In June 1949, the School of Architecture hosted
Milan Mrkusich’s first-ever public showing of
paintings and drawings.
Sixty years later The University of Auckland is
again the venue for a new milestone in Mrkusich’s
career. The exhibition Trans-Form: the abstract art of
Milan Mrkusich has been curated for the Gus Fisher
Gallery by Ed Hanfling and Alan Wright, research
associates of the Art History Department, to mark
the publication of their Auckland University Press
book, Mrkusich: The Art of Transformation.
Astutely, the University acquired one of Mrkusich’s
masterpieces for its collection shortly after it was
made. One of the iconic Corner paintings, Painting
(Ochre) 1974 is a large field of the colour named in
the title, worked in acrylic paint with a small brush to
create variations in texture known as scumbling. Four
small black triangles reminiscent of the devices used
to anchor old snaps in albums appear in the corners.
The works have other associations for viewers. At
the private view when the first of this series of works
was shown at Barry Lett Galleries in 1969, one of the
works was found placed face-up on the desk of the
director, right where a blotting pad might belong.
These misreadings of Mrkusich’s work are based
on an idea of the work of art as a representation of
something. Rather than illustrating his world, as an
abstract artist Mrkusich was interested in the
experience a painting could provide for its viewers.
He insisted that his works “[had] meaning other than
[being] just formal aesthetic exercises” and pointed to
the possibility of a meditational or transcendental
experience through the contemplation of art. It seems
his intention was to lead viewers to psychic wholeness
through considering imagery which conjured
completeness and unity.
Mrkusich has described his Corner paintings,
usually square and symmetrical in form, as
“Jungian and symbolic of the Four”. His reference is
to Jung’s four, symbolic of the earth and the four
states of consciousness. The square format relates
to Rudolph Koch’s Book of Signs, where the square
is “the emblem of the world and nature” and the
“Christian emblem of worldliness symbolised by
the number four: the four elements, the four
corners of the heavens, the four Evangelists, the
four rivers of Paradise”.
Twenty works laden with just such symbolic content
can be seen in the Gus Fisher Gallery exhibition
Trans-Form, which is part of the University’s
contribution to the Auckland Festival on show until 2
May. It is the largest exhibition devoted to the artist’s
work in a public gallery for 24 years.
Similarly, the accompanying Auckland University
Press book authored by Ed Hanfling and Alan
Wright is the first major monograph to be
published on Mrkusich and is on sale at the Gus
Fisher Gallery for $70.