With the freedom of his soul, followed by his hand, Kostja changed the social-realist greyness of the student magazine Tribuna overnight, into a colourful paper shot through by humour and enlightenment, which was socially engaged precisely by the virtue of its relaxed nature, easy-come-easy-go attitude, as well as derision to the great subjects and ideas. The visual side of the paper had acquired its subversive point. Kostja changed marginal columns, the chronicle of the student underground culture, which submerged the young with a new culture, into the central theme of history. Instead of the revolution we received a wizard who coloured Tribuna; instead of an external policing power, we confronted the dictatorship of imaginative inspiration and creative ecstasy. Is there anything more important in life?
On his young and vital sinusoid, exactly at the point where the power of evermore self-confident mastery of metier began to shake its mane (1968-69), the painting of Kostja Gatnik witnessed the encounter of the subversive impetus of “sixty-eight”, which sparked out of France also over the iron curtain, and the aesthetics of pop art, with Gatnik’s own academic and socialist realism transcending horizons. They both had a great impact on him and that was two-fold: in that special “dissident” tonality provoked by the “demand for changing the old world” and “the need for reaction against serial production and consumerism”, accompanied by grandworld horizons in the circumstances impregnated by the self-governing of socialist Slovenia, and in that characteristic deviation from the original tendencies of both generative movements, fostered by the magnetic field of those same socialist and self-governing conditions. Only by looking at Gatnik’s painting from the outside, we can already grasp that the painter, from the beginning to the end, remained faithful to the “axiom” that Painting offers “pure pleasure over the independent existence of that which is excellent”. That striving for “excellence” marks Gatnik’s creativity as a whole; it is downright exemplary in painting, which – as opposed to other applicative kinds of Gatnik’s creative work – sticks systematically to research and articulation of form, intended for defence against superficial patterns of fantasy, because they do not originate in the selfish reverie or instrumentality of any kind, but resist our consciousness and by the same token cultivate it.
As illustrator Kostja Gatnik is committed to the principle that the selection of expressive means is immanent to the purpose and function of the message and not to the style that establishes the author, because he communicates with the public and particularly with those to whom he addresses the message. In painting, however, the artist communicates with himself.
It is barely possible that photography, without a similar perception as manifest in other areas of creativity, happened to a visual artist like Kostja Gatnik. It does therefore not come as a surprise that images of powerful visual appeal dominate his photography. Because he is an advocate of new technologies, he titled his photographic series simply by the name of the camera he had used, while single photographs remain untitled, left to the viewer’s imagination. The HI 86 series seems like a photographic sketchbook of the paintings of the same period. No people, mystical mood, mysterious light. Later things change. He captures single figures in conversation with graffiti, with a painting, or simply with an empty facade. A man confronted with the surface of a painting, of a facade. Is he staring at it, or is it looking at him? Shadows, plates of concrete and paintwork on the ground, while man is present only by a part of his legs. The notation of the relationship between viewer and art continues in the Paris 03 series, in which the paintings exhibited in the galleries are in the photographer’s view placed in a “shop window”, or as in a snapshot from the Pompidou Centre, left to the fatigue of the passers-by. On this photograph the playfulness of the painting in the background is in ostentatious contradiction with the people who seem to be strolling in a park or along the street, not a gallery. In the majority of Gatnik’s photos we are abandoned to a visual pleasure. But the Šumi series from 1970 has crept in among them, which functions in an opposite manner – at least for the 1960s generation – above all as a memory. All those all too familiar faces in the photographs are full of energy, although by today that energy has long gone and many of them have passed away. That is more than nostalgia, more than a document.
Kostja Gatnik is one of the personalities, central to Slovene graphic design and illustration. He enjoys a privileged and outstanding position in both creative disciplines because of the extraordinary creative quality and breadth of his work. Surprisingly! The same artist produced the logo for Hermes Softlab, the poster for the Bank of Ljubljana, the Magna Purga comic book, and illustrated a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. Rare artists are able to muster that kind of breadth that requires a tremendous variability of expressive means. In spite of this variability, every piece of design or illustration is superb, masterful, inventive and spirited. Gatnik is an extraordinary draftsman that can adjust his drawing to the variety of purposes and designer’s tasks. Gatnik the illustrator functions as a designer, and Gatnik the designer acts as an illustrator. Trained as a painter, he makes use of the graphic designer’s approach in his creative processes. He starts off from the theme and requirements of the message, from the specifics of the client and the public, and adjusts his idea, as well as his visual expressive manner, to these preconditions. He is aware of the fact that graphic design always has a communication goal to fulfil and is not the purpose in and for itself. He achieves an optimal equilibrium between the content and visual-aesthetic components of his message. Superb quality, indelible desire to make a quality product, and the enjoyment of his creative effort are values that govern his work, regardless of the size or importance of the task. Inventiveness, intellectual depth, formal perfection, expressive and emotional agitation confer upon his graphic and illustrative work an indisputable status equal to that of works of art.
Exhibition concept and design
Selection of works
Kostja Gatnik, Ranko Novak
Marja Lorenčak, Andrej Smrekar
Texts have been extracted from authors’ contributions for the forthcoming monograph Kostja Gatnik: What I have seen 1968–2008, to be published in January 2009.
Selection of extracts
The exhibition was sponsored by
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia
City of Ljubljana
National Gallery of Slovenia
23 December 2008–15 February 2009
Narodni dom Gallery
Comics, Illustration, Graphic Design, Photography
Entrance Hall of the National Gallery of Slovenia