Associat. prof. Vladislav Greslik, ArtD. / SK / - art historian, Prešov University
Ivan Šafranko´s work (from reality and experiments to spirituality)
Although Ivan Šafranko (1931) has been involved in the development of the visual culture of Slovakia for over 60 years, his name and work are undeservedly known less than many of his peers, for example members of the Mikuláš Galanda Group (1957) or Milan Dobeš (1929).
There are several explanations for this. First of all, it is the eccentricity of the location of Prešov, where he has been working for many decades and is still active as an artist, compared to Bratislava or Prague within Czechoslovakia or Slovakia. One should not forget the scattering of his monumental realizations in architecture in the towns of eastern Slovakia.
And finally – despite all his creative agility and perseverance, Ivan Šafranko has always been rather reluctant to show off aggressively. Of course, he had numerous solo exhibitions, in the beginning even in the Bratislava Gallery of Cyprián Majerník (1965).
But let's go back a bit. Ivan Šafranko started his art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava (1951-1954), and after the advice of Dezider Milly he continued at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (1954-1957).
After graduation he returned to Košice in the east of Slovakia. Since 1963 he has been living and working in Prešov, where he worked as a university teacher for four decades.
Painter, graphic artist, illustrator, sculptor. We can find professor Ivan Šafranko in so many forms. Playfulness needs to be added as the main dimension of his work. He learnt about several approaches to creation already in his early youth in the interwar Carpathian Russia. His father was a village teacher, a talented Sunday painter, whom some academically educated artists visited regularly - Jozef Bokšaj, who focused on the realist-impressionist rendering of reality, especially of the landscape, and Adalbert Erdélyi, influenced by the avant-garde directions of the early 20th century.
It would seem that his party organization could tie him up, but it was actually the opposite. Through his travels to close relatives from his mother side who live in Hungary, Ivan Šafranko gained some new knowledge about current events in the world art of the 1960s – 1980s.
Life and work at the crossroads of several cultures, especially two close and different worlds at the same time, Slavia Latina and Slavia Byzantina, brought interesting results not only in the Central European context. On a similar basis, at the same time, but thousands of kilometers away, Andy Warhol created the icons of the modern secular community. His name is not mentioned by accident. Indeed, I. Šafranko, as the then President of the A. Warhol Society, stood at the birth of a museum which, under new social conditions, gradually grew into the world's first Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art in Medzilaborce (1991). On this occasion we could explore the mutual complex productive relationship of the center and the periphery in art, including the work of I. Šafranko.
The vast majority of Ivan Šafranko's work, perhaps except graphics, is based on the medium of color. Nothing is safe before painting at his studio and at hom - from glass jars, where he also uses the effect of overlapping transparent rounded colored surfaces, trays and plates of various sizes and materials, to chairs, wall clocks and other furniture components. Not even his own older works.
So how was Ivan Šafranko's artistic journey? In a nutshell, one could say that from civilian and industrial paintings of countries and still lifes to abstraction and the transition to three-dimensional space by assemblages of found objects. And light - white. And the Crucified in different positions.
Ivan Šafranko likes creating myths around his own work. Its chronological ordering as a result of later creative interventions and author paintings, which have often radically changed the overall expression of the composition, is often quite complex. This applies in particular to his early works from the 1950s, the dating of which is often questionable because he has been working on them continuously and can be a factual difference of up to four or five decades. Exceptions are, of course, works owned by galleries and private collectors, where such interference is objectively difficult to imagine.
Let's try to outline the idea of Ivan Šafranko's work briefly.
Already at the beginning of the 1960’s there was a visible deviation from the expressive-realistic line he developed just after graduation. At that time, he embarked on a journey of painting with distinctive contours that would mark colorful decorative distinctive surfaces of deformed shapes of reality. At first glance, it may resemble the final phase of cubism linked to tranquility of fauvism and the dramatic tension of á la Rouault. In short, it is really a creative contribution of the author.
Some composed works were created almost concurrently along with these oil paintings. They were usually neutrally named "Object", consisting of factory-made metal parts and objects he‘d found (Object, 1964; White Object, 1965; Object, 1965). Inseparably, they include a fine color complement. From there, it was only one step towards abstract painting (The Universe, 1965). Then "engaged" work motifs (At A Hairdresser, 1967) followed, which, in essence, was merely an acceptable pretext of that time to commence an expressionist presentation of shapes strongly bounded by broad outlines and colors.
Analogous working motifs, even socially tuned, were often found in the 1970s (Women Washing on a River, Hay Raking). The creation of other objects that turned from neutral metal to altars was also characteristic of this and subsequent periods (An Altar, 1972; A Home Altar, 1987).
In his rare illustrations of the book of Ukrainian folk fairy tales from Eastern Slovakia (Prešov, 1976) he did not hesitate to interpret the text and its visualization relation freely, almost without a clear link. He boldly incorporated modern elements of technology into the traditional scenes in detail, ignoring the ethnographic context completely. His highly personal vision of traditional verbal paintings arose, which was in contradiction with the requirement of Ľudovít Fulla, the classic of Slovak illustration: "the smaller the nation, the more vivaciously one should follow his tribal features" (Ľ. Fulla. Okamihy. Bratislava 1972, p. 109).
The work of I. Šafranko in the 1980s, after decades of dominant playfulness, brought a new content element – irony, even sarcasm, manifested in the faces of depicted characters who have elements of caricature (Interview with Temps, 1983; Three, 1985).
Since the beginning of the 1990s, we have been able to observe the creation of paintings, often dominated by an abstract white surface, sometimes of a pasty color, divided by a simple and distinct black line (Sign, 1991; Second Figuration, 1991).
Of course, even in this period Ivan Šafranko did not avoid figural work. Particularly interesting are the portraits of his closest relatives (Portrait of Wife, 1995). Here and in Self-Portrait (1998) he creates space by layering several imaginary surfaces on top of one another.
The sense of space, plastic feeling could fully manifest itself especially in sculptures. The author had the most opportunities to do it when creating ceramic compositions in architecture. Beside them, there were Crucifixions made of of unglazed terracotta, which were small, yet monumental regarding expression and form. Also interesting are concrete objects for playgrounds.
In recent years, he has continued to be fascinated by light and its materialization – the white color he uses intuitively basically everywhere. As we have mentioned above, this also applies to older paintings.
The entire work of Ivan Šafranko, a lonely rebel rider, is truly unique in Central Europe context. Only after the retrospective collective exhibitions in recent years it appeared that this artist has so far been highly underestimated. Maybe also because of some inertia of ideas of the past. Only after the exhibition in Bratislava (2018), but mainly in Prague (2019) when they started writing more about him and his works. The culmination of this intensive activity was the publication of an extensive monograph of over 250 pages (S. Fromaigeat – D. Železný. Ivan Šafranko. Prague: Nadační fond CE, 2019). It also includes the review of prof. Vladimír Popovič from 1995, when Ivan Šafranko successfully applied for the title of professor at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava: "this is irreplaceable, timeless, magic that has not lost energy". We are even more aware of the meaning and clairvoyance of these words now, after years when I. Šafranko has been still creating and bringing new insights into the reality around us and within us.
(Transl.: Ivana Grešlíková)