With his second successful solo show at New York’s Marc Straus Gallery freshly under his belt, Croatian artist Zlatan Vehabović is back home in Zagreb, diligently at work on a new series of paintings that will continue to explore themes of home and habitat, and the many worlds within worlds we must navigate, whether self-created or bestowed upon us.
Having left a war torn Bosnia for Croatia when he was 12 years old, the world Vehabović often inhabits is a liminal one, neither here nor there, but somewhere in between. While not always comfortable, it provides an ideal perspective from which to ruminate about notions of place, and its personal and universal implications.
Perhaps to establish a mooring in the nebulousness of his experience, the majority of paintings shown at Marc Straus were inspired by a single song — a Scottish sea-faring ballad told from the woeful perspective of the wives of whalers. Originating from a staged photo shoot (as many of his paintings do), the images of fishermen, icebergs and beached whales float somewhere between vivid photorealism and fantasy, an effect Mr. Vehabović achieves by erasing environmental cues that would typically ground a scene in reality; and by rendering the grotesque sea mammals so they are reminiscent of whales, but aren’t quite.
“Operating within this field of representational painting, a question I try to solve with each work is to what extent the image should be based upon the logic of the ‘real,'” says the artist. “Following the photo template you risk mere illustration; manipulating it too far and you risk some form of tacky surrealism. The longer you look at this gap between the choice of how to represent, and what is represented, the wider it grows.”
Fortunately for fans of his work, as the gap widens, more of Vehabović’s conceptually compelling and visually impressive works are likely to emerge from it.