Full of surprises, of findings, of wandering as well, with the debris it restores to favour, the work of Kopac belongs to none of the great families of contemporary art, follows no tendency. If it was part of History it would be a solitary island, a fabulous garden where strange things take place. But it has not been itemized by the bailiffs of the art world. In its secret domains the lascivious and formidable virtues of woman are celebrated. She has as many names as there are days in the year. Among them, making the rounds: Marie, Judith, Madeleine, Catherine, Aimée, Lola, Mimi, Lucie, Céline, Irmine, Thérèse, Ida, Sophie, Justine, Lydie, Sylvie, Sybil, Edith… And it is made clear that Maya is bared, Sarah veiled, and Maria raped. It is written somewhere by Kopac himself in a precious collection of thoughts made up of puns, of words declined and torn from a dictionary that has arranged them like fruits in a basket beforehand, and lovingly edited by Pierre Chave. Here peeps trough “Mes très riches heures” (My very rich hours) that one discovers the markings of his closed garden and of his box of secrets.

Slavko Kopac, Bedchamber, 1986
Bedchamber, 1986

Kopac is from nowhere in particular even if he is from Croatia. History has led him here and there. An emigrant never more at home than in the world he himself has created. A world made up of the nothings that society abandons and scorns. And which he turns into the jewels of his fantasy.
Much has been made of the frenzied use of materials destined for scrap; the artist, since Kurt Schwitters, going to the city dump as Schwitters used to do at the turn of the century, in search of the motif. In the wake of these illuminated and shocking pedestrians, crowds followed and classified recuperated materials according to a dialectic declaring that modernity, for a celebrated half-century, was the enemy exhibiting seedy things to better denounce it with.

With Kopac there is none of this; he has nothing to prove and no one to point his finger at.
Rather, he is more the solitary type. Running after his lucky star. Without the ostentatious theatricality of the Three Wise Men bearing their mysterious presents, but with the modesty of one who is close to the earth and its secrets, friendly with the shepherd.

Slavko Kopac, 1962/63, 32,9 x 51,7 cm; gouache and ink
Three Kings

He is of the race of the irrepressible dreamers. He collects debris with a feeling of delight. And not according to a principle of lesson-giver of morals. The proof is in his portraits of women which are pure woman, and nothing but femininity. But without the indulgence of the tuckers of satin sheets and the snoops of muffled alcoves. His women have the somewhat barbarian allure of the first divinities emerging from crude materials. With generous breasts and a sensuality not coming from the assiduous painting of a lascivious brush, such as Renoir re-creating the same woman in the flesh of colour. Kopac’s is that of the adventure of matter made up of minuscule recuperations.

Because each of Kopac’s paintings is the story of his adventure as much as the finality of a representation. It is its own rough draft. One can see, guess (but the hidden part dominates) the surges, the returns, the branching. It is made up of lights, of findings, and of smudges. Territory of a dreamy and sardonic wandering. There is no taste for provocation nor for protestation. Kopac is not one who revolts. If he is sometimes compared to Dubuffet, if only because they both worked within the context of “art brut” one will note that Dubuffet loathed reality and that Kopac illuminates it with a jubilation wanting innocence and wisdom to go hand in hand. Or, the modesty of knowledge.

And yet neither his procedure nor his work belongs to what is known as “art brut”. Done, in principle, by “un-cultured” people. Kopac studied at the Zagreb Academy, and was considered one of the most gifted painters of his generation in Croatia, chosen by his country to represent it at the Venice Biennial. His painting career was punctuated, between 1943 and 1948, with exhibitions in Rome, Trieste, and Florence, where he lived. Beyond a conformity to the practice of traditional art in his subjects and materials, Kopac already revealed a certain impatience, a sensuality in paint that soon no longer supported its exclusive use. A window opening onto a darkly uncertain landscape, a small boat aground. Between Braque and Bonnard, a new painter was beginning to blossom. He freed himself from his studies, what he had learned, in the glowing fluidity of wash-drawing, where the pen flows, inventing capricious itineraries, telling strange stories. It is a savage universe. Full of birds with colourful plumage, and cats like sphinxes, boats stuck by waves that seem to come from an Odyssey right out of an opera. One has gone from dreams of birds to Noah’s Ark.
During the period in Florence Kopac conjured fort from the mist of watercolours, like festooned gems, animals from tapestries, from legends, from bridges that are neither from Saint-Angelo in Rome nor from Prague and dedicated to Charles, but coming from both, invented for an imagined and seemingly mobile uncertain city, so much are its moorings slender. And celestial in essence.

Slavko Kopac, The plough in the field, 1947/48
The plough in the field, 1947/48

Art is a game as much as a search. Hence the blotting papers taken out of the wastepaper basket where they would end up with the crumpled envelopes, and from which he retains the furtive print of the words, in order to invent a little gallery of figures with falsely insignificant silhouettes. Kopac always wanders about in the world of uncertainty, of sardonic allusions, of false simplicity, of escape and vestiges.
It is little pleasures that lead him from one material to another, from collages to torn papers. Recuperated materials, games of chance, lost signs, slashes, buried world, marks before they are erased, water full of colours blending, and stains.
The fascination that stains exert is endless. It continuously imposes unexpected morphologies, renewed with each glance. Kopac lets himself be carried away with its power, just as he is attracted to all accidental forms, all incongruous presences, all involuntary appearances, illuminating encounters, as advocated by surrealism.

One can well imagine that creation, according to Kopac, is similar to fishing. Miraculous, the hands full of stars still stuck in the original magma. Art being the revelation of beauty buried everywhere, ever innocent.
Innocence has often been badly treated. Naive art has lost its credibility and “art brut” is already fabricated. Kopac, who is the child of neither, escapes this perversion of genres which end up obeying the laws they secrete through the mechanical reduction of their nature, which is too fragile to survive banality. A redirected imitation leading to banality.
Kopac does not imitate himself because he does not wish to perpetuate his findings. They lose their power of attraction in his eyes once the element of surprise has passed. He will go elsewhere. He goes everywhere.
And yet there is a profound unity radiating from his work. To say it is logical is to stress that it conveys his flights especially and does not get bogged down in an evolution shared with others.
The logic of History touches most works that follow it. They become frozen in it. There is none of this in Kopac’s work; he does not follow in the footsteps of a predecessor and does not aim at comparing himself with elders.

Slavko Kopac, Tree leaf, 1961
Tree leaf, 1961

The idea of progress in art is at the origin of the prejudices it institutes over the course of its evolution. Rejecting, pushing to the margins those who do not obey this historical dynamic, the concepts it inspires.
His solitude spares him the blunders of style, which is a way of always getting one’s clothes from the same tailor, and of always wearing the same outfit. At the risk of turning thought into a principle.

The vagabond he can pride himself on being spares him the fixation of style, even if his work has created a style that resembles less a desire than the inner logic that leads each life towards its secret destiny. Of the gardener Kopac retains the supreme wisdom affirming that, when the gardener goes astray, nature corrects the difference and that which seems unconnected to us, dispersed, is part of a larger perspective in a landscape that has its own harmony since it has found its unity.