Conversations with Artists in Art Getting Art: Stipan Tadić '20
BY Audrey Deng, April 10, 2020
Conversations with Artists in Art Getting Art is a bi-weekly series and a play on Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. We interview artists about their art and 'getting art'.
In his work, Stipan Tadić '20 is concerned with community, memory, and home. His cunningly straightforward comics and paintings tell the stories of a person who is at heart an observer, experiencing the present as if it were already a future memory. This ability to stretch perspective is largely due to Tadić’s deeply investigative attitude toward art. “[...] Just by continuous documentation of what you do, you might see your own machine, how it functions, how it works, and what kind of person you are. “
In this conversation with Tadić, we talk about Croatia, the autobiographical aspect of comics, and his dislike of figurative art.
This is a very nice studio. How did you come up with the idea to paint the walls?
Stipan Tadić: Before I came here, I had a show in Croatia, and there I did a series of mountain paintings, huge landscapes, so I kind of wanted to replicate that here. All the things I do, which are very different, are interconnected with this landscape. It’s also because a lot of people come here and ask me where I’m from, and I’d say, “I’m from Croatia,” and they’d say, “The country with the beautiful coasts or something.” So I wanted to kind of go with that stereotype of Croatia as a beautiful country.
Have you always chosen to depict Croatia in landscape paintings?
ST: No, no. From the outside, it’s a beautiful place, but from the inside, it’s a post-Soviet, post-Communist, eastern European, not-so-good, very corrupt, very economically damaged, good-but-rough place. But from the outside, it’s always seen as this beautiful place.
A friend of mine took a trip there a few years ago. She visited waterfalls, caves…
ST: We don’t spend our time in waterfalls. (Laughs).
Where would you spend your time?
ST: In my city. Zagreb. I grew up in Croatia and Austria. I went to school in Austria, and then I went back to Croatia to go to arts school there, and I was an artist for a couple of years, had shows and stuff. Then I came here.
When did you know you wanted to study art?
ST: I decided when I was very young. I always knew I wanted to go to art school. I mean, I was drawing a lot when I was young, and my parents sent me to workshops; I spent some time in studios, always painted. I was always someone who was drawing. But discovering art school as it is was funny to me, because I was doing more in my own time than the school asked of me. Art school was more of a push.
Could you take me through the inspiration for your work?
ST: I’m really into Renaissance painting, Byzantine art, Gothic art, Christian iconography—I think art history really shaped what I’m doing. I enjoy reading about it and studying it, especially Brueghel, and things connected with folk art. I enjoy artwork that can act as a document.
By that, do you mean realistic art?
ST: Realism is a very wide term, so I kind of see it in a way of showing how things are, from more than one side. Like a camera shooting from two or three angles. Or, also showing life with the things which are there, not just symbolically, but also seeing people doing this and that. Realism also as in the spectrum of life which is not represented, such as peasant life, the common life. I was always interested in art that was doing that. For instance, Goya painted portraits of kings, but you also see in his artwork his commentary on the king through the way he painted it. I see that as realism in a sense. I also like Otto Dix and George Grosz, who showed Germany at a time it was boiling.
I notice you also have what look like comics around here. Is that an accurate description of what you’d call them?
ST: Yeah—yeah, in Zagreb, after I finished school, I had a studio in a squat, like an alternative cultural center. I was so much into academia then, and art history, so when I came to a surrounding like this I saw that it was quite different from what I was learning in school. Comics were a way to do something that would seem like art which at the same time be art that some people around the squat would appreciate.
Was the comic format natural to you?
ST: Absolutely. I was always drawing. It was probably just a matter of time before I would start doing comics.
Did you read a lot of comics when you were growing up?
ST: I drew a lot of comics when I was very young, but then I stopped when I went to school because I started doing still lifes and stupid stuff like that. I always thought deep inside of me that the academy ruined me, that art school [at the academy] ruined me, because I was pushed into doing really academic stuff when really, all that time, I was interested in other things.
What was it like having a studio in a squat?
ST: There were clubs around me, three clubs. There were a lot of artist studios. It’s called Medika. It’s one of the most famous squats in my country, actually. It’s really gritty. I had to use an axe to cut wood to heat up my studio.
How did you enjoy living there? Did you love it?
