By Breda Skrjanec | In Slovenia, a small European nation of little over two million, people like to think that they are a country of artists. Printmaking is one of the many disciplines that the nation’s artists practice. Founded in the tradition of the Ljubljana School of Graphic Art, modern Slovenian printmaking has developed over the course of more than five decades into a contemporary autonomous art form with its own laws and modes of expression.
Eva Lucija Kozak, Child Remote Control, 2013, digital print CGD, edition of 10, photograph by the artist.
The presented text seeks neither to analyze the state of Slovenian printmaking nor to discuss what printmaking is today; its intent is much less ambitious. It seeks only to provide a rough sketch of what has been taking place in Slovenian printmaking over the past half century. The trilogy of exhibitions that presented Slovenian art from 1975–2005, organized by the Modern Gallery Ljubljana, did not include printmaking in their survey.(1) Thus a certain unexplored territory remains in the landscape of Slovenian contemporary art theory.(2) I will attempt to examine just how vast this area is and highlight the events that have shaped it.
The Ljubljana School of Graphic Art
Every time I look back on Slovenian printmaking, I am struck anew by the importance and strength—and perhaps even mythic nature—of the Ljubljana School of Graphic Art. The school developed alongside the International Biennial of Graphic Arts and its members received high-level technical training provided by the Academy of Fine Arts Ljubljana. The unofficial beginning of the Ljubljana School of Graphic Art dates back to 1955. At that time, Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, was hosting its first international printmaking exhibition, which eventually became the International Biennial of Graphic Arts. This biennial still plays an important role in promoting printmaking as an art form through today.
The Biennial of Graphic Arts provided participating artists with the opportunity to join a group that would later form the Ljubljana School. The group was characterized by the artists’ strive for technical perfection in printmaking, usually executed in etching and aquatint; precision and full articulation in prints in which nothing was spontaneous, gestural or merely decorative; the rendering of a patina-like surface, usually in a light tonal scale; consistent adherence (for the vast majority of these artists) to the periphery of the conceptual world; a desire to make printmaking an independent medium; and the creative presence of the artist throughout the entire printmaking process, from the initial idea to the technical procedures to the final impression.
Vladimir Makuc, Landscape with Flock, 1975, intaglio, 27 3/8 x 17 1/4 inches image size (69.5 x 43.7 cm), edition of 20, photograph by Jaka Babnik.
The Ljubljana School, which flourished from 1955–1970, established the norms for printmaking in Slovenia. Even today, the group remains a synonymous with the national printmaking tradition. The artists Janez Bernik, Bogdan Borcic, Riko Debenjak, Andrej Jemec, Vladimir Makuc and Adriana Maraz formed the core of the Ljubljana School. The best of them were still creating exceptional prints into the 1990s, and a few of them continue to do so today. Some of these artists, however, later exchanged the “noble” techniques of intaglio for screen printing. The latter method, however, became the preferred technique of the next generation of artists who came to prominence in the late 1960s. Printmakers of that era employed either rational geometric forms and pure saturated colors or created works that translated their interests in the object and figure (in the so-called new expressive figurativism).(3) Several Slovenian artists (e.g. Metka Krasovec, Lojze Logar and Gorazd Sefran) used printmaking to express their taste for Pop art.
The arrival of screen printing in Slovenian printmaking signaled the end of the aesthetic principles that were determined by the Ljubljana School. Screen printing offers alternative possibilities for expression. This type of printmaking may be supplemented with photography or other intermediary methods. Artists are not as involved in every part of the process; machines handle more of the procedures than people do in screen printing. The method also established a new relationship with color, which could be bright, pure and saturated, conveying an entirely different kind of message and expressive meaning than earlier printmaking techniques...
[This article appears in full in the print and digital edition of CELEBRATING PRINT, Volume 1, Number 1.]
Metka Krasovec, Cuernevaca, 1999, screen print, 17 3/4 x 13 3/4 inches image size (45 x 35 cm), edition size XXXV, photograph by Jaka Babnik.
(1) The Modern Gallery Ljubljana was the leading Slovenian national institution for modern and contemporary art. Today it is part of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MG+MSUM).
(2) Stepancic, Lilijana. “Obliteration of Fine Art Prints from the Register of Artistic Genres in the Last Quarter of the 20th Century.” Art Words no. 73–74. 2005: 47. Print.
(3) Such artists as: Drago Hrvacki, Danilo Jejcic, Zmago Jeraj, etc.
A full version of this article Slovenian Printmaking: A Journey Through Six Decades by Breda Skrjanec appeared in print edition of Celebrating Print, Vol. 1 No. 1, published in October 2015.
BREDA SKRJANEC is an art historian, curator and lecturer. She received her Master’s Degree in art history and sociology from the Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is a museum advisor at the International Centre of Graphic Arts (MGLC) in Ljubljana. Skrjanec was the first appointed curator for International Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana (2001). She has curated numerous exhibitions, including MGLC Collection – New Acquisitions, Ljubljana (2016), Janez Knez, Prints, Ljubljana (2015), 7th International Print Triennial, Sofia (2014), Impressions +386, Madrid (2013), Art as Drug, Beijing (2011), The Big Ones! Works from the Collection of MGLC, Ljubljana (2010), and others. Skrjanec writes articles for Likovne besede and Argo magazines.
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