Catching up with artist Stipan Tadić

Earlier this year, Stipan Tadić exhibited oversized, comic-book-style drawings that told the tale of his one-month residency in Abu Dhabi, playfully illustrating all the all of the stuff don’t usually hear about: the homesickness, the boredom, the mandatory icebreaker events and that terrible stomach bug that kept you inside for days. The style and format are a bit different for Tadić, who is best known for his reimagined academic approach to portraiture.

His 2011 thesis work, for example, featured hundreds of friends, family, and colleagues seated at the Croatian National Theater, all painted in painstaking detail. Other works “quote” art historical masterpieces and make use of dramatic compositions and a dark palette. It’s a style, says Tadić, that gives even everyday moments extra weight and significance. But as his recent drawings reveal, he is beginning to take his work in a different direction. Here, Tadić tells us more about portraiture and the evolution of his work.


The Residency Drawings (2014), HDLU. Photo by Bojan Mdrđenović.

How do you decide what to paint? What attracts you to certain subjects?

I have a base of ideas in my head or written down, [waiting for] the right time and right place. For example, I always wanted to do a color experiment, so I did monochrome portraits for this residency. But for me, the main inspiration is always other artists. Especially painters, and especially their lives. At one point I really liked to read biographies of artists. Going to museums and seeing all of the art [confirms] that I am on the right path. Sometimes your ideas get silly, but when you see that a lot of people that you consider important and that history considers important also have these silly ideas, it’s a great feeling. It reminds me that there is a point.

How did you develop your style?

In high school I made animations and graphics – etchings. I wanted to learn something new, so I got into painting and said okay, if I can’t paint like the Old Masters painted, then I can’t paint. I wanted to paint in the best way that I could.

If you close your eyes and imagine painting – I wanted to paint like that. When I imagine what painting looks like, I always imagine Rembrandt, dark backgrounds, Velazquez… I wanted to get to the source of what I consider painting. It always reminds me of something historical, so the history of art was very interesting to me. That was the best way for me to learn to paint like I wanted to paint.


Grandpa (2010)

Do you work from photographs or from life?

I often work from photographs, but I realized that it is best to first draw the person, to make the composition from life. It’s more interesting to get to know the person. The layers of hair, makeup, clothing… you see this when you talk to someone. The movement is important.

Why paint portraits? Are you interested in certain physical features? In revealing something?

There is some stuff in life that needs to be shown, depicted, and it cannot be depicted any other way than with painting or drawing. Some stuff you cannot photograph. You have to make it up somehow – to try to show something.

If you photograph a person, you just have one layer, but you have to have more. I like the layers of people, the way they present themselves, the way they want to be seen. Some struggle. You can see all of this in the face. It’s easy to see — everyone can see it. But [in a painting] you can really show it.

Detail from The Residency Drawings (2014)

What’s next for you and your work?

This is a period of introspection and figuring out where my work will go. Just wanting to be on that path is good. It’s not easy; it’s hard to talk about. I want to get away from any form of anything I have ever seen, [to find] something that brings me to the root of why I paint. I started to do comics because I am almost trying to go back and see why I did anything as a child at all. I wanted to see what was there. And really, so much pleasure comes from that — from finding your childish way as a grownup. So these comics have opened up a new way of thinking, and that also brings new and fresh ideas for painting.

Are you currently working on anything you can tell us about?

I am currently making an artist book, a graphic novel, about my residency stay in Paris in 2012. I want to make it a little ridiculous, show how it really is during residencies. I have about 600 drawings from Paris, so that’s a problem – there are too many!

Keep up with Tadić’s new work on his blog and check out the making of his thesis work on Vimeo.

Interview by Elaine Ritchel

Feature photograph from the Street Decorators series by Dario Belic

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