The coloristic experience of Osman Berberović


This painter of startling sources is forever surprising. When he first appeared on our confused painting scene a little over two decades ago, many artists were just rushing headlong into the unbounded space of abstraction - and they asked themselves: is it possible that there are still people who are interested in the beginnings, now that we have reached the peaks? Perhaps it was the whirl of enthusiasm for new things which was responsible for their failure to appreciate certain essential qualities. Osman Berberović moved towards modern vistas more gradually, following the path of logic and emotion. His teachers were well-tested, his style mature, and his inspiration fresh. He could find no justification for revolutionary transformations which would take place overnight. He was prepared to adopt things, but quitely and in totality. Dilemmas as to whether something was a step forward or backward did not bother him. He preferred to build on strong and secure foundations, integrating himself into externally available formulations to derive rules from his own experience.

Critics observed this and tried to explain his art with references to Delacroix, Cénzanne and Tartaglia (and even Chagall), classifying him in terms of the stylistic characteristics of the post-Impressionism, Expressionism and Orphism. In a climate in which innovation was the highest value, with maximum freedom in the act of artistic creation, this kind of assessment meant that Berberović followed certain formal rules, which allowed the conclusion that he was not quite unrestricted and free. This anachronistic view of his effort and search was not complimentary for Berberović, because he was represented as a follower of earlier models in comparison with those artists who brought in new elements. But nobody seriously discussed the value of his art and the duration of his formulations. In this severe clash of the abstract tide with the suppressed figuration, Berberović remained an exceptionally strange figure in Croatian painting: he continued to respect the integral effect of lines, forms and colours.

Today, when all the experiments have come and gone, with all of their variants and types, and when the pendulum of transformation has swung back again, from the non-representational to the super-realistic style, Osman Berberović is still faithful to his artistic creed, developing his art in the direction all his own. Many things have become clearer over the past two decades, and it is clear that Osman Berberović‘s paintings, now as twenty years ago, reflect a condensed force of expression which he was able to channel towards his aims. Segments of his compositions were strong enough to withstand confrontation with any stylistic orientation. But he never wished or tried to engage in this kind of exercise. Uniqueness and integrity were his only signposts in art. This synthesis freed him from slavery to the dictates of the vision, while at the same time meeting his need or a direct experience of the theme. In his works belonging to the most recent period, at the time of expansion of representational art in new realism, Berberović stresses lyrical abstract motifs as accompaniment to the main compositional motif. He succeeds in subjecting this complex of blots, shapes and lines in strong and bizarre colours to a decorative discipline; but by including them in the compact compositional organism he gives them the indivisible value of a living tissue. The secret lies again in the uniqueness of inspiration and its pure and complete transmission to the canvas.

This exhibition contains two groups of Berberović’s works: the first group is smaller but it consists of paintings of larger sizes, the continuation of compositions made in an earlier period and depicting mythologico-symbolic or allegorical motifs; the second group is a cycle of portraits presented in a peculiar manner.

Everything is swarming, dynamic and full of movement. The line is melodious, converging in rounded shapes, giving away softness, and vibrating in sensuality. The blots are rich: they build a mosaik and an arabesque at the same time. Colours are bizarre, ranging from aggressiveness to lyrical meditation, from sharp clashes to gentle fusions, from subjective analyses to objective syntheses. In this totality of the pictorial element there exist figures which are identified with space-they grow out of space to grow into time, which is affirmed at the moment of the creative act. Osman Berberović breathes in every atom of his every painting; he channels his feelings into every stroke of his bruch. His compositions are boiling, but they also preserve a natural modesty; most importantly, they are enigmatic, but they direct the viewer’s associations to the sphere of true spiritual dilemmas and confirmations. The attitude that the artist has adopted for the construction of his compositions spreads effortlessly to his poi-traits. This is another surprising component in the work of Osman Berberović. Asked whether he uses his art to portrait people or whether he uses his models to make paintings, he answers with a cycle of portrait paintings. The similarity with the models is there and the specific elements of his expression are also there, but some open questions still remain. The commission, the portrait and the recognizability are the three concepts that allow of very little deviation. It is in this relationship that Berberović’s compromises are the fewest. His task is to make a painting, and if the painting also represents a real-lie person, then he will integrate the figure into his painting. In some cases, this methodology has been consistently applied, while in others elements of super-realistic representation can be observed in facial details, which are skilfully built into the totality of the complex impression. Still, in terms of their morphological characteristics, these portraits belong more to the artist’s view of his artistic task than to a commercial and applied orientation. Regardless of whether the portraits show the models in representative poses or in natural postrues, they always reflect their characteristic individuality, unintrusive psychological attraction or repulsiveness, and provide accompanying information on the correlation of the face and the figure to the environment, which in a way also reflects the qualities of the model’s character. Viewed as a group, Berberović’s portraits, despite their realism and faithfulness, also point to the astral dimensions in man.

Firmly rooted in the foundations of tradition, the paintings of Osman Berberović rely on those elements of modern painting which remain absolute artistic values and serve as an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Once closer to his great models and now richer in imaginative exploration, the artist follows his instinct in a logical continuity. His desire to go beyond the individual to the general, and beyond the subjective to the objective, has always stimulated his careful study of motifs and a creative approach to his craft. Though his work does not fall in line with certain collective aspirations of the members of his generation but rather represents a specific development which relies on experimental results in interpreting what has already been defined, he represents and important component of the contemporay painting scene in his country. His already established original place and permanent value won with a refined palette and artistic sensibility is now being reaffirmed and strengthened with his recent large-size figural compositions and portraits.

