by Dr. Stephan Strsembski
Dr. Stephan Strsembski

It is refreshing to view Dragutin Banic’s paintings, objects and drawings without need for prior information in the form of texts, theoretical manifestos and strategies. This is the reason his work stands out from the many strategically oriented artistic expressions of the more cautious colleagues of his generation. The painter, drawer and sculptor creates his own worlds out of half figurative, half abstract tableaus that have life breathed into them by hybrids of natural and cultural phenomena. For example, he joins boards that have clearly accentuated wood grain to form angular furniture, which in turn serves as a display for archaic things. There are candles, apples, the moon and another recurring twin shape that could be interpreted as foliage or rabbit ears.

The archaic quality of these objects seduces us to ascribe allegorical meaning to them: the candle as a primitive source of light – or perhaps a symbol of enlightenment? The apple is not only the symbol of seduction and the fall of man, but was used in Madonna iconography as a sign of redemption and later still as a symbol of power. The rabbit ears/foliage is of particular importance when linked with the materials used by the artist (rabbit glue, pigments). The rabbit or hare occupies a special place in art history: Dürer’s watercolour-monument to the young hare is the culmination of nature worship in the early modern period; Beuys’ recurrent use of it literally made it his heraldic animal – fast, clever, fertile, but also fearful, always ready to flee. The rabbit ears also appear in Banic’s works as an addition to an antique column, monumental and nevertheless somehow lost in a two-coloured landscape of line drawings as ciphers of nature. A typical turning moment between abstraction and figuration can be found in the small, untitled work from 2015 that features a loosely repeating pattern of black dashes on a brown beige, dynamic background – reminiscent of a leopard’s markings and yet comprising a geometric shape that belies any form of mimicry.

Or the two paintings black lounge and blue lounge (2014) that, by means of a single diagonal “runaway” stroke in an otherwise very ordered formal system of rectangles in varying shades of blue and grey, manage to make a spatial figure emerge from the flat composition (a look at his sketch book confirms the suspicion that it could be a watering can).

Banic’s objects – combinations of found and processed material that in the broadest sense are related to Beuys’ or Walter Dahne’s vitrine pieces – also follow this idea, they are autonomous and yet reference something else. The classic wooden shoetree lies dissected in a beautiful rack of wood and glass. A drilled hole acts as a vase for a clay object no bigger than a finger; another part of the shoetree clutches an issue of the Cologne newspaper “Kölner Stadtanzeiger” like a Pinocchio hand – voilà, the Cologne Shelf (Kölner Regal).