After more than two decades on the Croatian art scene, the latest contribution from Bojan Šumonja has once again manifested the plurality of meanings while enforcing a strong sense of internal unity through exploration of the familiar serial theme of sheep.
From the initial exhibition of his sheep works in Josip Račić Atelier in the Modern Gallery in 2007, we have witnessed a progression in motivization. Back then, the sheep were herded together in a bird's eye view with a hint of a landscape in the backround. As the focus drew nearer, they started popping overwhelmingly to the fore until the number of sheep per canvas dropped due to fragmentation. Now, the cicle evolves and takes a step forward: portraits of individual sheep. With a close-up of a sheep's head on a plain blue backround, there is very little happening, the former tension of the piles&piles of sheep who seemingly occupied the space outside the painting as well, has been eased to a minimum. All that is left is a meditative and static sight of sheep looking straight at us. The eye of the beholder can become an active intelocutor, if it wishes to do so. We are watched by a sheep that is an individual; an individual who is melancholic, drowsy, elegiac, baffled and even witty.
This exhibition is interesting not only because of the individual sheep vs. the herded sheep, but also for introducing new elements – a donkey and a teddy bear. One of the paintings features two donkeys with heads crammed between two beams of a fence, evidently trying to break free while a small teddy bear flies overhead on an imaginary tangent. In another painting, the teddy bear also levitates listlessly while observing a clash between a donkey and a sheep. Toys are prominent in Šumonja's opus with frequent variations of the same motif. This is another inventive intertwining of common morphological signs where the flying teddy bear, pressed into the painting as a schematic, adds a surreal dimension to an otherwise realistic depiction. This approach often surprises and baffles, and the artist himself has pointed out the humorous element as one of the basic creative impulses.
The world of sheep references an intricate web of meanings, experiences and intimate connotations. In his essay about Šumonja, Igor Zidić identifies these as complex reflections of the subconscious landscapes of which, if we follow that line of thought, the sheep are symbolic and lead to many interpretations.
By honouring the sheep and elevating their visual status to the point of iconic, Šumonja escapes temporal and spatial determinants. The banality and humility associated with the sheep and its benign disposition, enables a shift in perception of a wonderfully potent idea; they are removed from reality, they can carry universal messages into the human world. The subjective experience is always contrasted to the roles imposed by society, which is a notion fully exposed by the ubiquitous crisis and personal tragedies gnawing at the fabric of human individual and social enterprise. And there they are, in this conflict between perilous circumstances and our natural defense mechanisms, the heroes of Šumonja's paintings – the simple sheep. Even when they are stripped of all connotativeness, merely establishing their presence in quiet perseverance, they beckon us to a neglected wonderment which takes place regardless of advertising campaigns and other sensationalism. When the sense of direction and identity seem to be generally lost in the inversion of values, while the civilization at large searches for a clearer conscience by amputating it, sometimes the conditio humana is forced to just bleat.
Bojan Šumonja's pieces are part of a bigger picture. The basic thematic outline is constantly under construction, so we can never see the bigger picture. Instead, there is a neverending story slowly unravelling, and we have a lot to be excited about while waiting for the next installment...
Prevela: Una Krizmanić Ožegović
Member of Croatian Association of Artists of Istra and Croatian Association of Independant Artists since 1987. His works have appeared in over 280 exhibitions in Croatia and abroad, 80 of which have been solo exhibitions. He lives and works in Pula.