Creative Croatia

Experiencing art within Croatia's core.

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Roman colormination, 2019 by Daniele Fortuna on display at ArtZagreb
Roman colormination, 2019 by Daniele Fortuna on display at ArtZagreb

Arts’ existence depends upon the artists’ willingness to create it. Whether there is an audience for it or not is actually irrelevant.  Artists can gain a following or not and there can be a debate on whether “success” in the art world means global notoriety or simple small community gains. Societal “success” however, often hinges on whether the artist in question can monetize their art not whether their life is full of happiness or passion because of their art. 

While Croatia has always been on my list of places to visit, it has always been the photos of the picturesque of shorelines of Dubrovnik and Split that has intrigued me. I knew less about Zagreb, the capital city.  Yet, there was a subtle but consistent theme of art, artisans and creativity that ran throughout the city. You can find the art everywhere, from the titled roof of St. Mark’s church, the vine covered Mirogoj cemetery to the bright yellow building of the Croatian National Theatre. Yet, move beyond these landmarks and you can find hidden displays of art elsewhere.

The Apprentices: 

ArtZagreb is a curation of artwork from students and established artists around Croatia and worldwide organized by Daniel Tomičić and Juraj Vuglac. Darius Bork organized the student exhibit from three art academies – Berlin, Venice and Zagreb. Although, US designer John Maeda stated in 2009, “Design is a solution to a problem. Art is a question to a problem,” ArtZagreb follows Zagreb Design Week in May. 

Thankfully, ArtZagreb proves it can be just as successful as Zagreb Design Week. It’s the second year running and ArtZagreb has already outgrown its current space, a vacant building behind the famed Technical Museum Nikola Tesla.   Walking around and seeing the enthusiasm of the different artists in varying range of their expertise, I’m not surprised though. 

The ArtZagreb founders created a space to showcase art and discuss relevant topics in art such as marketing and business models.  In a breakout speaker session the topic of marketing was discussed with a focus of block chain and various online platforms such as the algorithm driven Art Atlas and the French gallery lite start up, Singuilart. 

In addition to the art, there is a music program with local musicians to bring in a new audience who can appreciate the artwork and those who make it. 

The Masters: 

Travelling approximately 30 min out of Zagreb’s center crossing the Sava River is the city of Samobor. Try the famed, Samoborska kremšnita (a puff pastry dessert filled with custard cream filling) and wash it down with some local wine. The region boasts 3 major wine roads (Samobor, Plešivica and Zelina) each with over a dozen wineries. 

Along the Plešivica road you will find Jagunić, a 4thgeneration family winery. Jagunić is a true family production, with everyone except a sister on board for production, marketing, and events. 

Jagunić’s speciality is sparkling wines, with a unique foray into orange wines. Orange wines use white wine grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice. Focussed on quality over quantity, the winery concentrates distribution in Croatia and parts of Europe. In fact, their first overseas stockist to North America shipped this summer.  The whole ethos of the company is not to expand but to maintain quality and create great tasting wine. Quality control is strictly the family’s own happiness with the product. 

The Leisurist:

The Naïve art movement pertains to artists without any formal education. Such is the case for Matija Skurjeni, who picked up painting as his hobby later in life after retirement. Gaining traction with the surrealist crowd, Skurjeni painted from his dreams with his signature fine brushstrokes. 

He believed he was only the medium, through which someone or something was visually telling a story. Whomever or whatever was using Skurjeni as an instrument is revealed in his prophesized paintings. Such as in his masterpiece entitled, Third World War (1969) that eerily depicts a dystopian earth with a sprinkling of current events (9/11, Hurricane Irma, Maria) that was years after Skurjeni passed away in October of 1990. The thought of having a man create works of art in this kitchen, informing world events without travelling far from his homeland is intriguing. I could not imagine what he would have painted should he still be alive today, let alone know his thoughts about his prophetic artwork. 

Croatia has an infinite amount of art and artisans for a country that takes only 6 hours to drive north to south, end to end. Hvala ti Zagrebe for showing the visitors from all over the world that artisans, can simply make art for the love of it whether they are apprentices, masters or even a leisureliest. Art is for everyone. 

Walking around Zagreb, you can spot the traditional souvenir called the licitarsko scre or “Gingerbread heart” in many shop windows. Gaining a spot on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list for its appearance and artisan craftsmanship, you know that you are visiting a unique country where art takes a special place in its heart. 

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