regarded as one of Albers’ fewlegitimate heirs. The two other artists I would include in this mix are HansHoffman and Piet Mondrian. All three were Europeans who came to Americarelatively late in their lives; and, perhaps more to the point, all threedevoted much of their attention to the investigation of color relationshipswithin a matrix of geometry.”
Marko Spalatin arrived in America at an early age. Heacquired his training in the U.S., and in that sense he was free from“Europeanisms,” i.e., of the bondage to constructivism. It is exactly in hiscase that we can examine that imaginary encounter of the two worlds asconstructivism, in the precise poetics of Albers, and rhythmical variations ofMondrian returned from America to Europe as an echo of liberated modernism.Liberated, first of all, of ideological identifiers, of the avant-garde.Modernism purified in America signifies that move toward Euro-American values ofa global culture, which, ultimately, declares itself as the culture of the West.But all those shifts from an ideological toward pure art are, in any period oftime, and within any group, revealed in the power of an individual, in thepersonal positioning of an artist. Thus Marko Spalatin has built, on the sourcespertaining to the world of geometry, specific crystalline variations which,although they belong to the very peak of contemporary art, have no analogies. Inparticular, they have no ties to the “New Geometry,” which as an echo of atrend arrived from the U.S. in the eighties and nineties of the past century.Born in Zagreb, in a family originating from the island of Rab, Spalatin hasavoided also the European trend setting visions, the same way these had beenavoided by his famous predecessor, Josef Albers, with a note that Spalatin iseven less European. Spalatin’s opus belongs first and foremost to America: hewas in school at the peak of Pop-Art, he was formed in the shadow of Op-Art andMinimalism, which we mention here in an almost rhetorical sense. Yet, ananalysis of his studious approach to color does take us toward Op andMinimalism, to comparisons with Albers, and Albers’ so many times repeated“Homage to the Square;” but comparisons to associative and geometricallyconceived color variation by Dean Fleming hold, too. Closing his painting series(acrylics), or his graphic (serigraph) series into cycles and maps, Spalatin hascreated an original, unusual opus based on an exceptionally exact study ofcolors pulsating against an almost classical, geometrically conceivedbackground. Every Spalatin frame is characterized by a certain creativedetachment leading toward “imperfections” of mannerist witticisms: Parnassos,1979: Trygon, 1980; Uxmal, 1980; Hydroid, 1981; Nautica, 1982; Hexagon,1984; Quantum, 1989; Matrix,1991; Pulsar,1993,; Prizma, 1996;Akumal, 2001; these are the titles of serigraph cycles which attract attentionby simple and yet complex effects, let me repeat, concentrated in a studiousdeclension of color, in classicist perfection of geometry and in a creative“imperfection of studied, mannerist, detachment from the rules of theexercise.
By origin from theisland of Rab – as already stated – Spalatin seems to evoke with each newcycle a certain genetic memory of the Mediterranean, of light, the same thatmoved Markantun de Dominis toward precise games with light and toward thediscovery of the prism. Each Spalatin frame speaks, on the level of style, ofvisualizing motifs from the repertory of exact fantasticism along with thememory of light. Still, this is always a memory written into the history ofmodern art, of geometric abstraction, and Op. Spalatin’s serigraphs, theirglimmering color and tonal playfulness, the unusual perfection which defineseach centimeter of canvass or paper, place this artist at the very top of modernart, especially of graphic arts. Exhibiting his most recent graphic series, Akumal(eight serigraphs), shown with great success in New York and Paris in2001, with selections from a number of earlier series, will contribute to abetter understanding of recent American art, and also affirm a Croatian Globalculture, by which we mean a “widened” area of Croatian culture, beyond thehome borders.
Should we analyzethe mythical spots of Croatian contemporary art such as Croatian constructivism,EXAT 51, or the New Tendencies, by now deeply ingrained into the history ofEurope, we will fail to find Marko Spalatin there. He is a hero from anothermovie, although due to a systematically geometric approach to serigraphy he maykeep reminding one, on some associative level, of the esthetics of the NewTendencies. Marko’s artistic experience has nothing to do with those tasks. Heharbors no constructivist ethics found in Pietro Dorazio, Getulio Alviani, FrançoisMortellet, Ivan Picelj, Vjenceslav Richter, Miroslav Šutej. We have mentionedthe New Tendencies because of the “Zagreb School of Serigraphy,” which madeCroatian modern art famous, but Spalatin as a supreme master of serigraphybelongs to another myth, that of the contemporary American art.
Thus theexpression of Marko Spalatin keeps returning us to the visions of Josef Albers,which had indeed sprang from European constructivism, but which wereAmericanized in the sixties in the way we encounter also in Spalatin’soeuvre.
The persistence ofgeometry, a certain vitality of mannerism encoded into geometry and visualcombinations, all that was creatively reworked and redefined by Spalatin as he progressedfrom phase to phase of his artistic journey developing a sophisticatedhandwriting of unrepeatable authorship. His geometric artifacts, in theirunbelievable perfection, may recall the so-called “cold optics,” and thusappear repeatable and freed of personality, but this is just a first impression.Each Spalatin canvass, each serigraph, bears a stamp of uniqueness. Yes, evenserigraphs, in spite of a technology meant for repetition. This is a sign of anexceptional, impressive authorship which knows how to find truly originalsolutions within the sphere of simplified geometric forms. Spalatin’scompositions are unusual also in terms of motifs such as we may glean from the Akumal series, unusual in reductionism, in sophistication of the optics, andin color which literally animates this painter’s “prism.” Indeed withinthe large field of art history from mannerist geometric games to surrealism,from constructivism to minimalism, from minimalism to the Neo-Geo, we never findtwo approaches to geometry as a synthesis of form which might strike us asexactly alike Even when an author,or critic, quotes Mondrian’s inventions, this is not discipleship but anauthor’s reinterpretation of a Mondrian model. Still, Spalatin’s fascinationwith geometry attracts attention by its emphasized originality: it surpasses anyquotation imaginable overcoming trendy changes as it springs forth from a truededication to Art, to the universal values of creativity.
This was proven bySpalatin’s retrospective at the Butler Institute of American Art, his sixtiethexhibition which reconfirmed the scope and significance of his opus; which leftthe imprints of its productivity in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, theTate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Musée de l’ArtModerne and the Bibliothčque Nationale in Paris, in the Library of Congress inWashington, and in many more distinguished museum and corporate collections. Theplace of the first comprehensive public display of Spalatin’s art in Croatiais an institution of the highest professional rank in the area of graphic arts– the Cabinet of Graphic Arts of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences,within the Croatian Triennale ofGraphic Arts in Zagreb in 2003.