KOPAC or savage elegance of being

Slavko Kopac, painting Profile - 1962
Profile – 1962

Rare are the painters in the twentieth century who have not fallen into the trap of painting. Rare are the painters in the twentieth century who have not been shamed by the great occidental heresy that gave birth to modern art and in which artistic activity has never ceased confusing itself with a pursuit of knowledge. Kopac is one of the rare painters of our time who, on this or that side of styles and classifications from Duchamp to Tanguy, from Kadinsky to Toyen, from Malevitch to Arp, have staked everything in this quest of the senses whose destiny in the plastic arts is entirely contained in the celebrated declaration by Leonardo de Vinci: “Painting is a mental matter.”

It is not necessary to ponder for long about the current collapse of the plastic arts: painting today is dying from having thoughtlessly neglected this primordial fact. Having slowly condemned itself to being only a reflection of itself, painting affirms itself through a disheartening and desperate rhetoric when it has not simply and purely abdicated before the growing terrorism of realism and its ideological artillery. So this is what we have come to, confronted with painting whose contradictory but coherent developments – rhetorical ideology is very much complementary to current formalist rhetoric, and the inflation of the message is exchanged against the inflation of form – sends us back to the contradictions and the coherence of a technical society narcissistically preoccupied with its functioning and which no longer remembers why it functions. And if we were to think that this society has the painting it deserves, all of Kopac’s work would happily contradict our hypothesis. This is how Kopac is first a poet, totally in disaccord with the world at present.

With his power to create life from nothing, to invent the “pavane” of two distant beauties on the medallion on a cutting board, to rediscover the thrill and the main traits of a face in the crumpling of a paper cut-out, no one would deny Kopac’s vertiginous lyrical power.

Slavko Kopac, painting Three, 1965
Three – 1965

One would be surprised that, in order to situate him, I thought it important to tie Kopac to a cultural tradition removed from the quasi-organic rhythm of his work. Because even if Kopac’s painting, as I said elsewhere, is neither naïve or rough, an occult harmony seems to take possession of all that he touches, shaking the mass of appearances in order to liberate the vital forces that the obscuration of the dishonest rationality of our time makes us forget. So much so that to my knowledge Kopac is the only painter who enables us to see colors ripening like fruits, forms shattering like thunderstorms, light appearing or disappearing like darkness. An essential spectacle that carries the spirit back to the dawn of things, to sensitive roots. That is how Kopac’s painting is first “a mental matter”, when it brings into suspension the dispersion of people and things in order to affirm the ardent but never evident reason that brings them together or separates them, links or unlinks them, makes them vibrate or extinguishes them. This is the great knowledge that Kopac has. Knowledge which superbly renders life to itself through the putting into play of poetic channels until then never suspected. Highly metamorphic knowledge whose only goal is to conquer the imaginary dimension of our existence.

So the extreme attention that Kopac has focused on the body and on the face for many years now is most important. Especially since nothing in this passionate preoccupation could even remotely be attributed to a return to subject matter. On the contrary, since it means a procedure definitively foreign to that of a growing number of painters who are more and more fascinated or obsessed by mutilations, disintegration, the annihilation of the human body: I think here of Bacon and his unhappy followers. For the simple reason that Kopac is not a witness, does not protest, does not ascertain, does not denounce. No, he dreams.
But he dreams so intensely with bright blue, safran yellow, red-purple, that the traps of painting – the traps of matter, form, and subject – can no longer enclose his vision; by that I mean they can no longer prevent him from seeing what we longer see, what we have forgotten, what we do not yet know – our close and distant silhouettes that Kopac shows us with the rigor of the greatly inspired.

But what can we know? Because at the same time that human bodies are being very much mutilated, tortured, cut into pieces with a technique never before equalled (open a newspaper, read the reports by Amnesty International), we are witnessing the flowering of a disastrously complementary industry to the enterprise of torture and distruction whose goal is to produce, with a series of sportive, hygenic, and sexual operations, the reassuring images of gadget-like bodies. A body that functions by itself, that has pleasure by itself, a body that collapses by itself. A body which looks like all the others but which misunderstands the others. A body without a head, without a shadow, a body deprived of its symbolic respiration.

Slavko Kopac, painting Three Heads, 1963
Three Heads – 1963

Far from the noises of time, and yet at the heart of our time, Kopac works to bring us what is being lost, unveiling at the same time with a much grander violence than that of the masters of evidence the harvest of reversed chances which is confused with our horizon. Look at him putting everything into his work, all color, all form, all matter. Not that he uses fragments, junk, found objects to exalt the laws of chance and the shattering of the subject or, on the contrary, to find a dispersed order. Kopac has much better things on his mind. Without any cultural or ecological nostalgia he works only to find here and now the most reduced intervention (one could say the most elegant in the mathematical sense), the imperceptible intervention that will give form to the informal and in this very movement will permit thinking that which has not been thought. And this is what makes Kopac’s collages so new, harmonic collage that awakens a series of echos in the always virgin forest of forms, lines, and colors. Because, contrary to most, Kopac does not attempt to reorganize or to disorganize the world: simply, he adds to beings and to things the little, the very little thing that unravels the certitudes of perception in order to infinitely unfold the screen of appearances. And in the vertigo of this mirror shattering in its own reflection, Kopac shows us the disturbance of thought taking possession of matter, the movement of being thrashing between appearances.

Then, all of a sudden, there is not only our image but also our destiny, because Kopac brings us masks and costumes that our civilization did not know how to give us. This is an inestimable gift, when we remember that Roger Caillois said that human societies make themselves different and distinct by their games. Social metaphors that never mislead, games are regulated by the laws of competition and of chance, and others by masks and through speed. And since there is no doubt that we belong to these severe civilizations of competition and of chance that rest entirely on the exaltation of possession, we can perhaps measure in that way what Kopac offers us. From the deepest part of the mental jungle that we have forgotten, Kopac brings us back nothing less than our double. But our double adorned with the pink-gray of all the buried thrills, the bright green of all abandoned passions. Luxurious double submerged in the magnificence of its moving truth in the poor riches of our world in order to reveal the more and more rare secret of true elegance: that luxury or poetry, it is the same thing, are nothing but the victory of being over having. So, therefore, nothing surprising in that Kopac’s masks and characters possess the savage grandeur of so-called primitive art: the same sense of metaphoric spending haunts them all. For Kopac this metaphoric luxury is not the price to be paid – even symbolically – in order to guarantee the coherence of a social organization. Infinitely more dangerous, Kopac’s art brings us to the edge of ourselves, to the edge of the vertigo of meaning, to the edge of the unavoidable questioning of what we are. As if the answer was in the questioning. As if life was in the “who goes there?” As if poetry began with this unending conscience of nothingness.

Not long ago, I met Kopac; he carried like a bouquet all the colors of a storm.