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From Zagreb to us contemporaries around the world, Stjepan Sandrk focuses on the relations between digital reproductive media and consumeristic tendencies, when put in touch with past greatness. An aesthetic based on the distance and barrenness that can be found in our contemporary visual experience.

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Born in 1984, in Osijek, Croatia, Stjepan Sandrk graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 2006. Currently living and working in his country, the artist continuously feeds his artistic research through the study both of the traditional and popular culture images. His process sees the usage of a well practiced painterly technique blending in with a subtle denunciation of the art world’s commodification, aiming to speak to the public about the relations between a contemporary artist and the institutions. 


Stejpan Sandrk, Spectacle (Vermeer), 2020. Oil on canvas.


In Stjepan Sandrk’s paintings, famous and iconic images from the past are depicted in their placing within museum settings and enhanced by the depiction of their observers. The visitors are portrayed while taking pictures and selfies in front of some of the most acknowledged paintings from the Old Masters, experiencing a composition that places the actual viewer in a position of direct participation to the depicted scene. The famous artworks that can be found in Sandrk’s paintings of the calibre of Rubens, Vermeer and Leonardo, which are taken from artists, are used as a backdrop and as a recognizable commonplace within our contemporary culture, allowing the viewer to experience a moment of serenity and recollection, without feeling too much of the “weight” of the icons that are put before him. 


Stejpan Sandrk, Spectacle (Vermeer), 2020. Oil on canvas.


Stjepan Sandrk doesn’t aim to speak or refer to the paintings that are being portrayed, nor to their authors, but instead to their status symbol, to the role of marketing product that these icons have nowadays, a form of spectacle which is said to be reduced to the standard of a poster. The observers are depicted by the artist in all of their alienation from the beauty that stands before them, in a frivolous act of disenchantment while taking selfies and not even experiencing the painting directly.


Stejpan Sandrk, Spectacle (Gericault), 2019. Oil on canvas.


If we take as an example one of Stjepan Sandrk’s latest works “Salvator Mundi”, we may be able to understand better the usage that these images are subject to. In this 100x120 cm canvas, a young girl is portrayed while taking a picture at the famous and controversial painting created by Leonardo Da Vinci around 1500 ca. The viewer is here a young and naive girl experiencing the beauty created by Leonardo, while using her digital camera to create a visual memory of her own experience. The act of observation is in this case analysed through the depiction of a scene, in which the visitor is detached from the subject that is being observed, giving a clear example of one of the ways we consume culture in our present day. A form of visual experience that creates distance from the icons that are being observed indirectly, functioning in a similar way to Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which the cavemen could only experience forms indirectly through their shadows. 


Stejpan Sandrk, Salvator Mundi, 2020. Oil on canvas.


Sandrk’s attention is currently directed to the way artificial and digital media are influencing the viewer’s experience, no longer allowing us observers to get in touch with the flesh and the essence of beauty, making art no longer stand as an element of uniqueness, but as a replaceable, technologically reproductive and commodified object. 


Discover more by Stjepan Sandrk and Winarts Arte on Kooness.


Cover image: Stejpan Sandrk, Spectacle (Rembrandt), 2020. Oil on canvas.

Written by MS

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