Tomislav Buntak-Mirror of adventure

 Tomislav Buntak, Mirror of adventure

One feature of art is that it creates its own worlds. Even when art overtly refers to reality, when a work of art allows us to recognise motives and phenomena from real life, when art seems to be dealing with our own experience, we must not forget that it all boils down to the figment of imagination guided by its own rules. Tomislav Buntak's painting is an example of such art. Magic realism, fantasy, science fiction, adventure, escapism – are just some of the notions that can help us in an attempt of situating this exhibition in our own art map.

Even in a very brief résumé of Buntak's present work, two things should be accentuated. Primarily, not many representatives of Croatian modern art have in such a distinct manner reinterpreted the tradition of sacral art. Employing the popular culture imaginarium in depicting Christian topics and motives, Buntak proved that dogma is not of much use in artistic representation. On the other hand, in an exclusive history, not only of Croatian modern art, maybe no one has so consistently and clearly almost as in a blueprint set the motive of escapism as the main topic of his work. Eliminating the stigma of inferiority, Buntak allegedly, without hesitation attached the allegedly inferior area of culture dominated by comics and genre fiction and film to the tradition of the so-called high culture, no matter if it was related to art history (painting), modern art or religion.

The exhibition of Tomislav Buntak's new cycle of paintings takes place at the height of renewed confrontation of the two currents within the domestic art scene, arising from the opposed understanding of the essence of artistic practice in relation to art object. Perhaps it is necessary to remind ourselves that an entire century elapsed in ruminating on the issue, and that the avantgardistic focus on the artistic act, understanding of art as a mental process and expressing an attitude rather than achieving the standardised aesthetic result, together with the contamination of artistic disciplines and interdisciplinarity, new technologies and multimediality, were finally included into the mainstream of the art scene. The traditionalists, on the other hand, considering themselves an extension of a long line of evolution of artistic interpretation of a man's view of reality which has always, from Lascaux onwards, been concretised as an object, and actually creating an entire alternative reality based on the development of aesthetic postulates, felt somewhat neglected and shoved off to the margins of events, as much for their dedication to traditional artistic disciplines as for the vehemence of piling of "nova" in the construction of contemporary visual art systems. Nevertheless, the fact is that creation within various segments of the traditional artistic discipline has never ceased being the most supported branch of artistic creation. And although painting and traditional artistic disciplines of today may not always be intellectually too intriguing, art market, whether legal or grey as ours, and by their nature immanently conservative cultural institutions as a whole have always been more prone to them. Maybe the present polemics would not have started if widely criticised Museum of Contemporary Art was not a tad livelier than its modern counterpart Modern Gallery, that is, if a developed cultural dialogue between them existed. 

 Precisely the successful career of Tomislav Buntak, one of the most prominent painters of his generation who, for all that, using an unorthodox approach to the medium, ranging from an artistic book to a mural, often knew how to intrigue even the professionals otherwise uninterested in traditional idioms, may serve as an excellent example supporting my thesis. His career of a painter who appeared on the art scene in the beginning of the nineties, marked by our war and a global theoretical-critical discourse on the death of painting, developed unhindered through critically acclaimed results and high media visibility to the present level of his social influence. In spite of his mental makeup of a peaceful family man, Buntak finally, being a member of the Executive board of Croatian Association of Artists whose program strategies caused present commotion through organisation of Croatian Biennale of Painting and selection of the 32nd Youth Salon concept, very successfully grappled with their defence in public. But, beyond his public office of a cultural worker, the foundation of Buntak's comprehensive influence within the discourse of cultural life of the community rests on a particular, deeply individual formula of expression based on which his painting can not be subsumed under any artistic trend, nor generated from any painting paradigm which might chronologically, conceptually or ideologically predate him. With regard to the geographical and cultural surroundings, Buntak's art work is, contrary to his intellectual openness, completely autistic and thus difficult to classify by any level of indexation or categorisation. But, a thesis can be proposed that Buntak's figurative painting, characterised by exceptional narrativeness and certain surreal transposition to imaginary worlds, even during the nineties heralded a wave of new painters that started to rise sometime around 2005, to literally shake up the present stratified relations among various artistic groups through its massive scale.

