Murtić's Other Sun

written by Tonko Maroević

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…The secret unrevealed and we downcast

Knotted contorted, yet we stay

Leave traces of our love our dreams

Someone will clear away the dust (...)


Someone will dive down to the undecipherable meaning (...)

My island is in the sea

Around me the sea

The fire or a light that withstands the dark.[1]


As in almost no other artist, the creative restlessness of painter Edo Murtić is closely linked to his nomadic nature and dynamic life path, with the need for frequent travel, for displaying and revealing various places, with a desire to permanently reexamine things acquired in contact with other and different environments. From his early beginnings and the formative days, the city of Zagreb, where he completed Vocational School and entered the Visual Arts Academy, was not enough to him, so he soon sought more from the experiences of Petar Dobrović, visiting him in Belgrade in 1940. After continuing his studies with Ljubo Babić, he used his recommendation, and went to Rome in 1942 to study stage design, but joined the Partisans in 1943, where he was active in several areas. Very soon after the war, Murtić had a standalone exhibition in Prague in 1946. In 1951, he went to the usa, displaying his Adriatic Cycle. In the usa, he was introduced to the latest breakthroughs and achievements, so when he returned home, his 1953 exhibition The Experience of America opened a completely new page in our visual arts, he marked the area with his individual painting values. During that same decade, he ma­naged to exhibit at the most prestigious European addresses, such as the Venice Biennale and Documenta in Kassel (1958).


The unquestionable affirmation he achieved locally and internationally, his authority and almost emblematic status did not put Murtić’s curiosity to rest, nor did they diminish the dynamism and vitality of movement. We might say that the same life energy is characteristic for his visual expression, his social conduct, and his insistence on working and relaxing mobility. Actually, Edo Murtić managed to combine activism and hedonism, agility and the eros of existence, and he did so with exceptional coherence. Many components of his life and creation make contact in a very maritime vocation, in the challenge of sailing as an adventure of sorts, and a way of conquering the elements. Although he was an inlander by birth and work anchorage, Edo Murtić firmly extended his arms towards the Mediterranean with the selection of his vacation spot. He was also surrounded by various people from the coast in his circle of friends, acquaintances and contributors. Indeed, as I already mentioned, many of his earliest works (like the Adriatic Cycle, but also the Dream Islands or Sea’s Toy) were inspired by the visible, or hinted sensations of coastal, littoral or even submarine origin.


Purchase of his own boat was to Murtić the result of both, adventurous and recreational motives, but in no way did irresistible work impulses remain distant, being stimulated by a continuous change of sights and scenes, amplified by the synesthesia of the effect of the sun and wind, salt and waves – in other words, by the intensity of effect on all senses. Sailing around the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, visiting islands and bays, anchoring along improvised shores and in real ports, all of this probably enriched the painter’s visual experience, as well as his life balance. Without the trials of being a sailor and a captain, Murtić’s oeuvre would have been poorer for many valuable, precious stages.


I never sailed with Edo, nor have I ever seen any of his boats. This, however, does not prevent me from having a clear vision of the artist being close with a boat, and to deduce his connection with navigation from several of his paintings. Indeed, it seems to me that the structure of a boat, with the keel axle and the structure of wooden ribs, completely resembles the composition solutions for many of his drawings and watercolor paintings, merrily improvised in the moments of full composure. Namely, the rhythm of Murtić’s works is often based on a firm horizontal or vertical line, with parallel energy lines of temperament strokes branching from it. ¶ If we set the bold comparisons aside, his involvement with boats, and the trials of being at sea, deeply marked Murtić’s life and oeuvre. Purchase of a boat is a very exciting event in itself, so it must have even more effect when you order the construction of a boat, and monitor all its phases. Watching it being build, growing from the skeleton phase to the construction of the hull, creates a very close relationship. Edo had such a special experience in the town of Vela Luka, in the shipbuilding workshop of Ivo Šeparović Musa, who designed, organized and managed the construction of his last sailing boat based on the design by Carlo Sciarelli, I think it was the one that the poet Jure Kaštelan christened Drugo sunce (The Other Sun).


By boldly setting sail along the Adriatic, its shores and open sea, the painter was able to indulge in the joy of watching, the delight of movement, to rejoice in the company he selected, but his creative nerve was not able to resist the challenge of designing what he saw, the temptation of fixating the observed appearances. If the wind drove all sails of the ship, the intensity of what he saw drove the painter to respond with similar intensity – both impulsive and nicely cultivated – manual and optical reactions. A rock on the horizon, the blue surface as far as the eye can see, cultivated slopes on the side – all of this provoked an instantaneous, unique actions of swift, temperamental lines and bright, juicy colors.


As a sailor, Murtić significantly enriched his experience of the world and relevantly completed his creative balance. It is as if he had in mind those famous words by Baudelaire: Free man! You will always love the sea! Indeed, sailing and diving into the wide immenseness definitely expanded his creative freedoms, because he, thanks to the fascination with what he saw and experienced at sea, at one point gave up on linear understanding of personal stylistic homogeneousness, parted ways with the dogma of domination and historically conditioned abstraction. Although it was him who was considered in our society to be a protagonist and almost a symbol of parting ways with representing externality, in the contact with the new elements he felt the right and obligation to bear witness of his connection with the landscape and atmosphere, to reestablish the dialogue with the visible.


With the exhibition titled One Summer, held in the Arts Pavilion in Zagreb in 1981, Edo Murtić reintroduced his figuration into public circulation. Of course, these were not conventional marinas or academic notions of landscape, but there was definitely a reference to stimuli made by actual scenes. In doing so, he (also, quite logically) did not discard the experiences of his abstract achievements and phases (and even less did he renounce his historical role of promoting autonomy), but he very maturely and masterfully made them a part of his expression. From the early 1980s and until his death, Murtić alternately used objectivist (defined by motive) and subjectivist (calligraphic, psychogrammatical) stimuli, proving in several ways, and on several levels, the freedom of his orientation.


And the stage of drawings and paintings, watercolor and gouache paintings, made in living contact with the marine environment, often directly on the boat or in some small harbor, remains a very vital portion of Murtić’s work. We now have the joy of starting to turn the pages of his painting sea journal, since we did not have the chance to travel and sail on Murtić’s vessel. The scenes captured from sea level, the silhouettes of islands rising above the sea, the barren cliffs, the green surfaces, or the ones divided by stone walls – these were all happy motives for the painter’s concise traces and fills, for passionate recording and adopting the often bitter and harsh beauty of the Adriatic archipelago. The sea – all vision, wrote poet Mrkonjić. Paraphrasing him, we can say that the sea gave Murtić a new vision.

[1] Verses of Jure Kaštelan taken from a monograf Edo Murtić (Michael Gibson, Globus, 1989)