We meet self-taught sculptor Michael Barbaric, who moved to live in the United States in the late 1980s from Croatia, to talk about art, inspiration and the differences between America and Croatia…
Michael’s fascinating style has captured the attention of many. Before we ask him a few questions, lets see what the experts say about his work.
“Alchemy and the Sculpture of Michael Barbaric share at least one thing in common. Each selects materials of little apparent value. It is only with skilled/artful manipulation( plus a pinch of magic)that these same materials become transformed into rare and exotic commodities which are then held in high esteem and revered by one and all. Barbaric is a naïve. He approaches his art with a mind unfettered by theory and formal dogma,” is what Professor James C. O’Hara from Emeritus Northern Arizona University had to say about his style, adding that Barbaric’s work is often mischievous but never malicious.
Tomislav Cavar, a Professor of Art History in Croatia, is equally impressed.
“As a young man he was fascinated by the works of naive sculptor Sophia Naletilic Penavuša from Siroki Brijeg, and later, while in Zagreb, working as a photographer for several eminent magazines, he often dealt with erotic photography and at that time communicates with the most famous Croatian conceptual artists following and documenting their artwork on photographs. He is completely spontaneous, working without plans and sketches, and like an Indian shaman he leaves the forces of nature to guide him into the creative ecstasy. His works are often abundant with passion and unrestrained eroticism, and the whole impression is further enhanced by expressionistic colors that feel natural to him,” Cavar says, before adding
“He is entirely independent, original, as his own sculptures, that are bursting with natural energy and sincerity.”
So Michael, when did you arrive in the United States?
I was born in Široki Brijeg in Bosnia and Herzegovina and lived in Argentina and in Zagreb, Croatia before moving to live in the United States in 1988.
What are main differences between life in America and life in Croatia for you?
The difference between America and Croatia is still big, but in this age of globalisation, internet and communication the world is becoming like one big village. In the USA you live fast, everything and the country is organised and it is easier, like getting a job, of course if you know how to work. I have a feeling that the days in the U.S are shorter. In Croatia everything seems somehow slower and life is a slower pace, but the country is not organised and it is harder to get a job. I felt that 10 years ago when I was thinking of returning to Croatia and saw the land registry and cadastral records were not organised.
What made you get into art?
We all as kids start to get into art by playing in the sand, but life usually takes most people in another direction. Art professors in school are important, mine was Jerko Bakula, it was Communist times and people were poor so he would make us kids go and find some wood and make sculptors. That was so interesting and I enjoyed it.
Later I moved to Zagreb and got into photography, doing work which was published in a number of magazines. I then moved back to Široki Brijeg and there met Sofija Naletilic Penavuša who made sculptures from wood, and made them for her grandkids for school which got the best marks. She had a number of exhibitions and I was a fan of her work. I took photos of her for a few magazines and got to know here well. In 1984 START magazine named her Woman of the Year. Later I left to go abroad but I often thought of her as a great artist.
What inspires you?
I arrived in Phoenix in the summer and because of the heat I would go camping in the mountains. Two years ago I bought a cabin in Flagstaff in Kachina village in the pine forest at an altitude of 2090 m. I’m there every weekend and I find dried wood which I shape and paint like I used to do with baba Penavuša.
The mountain fresh air gives me strength and inspiration, and the sound of the wind through the trees. The clouds are so low that I have a feeling I can touch them. Up there on the weekends I am living like I am in Croatia. I dry meat and make a fire, especially now in the winter when it is cold and the snow is big. I also make sour cabbage.
Mountain people are very pleasant and polite and have more time than people in the city of Phoenix. Up there I made new friends and we sometimes go to Flagstaff town which is 8 miles from my place on ROUTE 66 and is an interesting little town. On Sunday I go back to Phoenix full of energy and my batteries charged. Then the next 5 days I am thinking how I will return up there and work and find new sculptures which I will shape and paint. It really draws me.
You can check out Michael’s work on his website here.