Music, Antonio Zoran

The Slovene, French and Italian painter, Zoran Anton Mušič (Musič, Music), was born a century ago on 12 February 1909, in Bukovica by Bilje, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in Slovenia. His father, Anton Musič, a teacher, was from Šmartno in Brda. His mother, Marija Blažič, also a teacher, was from the village of Kostanjevica (Lig nad Kanalom). Zoran, with his parents and slightly over three-year younger brother Ljuban, lived in Bukovica until the First World War, beneath the slopes of the bare Karst hills close to Gorizia. His father was the headmaster of the village school, his mother brought up the two boys. They often visited their uncle in Trieste, their aunt in Koper and grandmother on the Musič farm in Šmartno.
His father was mobilised at the outbreak of the First World War and sent to the front in Galicia. The mother looked after the two boys on her own for three years, with whom she was expelled to Arnače by Velenje at the outbreak of the Soška (Isonzo) front on 5 June 1915. Zoran first attended school there. After his father’s demobilisation in March 1918, the family returned to Goriško. The landscape devastated by war, the scorched trees and bare Karst rocks were deeply impressed on the boy’s subconscious at that time. In the summer of 1919, the Italian invaders forced the family of Slovene teachers into a new departure. They moved from Brdo to Koroška, to Grebinj. A little over a year later, after the October plebiscite, the Austrians roughly drove them from there.

 
The refugees found shelter in Yugoslavia, in Sv. Ema nad Mestinjami. Zoran moved to Maribor and in November 1920 continued his education at the non-classical secondary school. After four years he undertook further training at the teacher training college, from which he matriculated in 1928. He became familiar with painting and drawing at secondary school from a teacher and a painter: Viktor Cotič at secondary school and Anton Gvajc during teacher training. He said himself that he drew a great deal at that time, but it has not been possible to find drawings from then. The young man’s knowledge was sufficient that a year after matriculating, he passed the entrance exam at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb.

 
He studied under Ljubo Babić, his professor and mentor. The cosmopolitan painter, trained in Germany and Paris, as well as graduate art historian, set designer and designer, was particularly favourably inclined to the young Slovene. He became his mentor. He opened broad artistic creativity to the student, in addition to giving him excellent knowledge of his craft, especially mastery of all kinds of drawing. Among other professors, Tomislav Krizman and Vladimir Becić were influential. The Zagreb Academy trained a tenth of Slovene artists. All drew excellently and they passed their knowledge onto the younger generation of painters, sculptors and illustrators at the Ljubljana Academy after the Second World War.

 

During his studies, Mušič regularly returned to Maribor and Hoče. There he sketched in nature and in a room of the old school, where he had an occasional studio. The village boys of the time remember posing for him. In the spring of 1934, Mušič completed his studies with distinction. A year later, together with a group of painters and sculptors of the Brazda group, he first exhibited in Murska Sobota and in Celje.
In March 1935 he went to Spain for three months. He frequently sketched in the open there and in museums, where he drew copies of El Greco and Goya. When he returned to Maribor, he was publicly known because of exhibitions, favourable criticisms and for his travel letters from Spain, published in the newspaper Slovenec. He lived in Maribor and Hoče, sometimes in Ljubljana. In between he did his military service in Bileća and Rogoznica and was promoted to second lieutenant.

 
He exhibited a great deal, travelled, wrote and gave interviews for newspapers. In summer, he regularly visited Dalmatia, going almost every year to Korčula. He continued to paint and draw, mainly landscapes and still lifes. He became a member of the Brazda group and later the group Neodvisni (Independents). He was conscientiously followed by various critics, above all Lojze Bizjak, Radislav Rehar and Fran Šijanec. Together with friends, he exhibited all over Yugoslavia (Belgrade, Osijek, Maribor, Ljubljana). By the end of 1944, he had participated in about twenty group and ten independent exhibitions (sometimes in a small group). He had his first independent exhibition with his colleague, Fran Šimunović, in Belgrade; a small retrospective with twenty works in 1942 at Obersnel in Lubljana, Gosposvetska cesta 3. He lived in Ljubljana until the Italian capitulation. He painted churches in Primorska in 1942: in Drežnica and Grahovo in Baška grapa together with Avgust Černigoj, in Gradno in Brda with Lojze Spacal.

 
He moved to Gorizia and onwards in autumn 1943, after the German occupation of southern Slovenia and Italy. He lived in Trieste for more than half a year, where he wrote and drew for newspapers. He visited Venice, where he painted in gouache. He exhibited in both cities. In October 1944, the Germans arrested him and in mid November sent him to Dachau concentration camp. There he survived on the border between life and death until the end of the war. He secretly drew some sketches there, mainly portraits of his fellow prisoners. After liberation, he waited until June 5 for transport home and drew various motifs, mainly the dead in the camp. He returned to Ljubljana with more than a hundred exceptional drawings and spent a brief time recuperating at Golnik. Because of the pressures of the post-war authorities and jealous colleagues, who reproached him for having exhibited during the occupation and for having too disrespectful an attitude to the Party, at the end of June 1945 he went to Gorizia. In the late autumn, he travelled from there to Venice.

