MICHEL RAGON about KOPAC
I met Slavko Kopac for the first time at the bottom of the garden of Editions Gallimard, where the Foyer de l’Art Brut found its refuge after leaving the basement of the Galerie Drouin, Place Vendôme. It was in 1950 and Kopac, who was the secretary of this little palace of popular and naïve wonders, made gouache paintings of strange glowing bestiaries. And then, when the Foyer de l’Art Brut disbanded, Kopac disappeared. One year, Benjamin Péret brought him along to an exhibition at the Etoile Scellée gallery. Then, when I paid a visit to Jean Dubuffet in Vence, he spoke to me about Kopac, whom he considered to be one of the rare remarkable young artists.
For ten years, Kopac worked in the solitude of his small Montmartre flat. But the time came for him to face the public. His work exists. It is here, all fresh, anxious, intimidated by its own audacity, its insolent singularity. We reach the period when a certain number of artists “from the outside”, whose work remains on the margin for they cannot be incorporated into the currents which attract attention, when these artists suddenly start shining with all their might by their solitary example. This is how we saw the work of Zoltan Kemeny (of that Kemeny who, himself too, had been linked to Art Brut) suddenly attracting the attention of some amateurs, while only a “happy few” were interested in his “reliefs” at the time when we saw the first such attempts around 1950.
This is also how, during the same decade, Paris didn’t take at all seriously Asger Jorn, leader of the Nordic movement COBRA, who became a new star of the Ecole de Paris. Both of them and Slavko Kopac, who would join them in this new constellation of strange artists, arrived far too early in an artistic milieu, still stuck in traditionalism. The other traditionalism of a good artist abstract painting only overlapped the traditionalism of a good artist figurative painting. As for Kopac, he had nothing at all to do with that. If we had to assign a genre for him, it would be among those artists who, with Dubuffet and Fautrier at the head, make what I used to call, for want of something better: “another figuration”. This is to say that their imaginative and, sometimes, symbolical work is not always sufficiently “legible” for them to be classified among the figurative artists who are strict in their obedience, but which are neither sufficiently abstract (which they are not at all) to be put in the same folder together with non-figurative artists. It, therefore, concerns a different figuration that they propose to us, a figuration of appearances. The figuration of appearances is questionable. Academic rules govern the way in which we see things. This is how most of our fellow citizens believe they look like Hermes of Praxiteles while they actually look like Jean Dubuffet’s characters. So, again, we have the same problem. Visionaries are in fact, true realists.
A visionary, that Slavko Kopac is deeply. He picks up a stone, a pebble, a piece of wood and, in these dead materials, he instantly figures out a human or animal form, hidden in them. In no time, he brings them to life. This is how we see a stone which turned into a wild boar, others into little men and little women, yet another one into a rooster. The same with his paintings. In the magma of the paste, wonderful butterflies are set in mid-flight. And also birds, flowers, a whole flora and fauna, emerged from Kopac’s fertile imagination, a whole amazing, ingenious, poetic world.
Doubtless, from time to time we will think of Jean Dubuffet, but Kopac’s work, which has some similarities with the work of his great friend from Vence, is nevertheless absolutely different. It is never sordid. It is never fierce. While Dubuffet’s work is a passionate protest against the world, a kind of a pictorial “Journey to the end of the night”, Kopac’s work is ingenious, composed, gracious. His world is sometimes strangely funny, but never grim. It is cheerful, lively work. When looking at Kopac’s paintings, we think of spring.