ST: It was ok, it was the only thing I could imagine. I couldn’t afford another studio. I loved it. It shaped me in some way.
In a better way than the academy, maybe?
ST: Yes, because in some ways it’s a lifestyle, and I think being part of a lifestyle which is not necessarily yours is precious. To experience different ways of life.
Did you get along well with the people there?
ST: I think at first I felt weird, because I don’t have dreadlocks. (Laughs.) But when I started doing murals there, decorating the place with my friends, who were also in the studio with me, then, I think, they started accepting us. In the beginning it was kind of new for me, and I felt like I wasn’t accepted that much. Now I organize shows there, I made portraits of them—-I was part of the people.
So it was here that you started drawing comics. What kinds of comics did you draw? Did you have a protagonist?
ST: It was autobiographical. Just about my daily life. Funny bits and stuff from my life. I’m still doing that.
And you painted murals too.
ST: I painted a big devil, a circus scene, and inside, in one of the clubs, they wanted this steampunk thing—I painted a huge zeppelin.
What year was this?
ST: Maybe 2012? All of that I painted with friends from my studio. I left the squat when I met a collector. He gave me a room in a house, a small room, smaller than this. So I left, because there I had heating. I also painted where my grandmother lives, which is really far into the suburbs of Zagreb, almost like a village, very rural. But then I got this studio next to the city, next to these mountains, so I left the squat and thought, “Ok, I cannot be in this world anymore.” I was drinking too much, getting distracted. I had time to think about myself and my future, started doing more serious projects. Then I decided to go to graduate school, got a scholarship, and came here.
It’s your last semester. How do you like Columbia?
ST: It’s good, it’s good. You get a lot of feedback. A lot of people know a lot of stuff. In Croatia, you don’t really know what it is you’re doing, but here when you do something you see what it is on the world map, in some way. So that’s good for me to be here. Columbia introduces you to many good artists. It’s all about the way you interact with those people. But it’s also very different from what I’m used to, because my school was...I don’t know. It was different. Here, every Monday, a professor comes to us for an exact amount of time and leaves. You have to email them if you want to see them again and the schedule is really tight. Sometimes you see your mentors only 2 times per semester. In Croatia, the teachers would come to the class sometimes every day, sometimes not for a month, depending on circumstances. It was less organized, but you kind of get to share more time with them. The whole school was like a big house where we all hung out all the time.
But it’s nice here; I joined the radio here, WKCR, and I have a Balkan show, which is my nice hobby. I play music from the Balkans. My show is every other Sunday, at 11pm. It’s not a good time, but it’s good, it’s a hobby, I don’t know. I also want to start hiking more, stuff like that.
Tell me a bit more about what I’m seeing around the studio here.
ST: This is a building in my neighborhood, in Zagreb, which was built in the 70s as this socialist housing, you know the Berlin School, stuff like that. I saw in MoMA there was a show about Brutalist art from Yugoslavia, so I thought: I should do a painting about Brutalist architecture but from my own perspective, in my own way. I made a series of neighborhood paintings.
It looks like a board game, almost.
ST: Yeah. I like this ephemeral aesthetic, like games, maps, comics. You know what I mean. Aesthetics from things which are not supposed to be high art. I like the intention of making and drawing something into these forms. This is also the way I was drawing when I was a child. I like this term: naive. Naive realism, real but naive. I also see realism as this naive way of looking at things. Like, looking at life as it is, almost bluntly, but the format of it—like a map—is realistic, so the work doesn’t have this burden of carrying an artistic discourse. A lot of art has this elitist way of communicating, which is super hard for me to really look at. Especially modernism. I never really liked abstract painting. I mean I liked it, but I never really wanted to do it. I also never liked pure figurative art, like art that’s too hardcore figurative.
Figurative, like still lifes?
ST: Still lifes, portraits, stuff like that.
What kinds of artists exemplify that high-minded mindset?
ST: I don’t know, Cy Twombly. I like Cy Twombly, but you know, it’s just part of that discussion about free form. Jackson Pollock. Any of the abstract expressionists. I cannot stand them.
(Laughs.) How about Agnes Martin?
ST: She’s ok. (Laughs.)
So you like Otto Dix, Georg Grosz. Who else?
ST: I like David Hockney, Ralph Fasanella, Goya.