However, Buntak is thoroughly different from the younger generation of painters. He is not burdened by métier perfection, formal precision, or by recognisability of the style. As a matter of fact, outside his painting process there is no other calculation and that fact probably generates the striking freshness of his paintings, their originality and uniqueness and eventually the inability to contain their crude force within some style-related boundaries. It is even difficult to ascertain which formal issue Buntak deals with. He simultaneously produces several examples of completely different artistic techniques, presenting them to the audience separately. If there were no somewhat interconnectable typology of characters that migrate through his entire opus, his approach to rendering method might lead us to believe that there were several separate artists, even several separate painters involved.

The exhibition in the Kula Gallery focuses on a painting method we have not had the opportunity to see for a long time in Buntak's public appearances. We are talking about compositions rich in characters, built by a series of scenes which, without any pronounced interconnectedness, pile up in a landscape of narrow perspective representation, starting with the foreground at the bottom of the painting, to the last scene on its top. Summarily, the scenes seem to represent the culmination or especially attractive scenes of the complex narrative suggested to us by the composition. The paintings thus seem as film posters or book cover illustrations, depicting to a potential reader/visitor the exciting story that takes place between the covers of a book or that can be experienced in the darkness of an auditorium. Perhaps by chance, one classic composition of the cycle – the painting of a couple in an interior – depicts Sceherazade preparing for the evening storytelling ritual. Although her head is veiled, Sceherazade displays her nude, fleshy body, accentuating the erotic subtext of the original reading, as well as the atmosphere of the entire opus. These are truly the most sensual paintings Buntak painted so far. His proverbially long-legged and long-haired beauties lie down in shallows (some of them striking a pose worthy of erotic magazines) or rest on the ground and rocks that even during the night radiate the warmth absorbed during the day. In the background, the paintings also feature their male counterparts, but even more often men in white suits, explorers of distant lands, agents in multinational societies, adventurers looking towards horizons of virgin landscapes present in the contemporary civilisation burdened by the ecological crisis only in adventure literature and cinematography. The paintings depict, shoulder to shoulder, the interdependent adolescent duo – the mythical hero, represented by Corto Maltese, a charismatic Hugo Pratt's comic book hero, and the author as a boy sketching in his notebook, creating maybe even some of the sketches that just entered the world of mature painting on this occasion.

Returning to the topic of storytelling and Sceherazade, the cycle is spontaneously divided into day and night section. The day section colour gamut is bright, light and dynamic, and the night is of a darker shade, more sensual in aura and métier. This clear division of the cycle and the awareness of converting the day into night, conscious into subconscious, fiction into reality and back, besides the apparent cosmic symbolism, points to the author's virtue of equal validation of everything that takes place under the vault of heaven, of all cultural paradigms, high and popular culture motives, scenes from literature, everyday life or dreams. Everyone who is familiar with Buntak's modus operandi knows of the sketching blocks and his habit of drawing the scenes that capture him, whether as scenes taking place at that very moment, or as formal practice of a more demanding pose, detail or situation. Buntak's compositions are most often created as collages of those sketches, so the motives are often transposed from one art work to another, from cycle to cycle, always incorporated in a new scene or a new story. The tendency to self-reference, to use cultural models taken from the global repertoire of visual notions and to photographically mediate the scenes from everyday life makes Buntak a true postmodern artist, and the same can be ascribed to the style characteristics of his opus. His idiom is closest to vernacular painting, to its monodimensionality, uneven style treatment of different segments of a painting, its freshness, charm and immediateness. This is the art the purpose of which is exhausted in a constantly renewed pleasure of creation, in working with material, its colour, smell and texture. This pleasure is further transferred to beholders as some sort of life force, while their gazes wonder in order to soak in, and their minds to encompass the complete visual richness of each of the paintings. Debates and arguments aside, should we really ask for more from creation, disregarding the form it transpires to us?

Branko Franceschi



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