 
In Venice, he became friends with the artist, Ida Cadorin. She became the motif for hundreds of his drawings and paintings. They were married in September 1949. Once again he painted intensively, first the watercolours Serenissima and images of karstic little horses. He exhibited in Trieste, Venice, Rome and elsewhere throughout Italy. Important artists, including O. Kokoschka and M. Campigli, quickly recognised his creative ability and personal charm and frequently visited him. He travelled regularly to Trieste, where he associated with Slovene intellectuals and met with relatives. He prepared decorations for steamships in nearby Monfalcone. He devoted himself again to graphics, especially during a visit to Switzerland. He exhibited at the Venice Biennale and received first prize in Italy. In 1952, he had a small independent exhibition in Paris. After agreement with Galerie de France he moved to France. He often returned to Venice, living alternately between there and Paris. In the French capital, he kept company with colleagues from various countries and became a member of the select third École de Paris. He was proud of his friendship with A. Giacometti. Individual compatriots who were more skilled in contacts with gallerists and printers helped them. Veno Pilon was a regular guest in his studio. His sketch of Mušič painting little horses (1954) and a number of drawings of company in the coffeehouses have been preserved.

 
Mušič was first able to return to Slovenia in 1956. Two years earlier, his drawings from the concentration camp had been exhibited at Babić’s exhibition in Zagreb, and in 1955 selected graphics were shown at the First Graphics Biennale in Ljubljana. The painter regularly participated at all the graphics exhibitions up until the seventies. At the Second Biennale, he received one of the prizes and gained the opportunity to have an independent exhibition in 1959. Zoran Kržišnik ranked him among the pioneers of the Ljubljana Graphics Biennale and called him one of the great supporters of the exhibition. He regularly visited his parents in Ljubljana and Brda, and until late age his brother and other relatives in Slovenia. He continued to visit Dalmatia as long as he was able.

 
His apartments in Paris and Venice were embassies of Slovene culture. They were visited in particular by painters and sculptors, old and new friends. He often gave old friends catalogues of current exhibitions. He normally signed them and sketched little horses, bouquets or other sketches. He sometimes himself visited Slovene students, whose company he enjoyed; otherwise he led a secluded life in order to have enough time for thinking and work. He extended his motifs towards abstraction and purified motifs of the Karst, Dalmatian colours and rocks. He exhibited independently in small galleries in Europe, and through Austria and prominent exhibition sites in Germany gradually became accepted by prestigious institutions in France. He was always welcome in Ljubljana in Moderna galerija, which was headed by his friend, Kržišnik. The gallery hosted independent exhibitions in 1959 (graphics), 1960 (Dalmatian gouaches), 1967 (retrospective), 1990 (review exhibition), 1997 (works from collections: collection of Sonja Štangelj), 2007 (donated gouaches); sometimes in Mala galerija, commonly in Ravnikar Palace.

 
Mušič gradually became the standard, the starting point of quality among artists in Slovenia; colleagues warmed to him before critics and politicians. He gradually received every possible professional and national award and recognition for his services. Kržišnik helped the painter to become established in the German speaking countries of Europe. Critics such as Jean Bouret, Jean Grenier, Jacques Lassaigne and others summarised Kržišnik’s analyses, supplemented them and helped open the doors of prestigious galleries to the painter: the Paris Musée de la ville de Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in the Pompidou Centre, the exhibition rooms in Kassel, galleries in Munich and elsewhere.

 
The artist finally became established in the world in the middle of the seventies, with his cycle We are not the last. Its starting points were the drawings from Dachau and the artist’s memories. He supplemented them with a new series, vitally sensed vegetative interweaving of roots and burnt cork. He exhibited throughout Europe and often in the USA. He returned to calmer images of the interior of Venetian churches, supplemented them with vistas of the city by the lagoon and developed a series of self-portraits in the study. He devoted himself to double portraits with Ida and, finally, to portraits of Man: painter and thinker, traveller and pilgrim in one person.

 
His great retrospective, the largest of about 250 independent exhibitions of the artist’s work in the period of his life, was held in 1995 in the exhibition rooms of the Grand Palais in Paris. The exhibition was opened by the presidents of two countries: Milan Kučan of Slovenia and François Mitterand of France. The Paris catalogue was put together by the most prestigious critics from France and prominent individuals from other countries. The painter lived his latter years in Venice, where, almost blind, he prepared dark self-portraits, the last impulsive drawings on large sheets of paper. He died on 25 May 2005 in his Venetian home, at the age of 96. He was buried on the island of St Mihael, at the edge of compartment 16.

 
The only permanent exhibition of hundreds of graphic sheets has been set up in Dobrovo Castle in Goriška Brda, Moderna galerija Ljubljana has a large collection of paintings and there are smaller ones in Metlika and Maribor. French representative collections, such as CNGP, have some dozens of his works. There are Mušič’s works in various collections in Italy, water colours in Bologna, individual works in Venice (Palazzo Pesaro) and Rome (Galleria Nazionale d’arte moderna) and in London (Estorick, Tate). Embryos of large collections have come into existence in Spain (Valencia, Madrid). Private individuals abroad and in Slovenia have excellent collections of his art.

 
In 2006, Galerija Zala prepared a selective exhibition of his paintings and other works from private collections. That exhibition for the first time covered all creative periods, from the beginning around 1930 up to 2000. In February 2008, an exhibition of selected graphics held by private owners in Slovenia followed. A third selection has been prepared for the occasion of the centenary of his birth. The most intimate and immediate works, drawings and some other of Mušič’s works on paper are presented for the judgement of visitors. The drawings themselves testify that the artist’s creativity is an unceasing continuum, ranging from perhaps uncertain beginnings, through the period of mastery into prophetic old age.

 

 

Gojko Zupan