What do you like about these three artists? What holds them together for you, in your mind?
ST: I think they all show what it was like in the time they were living. It’s like a documentation, with showing the outer world and the inner world in combination.
So it doesn’t make a claim on reality, or objectivity, like still lifes might.
ST: Yeah, so all of them show you how they feel about what they are showing. So you see the internal world and the external world at the same time.
Do you find having text with your paintings helps with the internal-external world messages?
ST: I never put texts on my oil paintings, only my comics, but texts in comics is ok.
Can you talk a bit more about the process of making an autobiographical comic?
ST: Sometimes I’ll interview people and make a comic about it. I feel like I’m a reporter or something. I did a comic about Paris—comics made me do things that I usually wouldn’t do, maybe just for the sake of the story, for the sake of the experience, and then I just put it into a comic. It makes you, you know. Live a life.
Could you give me some examples?
ST: It’s really just life, it wasn’t all good, it wasn’t all bad. I had problems with my ex-girlfriend at the time, so that was a part of my comics, I had problems with my family, emotionally I was feeling bad, I was hungover a lot, so that was part of the bad thing. But I don’t know if anything bad happened. The bad things were kind of internal, but the external world was kind of ok. It was a big part of my comics.
You mentioned that doing comics made you feel like a reporter. I think, in reporting, most people turn to the written word, because for some reason the written word is a mutually agreed-upon more reliable source of documentation than drawings. At the same time, reporters have a duty to represent situations realistically. This seems to be at contrast with your kind of world view. So I guess I’m wondering how does naivete work in reporting?
ST: Maybe it’s in the style of drawing? Maybe it’s in the immediate approach—the naivete is, I think, in the narrative of the comics. It’s “and then I did this, and then I did this, and this happened.” The tone is very naive. “I woke up. I drank tea. I went outside. I went to the museum. I saw Raphael. And then a woman came in and told me to go away. And then I went to have a coffee and then I had lunch and then I forgot my bag in the restaurant but then a car ran over me.” The tone is very innocent.
It’s naive in the way that I let myself go into whatever direction the story flows. It just helps me, this idea of naivete, to open up. To be more open. To be more like who I am. It’s not that I’m trying to be naive, it’s just the idea that I’m—it brings me into the moment.
Do you like any comic artists?
ST: Robert Crumb is good. I like a lot of underground comic artists...I like Daniel Clowes. I like Jim Woodring, Simon Hanselmann. I actually make more comics than I read.
What do you like to read?
ST: I don’t know. I don’t like poetry, that I know. I like to read nonfiction. I like biographies, autobiographies, theory, philosophy. I also like really, really old literature such as Arabian Nights, old folk tales, I really like that. My favorite book is Don Quixote. It’s my number one book.
He’s a very naive man.
ST: The book also talks through this naivete, like someone who believes in the thing that he sees. It’s talking about this person being trapped inside of their own vision of the world, and being unable to get out of that. It’s really layered, this idea, and I kind of try to do the same in my work. What storytelling is for him, is art for us. Art is our tale, the thing we all believe in, the rules we live by, and we may not even be aware of it, of being a stereotype, living the thing. And just by continuous documentation of what you do, you might see your own machine, how it functions, how it works, and what kind of person you are.
What are you working on right now?
ST: My thesis. I’m trying to see how to make a New York painting and how to paint this area in which my studio and the campus is.
I guess you have not met lots of people from your village in Croatia here?
ST: No. It’s just such a small land. A small, abandoned place. And New York is not. It’s such a wide spectrum. This spectrum is really important to me right now because I am not used to this kind of elite institution. Money, who’s rich, who’s not rich—this isn’t important in Croatia. Here, education is not free. Knowledge and education is kind of a distinction here regarding class, but in Croatia it’s not like that. So this is the kind of difference I want to represent in these paintings.
Art by by Stipan Tadić '20
'Heaven,' art by Stipan Tadić
'Bicycle Diaries,' art by Stipan Tadić
'Biokovo,' art by Stipan Tadić
'Central Bus Terminal,' art by Stipan Tadić
'Childhood in Sighetto,' art by Stipan Tadić
'Medika Dance,' art by Stipan Tadić
'Patrick,' art by Stipan Tadić
'Swallow Nest,' art by Stipan Tadić
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