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Mara & Lara

Marko Zeman

Join us at the exhibition opening on Tuesday, June 18, at 7 PM.

Marko Zeman (1975, Zagreb) works primarily in the medium of painting, but also in the media of drawing, collage, and posters. His interests lie in the exploration of form and the painting process, and in creating his works he instinctively uses various materials. He frequently depicts his immediate surroundings, his personal perception of everyday and ordinary motifs, doing so with a dose of humour.

He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb under Zlatko Keser, and graduated in 2010, under Zoltan Novak. He has been exhibiting his work continuously since 2008, and has held solo exhibitions at the Varaždin City Museum (2024), the Croatian Association of Artists’ Karas Gallery in Zagreb (2020), the Močvara club in Zagreb (2020), and the SC Gallery in Zagreb (2013), among others. He was an award winner at the 7th Biennial of Painting in 2024, and won the HPB (the Croatian Postal Bank) purchase prize in 2009.

His works belong to the collections of the Varaždin City Museum, the HPB, the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Erste Fragments in Zagreb, and private collections. In addition to his work as an artist, he also teaches art and works as a designer. He is currently an artistic associate at the Academy of Fine Art in Zagreb’s Department of Painting.

Mara & Lara

All of a sudden, a woman’s face appears on the screen. She takes over the scene – and me along with it. Time stands still, the space melts away as we look into each other’s eyes. Silence… An almost unbearable sense of anticipation. A small, but perceptible jolt. As if cut with a knife, lips spread apart into a smile.

Close-ups in cinematography are a dramaturgical approach that limits and directs the attention of viewers. Characters and items can be set apart, isolating and enhancing them through cuts to the scene. They lead to a reduction in the narrative and the amount of visual information. The viewer is given a sense of “closeness”, of being “drawn in” to the scene, and this is accompanied by an increase in suspense and identification. Through direct observation of magnified faces, viewers are left with a sense of the pure physicality of the body ­– its solidity, its plasticity, its personality. Marko Zeman’s new solo exhibition leaves the impression of having been put together out of video clips, of unclear, and indeed unimportant events. Because MZ is not a narrative painter. His approach is one of conscious removal from the depiction of stories, from the illustrative and descriptive dimensions of painting. He distils an event down to its key point, so that the space of the painting, and of the gallery, is dominated by the large faces of his two female figures. Let’s call them Mara and Lara.

This series of portraits is simple, easy to comprehend, yet complex. Mara and Lara are robust figures that occupy the entire image field (indeed, they would reach beyond it if they could). They stand fast in a stable central position, in their frontal perspective and dramatic gazes. These kinds of theatrical scenes evoke the portrayal of figures in early silent films, with their pictorial characteristics: flat scenes, the careful incorporation of figures into shots, and exaggerated gestures and eyes. This is where the fabulistic potential ends, however; Zeman is not interested in staging anecdotes further. Instead, he repeats motifs and focuses on studying the painting’s material. “I remove everything, I don’t want to hide behind anything”. He constructs his figures using a reduced visual language, simplifying anatomy, using exaggerated dimensions, ignoring perspective. He emphasises the prosaic nature of his subject until the moment when he transforms it into the unexpected. By isolating the figure he encourages us to uncover form. Slowly, and over a long period of time, we absorb the double-eyed girls. We study the topography of their faces, we discover the face to be a rich and multilayered landscape in relief, full of small events. From one side, legs enter the forest, floating steps taken by invisible feet. Tactility. Feet that feel the grass beneath them in the night. It is impossible to miss the role of colour in the paintings. Bold colours are the predominant characteristic of Zeman’s style. His approach is instinctive; the energetic and apparently chaotic layers of colour structure the painting, introducing the dimension of chance, which deforms figuration. “Chance is cleverer than I.” By exploiting the colour pink, he relativises its perception as fake, unctuous, sugary, worn out in the manner of pop-art, and kitschy. Pink is, above all, the colour of our bodies; and it can by all means be unhinged, twisted, and humorous.
Martina Marić Rodrigues