Prof. Juraj Baldani
Preveo prof. V. Ivir


Sensiteive meditations or Marika Šafran Berberović

Memories always pale under the veil of forgetfulness. Time deprives space of identity and the vision, moving further away from the reality, drown in the enchanted chasms of intimacy. Marika Šafran Berberović, a painter with an exceptionally refined sense of perception, builds her artistic world on the meditations spanning her childhood in Čakovec in the northern Croatian province of Međimurje and her artistic maturity. She belongs among those artists who do not agree that there are big and small themes; she believes, rather, that there are more and less creative approaches. She has been proving this since 1961, when she exhibited for the first time. Throughout this time, her expression has become more and more sure and developed. Her ambition has always been to penetrate the deep secrets of pictorial art and skill even if that meant missing the stylistic transformations which some of her colleagues underwent in trying to be modern at all cost and to follow faithfully the “newest” developments on the international painting scene. She has never engaged in experimentation for experimentation’s sake, without deep emotional justification. Her motifs have always come from mature feelings and experience and were directly related to the work of art itself. These are probably the main reasons why Marika Šafran Berberović’s opus differs in many respects from the works of other painters of her generation.
     Marika Šafran Berberović finds her inspiration in topics with which she can identify spiritually and psychologically if a poem is her starting point, she finds in it elements of her own intimate feelings and identifies the poet's inspiration with her own, building a symbolic vision composed of the poet's lines and her own associations. The procedure is similar when she takes scenes from her memories as a subject matter of her art. She places distant images into the real space of her present views, complementing what actually took place in the past with what she thinks about it at present. The binding force which holds it all together is the cohesive material of experience. Growing from such roots, Marika Šafran Berberović’s painting is strictly intimate: through images of the world around her, the painter depicts her inner life rather than events in the world which surrounds her. This element of introspection is particularly visible in situations in which she multiplies space and negates time to form the comprehensiveness of cognition in a mosaic of different confrontations.

Her specific approach and thematic range has led the painter to a characteristic medium of expression. Though essentially a realist, or an artist that can still be labelled figural, she offers interpretations which may at any given moment go beyond the boundaries of realism, especially when it comes to expressing spiritual qualities. Starting with the basics - a figure or an object, landscape or architecture - Marika Šafran Berberović continues her search for the more subtle relations. Her composition skilfully aims at catching die essential features, leaving out those which are not important. Motifs emerge from something like a fog of memories, almost hazy and undefined, and merge with the background again. An association that this fusion evokes is the blending of the infinite and the eternal.

This is indeed so, since the past loses its distance for the artist, but the present melts away also in unknown dimensions. In the border area between dreams and reality, between the factual data and subjective reminiscences, we find paintings which are full of poetry, of tender vibrations of feeling and gentle warmth.

One of the powerful expressive means that Marika Šafran Berberović uses is the colour, or rather the tonalities of colour that she employs. Though her colour range is narrow in terms of basic colours, it is endlessly rich in terms of variation of intensity, warmth and brilliance. She is a true virtuoso in the use of pale colouring, Each particular form that she paints acquires also a psychological component through a process of veiling and dematerialization in this misty vision in which all things are recognizable yet softly misted, in which everything is real but also enriched with phantasy, and in which the content is clearly given but also open to associations, the artist is a focus in whom the external and the internal worlds meet.

In her compositions with human figures, Marika Šafran Berberović goes farthest in Obliterating the span of time and linking together situations which are never linked in real life. The pretext is again provided by figures from her intimate circle, people whose life paths she has followed. This particular approach, which consists in observing and grasping these people in the totality of their personalities, makes it possible for her to situate them in peculair relations and to place them into desired position. The principle which she has adopted, namely, that her canvases should convey the full truth about herself, comes to full expression in such paintings. This pure truth is not just a fraction of captured time or a part of the observed position. Just the contrary: the absorption of the truth always means for her its assimilation with the total knowledge of the person or other motivic material. The painted figures are not portraits belonging to a given year, day, or moment. They are in fact not portraits but pictorial representations of the artist's knowledge of the person in question; they are unrestricted reports on the course of living and experience. Portraits, in order to be verified as such, need objectivity. However, Marika Šafran Berberović is a painter of the subjective par excellence, and all figures that she paints are subjected to her interpretation of them, which stamps them with her own understanding of a given person, her contact with the model, and her emotive relationship to the painted figure. These portraits are thus penetrating meditations about man - about the people who have become imprinted in her memory with an indelible mark of love.

An important feature of Marika Šafran Berberović's art is the fact that she has always been oriented towards the same ideals, towards a deeply personal, intimate, lyrical experience. She has not oscillated radically either in the mode of expression or in quality Her development has followed a logical course, with an ever growing coefficient of sensibility and skill, thus opening ever new horizons for her talent to explore. Relying on her own judgement, Marika Šafran Berberović has evolved a style of her own and become established as an artist with a highly developed sense of atmosphere. Among the painters of her generation, and also seen in a longer perspective, she is recognized as an artist who never followed fashionable trends and adopted ready-made formulations but rather sought her own solutions to express most adequately her human and artistic aspirations. This exhibition demonstrates that she has indeed found them, acquired a full mastery over them, and brought them to perfection. Marika Šafran Berberović is today without doubt one of the most sensitive painters in her country, one who does not paint with a brush only but also with her nerves, who does not only project her vision on to the canvas but also the knowledge, doubts and feelings of her whole being.

Prof. Juraj Baldani