Portrayals of Ivan Cankar from Galerija Božidar Jakac Collection

03. 12. 2018 – 10. 02. 2018

In the 100 years since his death Cankar has become an almost mythical national character, a visionary ideologist, a restless bohemian and a sharp thinker, the name of whom is carried today by numerous cultural and educational institutions and societies and at least one road or street in any larger Slovene town. His influence, his cultural and spiritual heritage can be seen in the numerous works of art that were inspired by either his literary works or Cankar himself.

Cankar’s words found in the essay Our Artists (1910) “An image that fails to reveal the artist’s soul is a dead image. A portrait should primarily resemble the artist and only then the model”, could be applied to the sculptures of Janez Boljka, who, following 1969, spent two decades depicting our greatest writer. Boljka saw Cankar as an archetypal misunderstood artist, a vagabond, whose elusive image he tried to capture not only in sculptures but also in graphic prints and paintings. His depictions differ from classic portraits, for the writer is denoted by two symbols rather than his image: his famous moustache and the chrysanthemum, which is enough for identification. Boljka presented Cankar in numerous variations; he often depicted him in the company of a muse or a book, as a donor, passively sitting or defiantly standing with his arms stretched out and nailed to the cross as the saviour. Boljka participated in two tenders to create a monument to Cankar in Ljubljana, the first in 1969 and the second in 1971. His idea was amongst the best ranking ideas in both tenders, which is why the jury decided to give him the honour of creating the monument. In May 1974 Boljka exhibited 13 drafts and studies for the monument in Mala Galerija in Ljubljana. Alas, the 4 metres high monument with a fountain was never realised, as the general public applied pressure which culminated in threatening letters, and in the end, this persuaded Boljka to stay away from the project.

Compared to Boljka’s surrealist sculptures, the monumental depiction of Cankar created by Lojze Dolinar is a truthful depiction of the writer. The monumental body was created in 1947 and depicts the full figure of a sitting Cankar as a personified thinker, who is in spirit close to the character of Dolinar’s heroes from the recent past. Jože Gorjup’s bronze image of Cankar caught in mid-step and dressed in a flowing coat is closer to a prophet with a raised left hand. The image symbolically reminds us also of Cankar’s socially oriented political engagement. In 1929 the artist also created an etching of Cankar’s face. Franjo Stiplovšek’s wood engraving of Cankar is only a year younger. France Gorše also captured his vision of the writer in a patinated plaster relief. One of the most recognisable literary characters in Cankar’s works is undoubtedly the character of Kurent from a story with the same name. It comes as no surprise that the socially critical and artistically redemptive theme of this work was acknowledged by numerous Slovene painters, who each gave their own vision of Kurent. Božidar Jakac found his alter ego in the image of the fiddler with supernatural characteristics, whose music brings joy to this world. In 1920 he created a series of wood engravings for the first chapter of Cankar’s story which were published in book form as late as 1979. He also depicted Kurent during his studies in Prague, which can be seen in his two drafts for a poster for his exhibition, both dated to 1923. In the same year he also created the full figure oil depiction in the expressionist style, which together with the drawings on the same theme, form a part of Jakac’s permanent exhibition in the Božidar Jakac Art Museum.

Alongside the artistic depictions of the great writer the exhibition also presents Cankar’s literary works in the form of selected translations and first editions, which were lent to us by Valvasor’s Library in Krško especially for this exhibition. When we, while gazing at Cankar’s literary works and the works of great Slovene artists, capture the essence of the personality of our greatest writer, we have to consider the importance of artists and art in Slovene society. These issues hold an important position also in Cankar’s literary opus and have remained current and vivid social themes until this very day. In his essay Our Artists (1910), Cankar wrote the following words on art and looking for it in the life of every human: “I have stated that art is the search for beauty – every heart seeks it in a different place and in a different way. /…/ For art does not live merely in exhibitions and museums, theatres and concerts, buildings and books, it encompasses our everyday lives in the form of a sweet light, a memory of Eden.”

Curator: Kristina T. Simončič.

Photo: Maruša Lapuh, GBJ archive

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