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Karel Zelenko in the NLB and MGLC collections

10. August – 28. September 2016

Mankind always centre stage

The Slovenian sculptor, painter, printmaker and illustrator Karel Zelenko was born in Celje in 1925. He was among the first generation of students to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana. He graduated from its sculpture department in 1949 and completed a specialised course in printmaking in 1951 before undertaking a painting course the following year. After graduating and completing his military service, he returned to his family in Kamnik and started working at the Kamnik ceramic industrial plant. Between 1954 and 1959 he lectured at the School of Design in Ljubljana, becoming an independent artist in 1959. He has had over 70 independent exhibitions at home and abroad, and has participated in numerous group exhibitions of printmaking and Slovenian fine arts. Not only has he provided illustrations for more than 20 books for children and adults, he has also published various caricatures in Slovene newspapers. 


Zelenko made his mind up when he was very young as to what drove him as an artist and what he could contribute to his profession. His artistic language developed very early and has remained unchanged to this day. He was never swayed by current artistic trends, remaining loyal to his own motifs and style of work, while exploring various media. His world of motifs is drawn from his own every-day life. He translated his memories, experience, what he saw and experienced as well as his inner thoughts into this world. In some ways, he is a chronicler of the life of the "little people" from the street and markets, the public premises which feature most prominently in his works. The reason for this, he says, is that that is where he spent his youth. He hails from a family of costermongers who worked a stall at the market and sold flowers and vegetables. They also ran a florist. As a child he was passionate about the circus. He visited the famous Rebernigg circus and many rural circuses.  He explains himself that his motifs are drawn from a mixture of the circus, childhood memories and adventures, rural carnival masks and Italian neorealism, and that they prioritise love as being the most important driving force in one's life. That is why his opus has no chronological order. It comprises numerous croquis drawings, sketches, drawings, prints, painted ceramics, and paintings featuring images of circus performers, carnival masks, market and street vendors, acrobats, bathing suits, processions, and love and mythological scenes which are repeated, intertwined, complemented and enhanced. 

His prints, which are exclusively black and white and only feature drawings, also convey a sense of social criticism. This is often camouflaged and/or dressed in irony, sometimes in a grotesque manner. He deliberately chose prints for this purpose, to use them as a vessel to portray the absurdity and irregularities in society, as this is a medium that can reach many people on account of the ease with which it can be reproduced.

Despite being linked with the school of graphic design in Ljubljana, the features that are characteristic of this school cannot be found in his works. Zelenko is a consistent figurative artist, using drawings as his means of expression. As he once said himself: "… The essence of the school of graphic design in Ljubljana is aesthetics and technical perfection. This was never present in my graphic prints. They are very simple in technical terms. I use conventional prints and etching, all of which are featured in my drawings. I express myself through drawings, not through technical tricks or procedures."[1]

Zelenko thinks and feels in a figurative sense. Mankind always takes centre stage in his works. "My works portray the actions of society. I would not know how to express this in an abstract manner."[2]

Breda Škrjanec, MSc, museum councillor


[1] Figuralna umetnost zame ni ideologija (Figurative art is not an ideology to me), interview, exhibition catalogue Karel Zelenko, Bodi kar si, in pri tem vztrajaj (Always stay true to yourself), MGLC Ljubljana, 2016, p. 7.

[2] Ibid., p. 8.


The Karel Zelenko exhibition in the NLB and MGLC collections is an exhibition that accompanies the synoptic exhibition of Karel Zelenko Always stay true to yourself (Bodi, kar si, in pri tem vztrajaj) that is on display at the MGLC until 25 September 2016 and is a result of a partnership between the MGLC and NLB's Galerija Avla.

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