GREAT INTIMIST PAINTER
Marko Shushtarshich is one of the central figures of the first post-war generation of Slovenian artists. In the third quarter of the previous century it would be hard to find a collection of artworks that is comparable with the one produced by Shushtarshich. And this is not just in terms of its size or the artist’s direct influence on his contemporary artists. What is more important is the artist’s capability of creating very personal interpretations of some key art themes.
The early drawings with figural motifs and portraits from the time before he enrolled at the Ljubljana Academy of Arts in 1947, testify to Shushtarshich’s attentiveness to his direct environment. Shushtarshich also drew scenes from youth labour campaigns, but without flirting with socialist realism. He graduated in 1951 under the mentorship of Gabrijel Stupica and two years later he completed a specialisation in wall painting with Slavko Pengov as mentor. In the same year he exhibited his work in the Mala dvorana of the Modern Gallery in an exhibition of seven graduates from the Ljubljana and Zagreb academies (Milan Berbuch, Mile Cetin, France Pershin, M. Shushtarshich, Marijan Trshar, Drago Trshar, Melita Vovk). The young artists, who as one of their main creative goals chose to reinstate their connection with modern European art, called themselves Skupina 53 (the group was soon joined also by Shushtarshich’s wife, the sculptress Alenka Erzhen and Ivan Seljak). Marko Shushtarshich was the most important member of Skupina 53.
The paintings and prints that were created from the mid 1950s onwards and during the 1960s are marked by Shushtarshich’s departure into the intimate world. Marko Shushtarshich is known for being the leading representative of intimism. In the depiction of his inner experiences it was at first possible to see the influence of Italian magic realism and other movements of Western European and especially French painting which Shushtarshich, being a distinct individualist, transformed into a personal version of “primitive” figural art and fantastic painting. In the contemplatively dark and flat compositions, he connected figures and nudes, portraits, self-portraits (busts), chairs, tables and bouquets with fragments of architecture and special shapes and patterns taken from late Baroque rural decorations. Initially he placed the figures in exteriors and interiors. Later we come across various small motifs which are transformed into symbols, floating in dense, dark red, brown or dark green layers of paint. In his colour scale we can sense an echo of old Dutch painting with which Shushtarshich familiarised himself in the course of his training period in Amsterdam and the Hague. One of the characteristics of Shushtarshich’s painting were also his erotic elements. With mysterious, sometimes allusive rather than concretely depicted fragments of motifs, he came close to abstract painting. He also produced prints (aquatint and etchings), and was one of the representatives of the so-called Ljubljana school of printing.
Towards the end of the 1960s Shushtarshich created pop-art style paintings with series of figural motifs/small pictures, connected with wide colour stripes and geometrically ordered but dynamic compositions, called Slikanice, and in this way joined the new search known as “new figuralism”. He again succeeded in an original way by, for example, drawing motifs from various sources (photographs, mass media, the family album and famous works of art).
Figural heroes from the artist’s private memory and social myths are the central motif of Shushtarshich’s last cycle of paintings, the so-called green paintings, which he created in the years 1974 to 1976. This time he arrayed all the figural motifs without exception before a carefully painted, grass-covered, mountainous landscape. The human figures, including pop idols Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix, seem muted, alienated in the middle of this green landscape. Perhaps he chose them partly out of irony, but the endless mountainous landscape in front of which these figures find themselves and who do not communicate with each other, heightens the lonely and menacing impression of the composition.
Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich