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Feature 26 Jul 17

Krunic: The Serbian Artist in Search of Conversation

Belgrade-born painter Slavko Krunic describes his portraits as ‘satiriconography’ but insists his caricature-style in no way mocks his subjects.

Siri Sollie

"People say that every picture is in fact a self-portrait," Krunic tells. Photo: With the courtesy of Slavko Krunic.

Once you have examined Slavko Krunic’s works closely, they will be easily recognisable to the attentive observer. His work often portrays ordinary people in the midst of natural scenery or an undefined city skyscape.

Painting has been a full-time occupation for Belgrade-born Krunic since graduating from Belgrade University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 2002 - a luxury many artists are not in a position to enjoy.

He describes his work as ‘satiriconography’ where his portraits are composed in a caricatured way “but with no intention to laugh at them”.

“Their faces are filled with kindness and longing; they are surprised at the world they exist in, but more than anything, these characters search for the collocutors from the other side,” Krunic says about his portraits.

As to why his works are mainly portraits, Krunic says: “My inspiration is triggered by the motive to find more co-speakers… That is why I make their yearning expression. They are looking for someone with whom to have a conversation, that is, co-speakers.”

He also says he is driven by the wish to confuse his audience, and perhaps have audiences in 200 years asking themselves if the subjects really exist.

On several occasions, Krunic has collaborated with various local and international writers, including the famous Serbian writer David Albahari, in order to have accompanying texts for some of his works. His goal, he says, is to amplify his works live independently of him.

While portraits are his main focus, Krunic says he has only worked on one self-portrait and that was while he was still studying at the Faculty of Arts at Belgrade University.

“People say that every picture is in fact a self-portrait,” he adds.

‘My paintings have their own life’

"Marquis Where To" by Slavko Krunic. Photo: With the courtesy of Slavko Krunic.

His success is perhaps explained but his combination of the simple composition and focus on portraying ordinary people in an undefined era.

Krunic says his work is currently focused on helping make “some 'secondary' values immortal, [such as] sensuality, seductiveness and humanity”.

For himself, Krunic says he first began to feel successful when his paintings seemed to take on their own lives. 

“The real success is to have your art independent from you. I started to feel successful from the moment I discovered that my paintings have their own life,” he says.

Krunic says that being an artist is a full time occupation that constantly makes you consciously re-evaluate yourself and your surroundings.

“I grew up surrounded with the paintings and painters. My father had an unusual gallery in his mechanic workshop which was placed in our home yard. I was cognisant about the importance of art very young, and took it seriously as a life-time occupation,” he says.

Krunic is one of the Serbian artists who was on show at Belgarde’s RTS Gallery as part of the Mediala: Then and Now exhibition in May.

Mediala was an avant-gardist group of painters active in the 1950s and 1960s and included the likes of painters Leonid Sejka and Olja Ivanjicki. It is considered one of the most significant art movements of the Serbian art scene.

Sejka, who was both an architect and painter, is widely regarded as one of Yugoslavia’s most original and renowned artists, while Ivanjicki is known for her experiments with various art forms including painting, sculpture and poetry.

The exhibition showcased the work of Mediala artists, as well as contemporary artists like Krunic whose work has been influenced by the group.

When asked why the gallery chose his painting Magna Mater for the exhibition, Krunic says it is focused on maternity and could, therefore, illustrate the spirit of the Mediala group, which, he explains “was specific by their synthesis that united and held together great artists and very strong individuals”.

Krunic works have been exhibited all over Europe, including Spain, Slovenia, Netherlands, Denmark and Italy. In Belgrade, however, the Museum of Contemporary Art has been closed since 2007.

According to the museum’s website, the exhibition space is closed because of renovation and extension works at the Usce site.

Krunic believes the closure has been a severe blow to the local art scene and in his opinion could be interpreted as “a cultural genocide”.

“I like to believe that keeping museums in Belgrade closed for more than ten years is someone’s bad joke,” he adds.

Next to the art museum, the National Museum of Serbia, on Republic Square in the centre of Belgrade, has also been closed for renovation since 2012.

Krunic, who lives and works in Novi Sad, the capital of the northern province of Vojvodina province, however mentions that Novi Sad provides for better collaboration with the local and international art scene.

The European Capital of Culture is selected by the European Union, which will organise a series of cultural events with a strong European flavour over one calendar year.

Together with Novi Sad, the Romanian city of Timișoara and the Greek city Elefsina, have been selected as European Capitals of Culture during 2021.

Serbian artists have struggled to showcase their works abroad and also visit important art cities in Europe, mainly due to visa restrictions that were imposed on Serbs in the aftermath of the wars of the 1990s.

Krunic, however, says that thanks to the internet artists can at least show their works internationally and take part in international competitions. He also mentions that online marketing makes it easier to sell work abroad.

He notes that one of the biggest hindrances for Serbian artists working today is bureaucracy, which makes it difficult to export artworks. He would like to see an open art market on a par with international standards.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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