Once, everybody, just once. Once and no more. And even not once. Never again. But what we have once been, even if just once: what we have been earthly, seems irrevocable.

R. M. Rilke

A meeting with Mica Basicevic Mangelos, in Zagreb, during late winter days and early spring of this year, as well as other conversations we had while I was perusing, browsing and getting acquainted with his material, left very strong impression. It was a inerasable feeling of a unique moment when I faced the overall opus of a unique personality with those immeasurable depths of a human trace, which is irrevocable, as life itself, once when it is embossed into earth.

While we were working in the same space, surrounded by Ilija’s and Mica’s paintings, those two opposed imagination worlds, one baroque and visionary, and the other philosophic, my attention was drawn by the first Ilija’s painting of “Kuzma and Damjan”. It was painted as one figure and two faces and had a certain family portrait that was undreamt of.
A portrait of the father and a portrait of the son in its equal dualism. Looking at the early notes and diaries from 1937/39, I have come to a record which, even then, sincerely expressed the inner conflict and divided feelings of a public and a private: “I was twofold, one Lesa at home, before the world, in front of the father, and the other me, only for myself, inside me, known only to myself”.

Mica Basicevic in his later years was apparently calm, composed and simple. Everywhere he was both present and at the margin; he stayed isolated and alone in some psychological and spiritual immensurability, and for many people, he was basically “extraordinary” man, although in his nature, he has always been an unconventional, contradictory and autonomous personality.

I felt personal and professional burden faced with a question how to approach his work and himself as an author.

Important are two comprehensive critical addenda given so far, out of which cardinal are the texts by Nena Dimitrijevic, prepared for the exhibition “Gorgona” in the Modern Art Gallery and the exhibition “Mangelos’ Manifests” in the “TD Atelier” in 1977, as well as the unpublished interview made by Mladen Stilinovic in the eighties, recorded as a personal and direct autobiographic testimony. Nena Dimitrijevic’s reviews point out, in certain way, to basic characteristics, position and importance of Mica Basicevic’s work; although if looked upon from today’s perspective, they methodologically reveal the criticism of seventies, written by one very informed critic with the integrity and attitude.

Returning back to the phenomenon of Mangelos and to his integrity from the perspective of mid-eighties, implicates other way of seeing and focusing on the author’s personality, whereby this psychological, intellectual and human factor are of primary importance for understanding and following one extremely specific opus, made during the World War Two. Pointing out to the “subject” of the artist is a starting point in this case, because here we deal with the “artist in first person”, the one who had ambivalent behavior and who, through his gesture of appropriating his own biography, through his unconscious equalization of art and life, came up with a model of expressing and showing himself as the author of personal, “individual mythology”, came up with an artistic category that had been drawn down in seventies, i.e. with a notion which broadly speaking, marks the art of this century.

I have never called myself an artist


Dimitrije Mica Basicevic was born in Sid, in 1921. He always used to say for himself that he was a peasant child. He completed elementary school in his birthplace, and the grammar school in Sremska Mitrovica; after the pause caused by the war, he studied History of Art in Zagreb, where he completed his PhD thesis about painter Sava Sumanovic. Upon completion of his studies, he begins to work right away in Yugoslav Academy of Science and Arts and to be active in art critics. In the early fifties, he founds the Museum of Primitive Arts, where he works as a Director for quite some time. During sixties he is a curator of the City Gallery, and in seventies he runs the CEFFT Department, while in early eighties he retires. In the period of sharp soc-realistic tendencies and strong trend of the “Land Group” of early fifties, Mica Basicevic represents the then actual movements in art with understanding and personal engagement. That is appearance of abstraction and of the EXAT group. At the same time, he begins to show big interest for naive art and that influenced him and made him permanently deal with this field of art.

Although it may sound quite contradictory, the established relation from modern to naive art had a profound meaning for him. It clearly showed that inasmuch his past moving from village to town had left a trace of misfit in his life, that much this urban environment evoked in him one unconscious link streamed to the source of his origin which contained the basic feeling for land and nature in its predestined meaning, in the same way in which he spotted this meaning in Sava Sumanovic’s tragic love for land.

In this inner sense of existential roots, one can recognize his attitudes towards art and roots of his non-acceptance of the existing art tradition. The sense of creativity was for him as going back to pre-beginning and to “naive thinking”, to innate act of working, to manual gestures which erases “differences between Altamira and Picasso”, upon which, eventually, he based his interpretation of “non-art”

progress or balance are coming in XXI century


Mica Basicevic used to show his affection to “philosophic” thinking and it brought him to certain considerations about cyclic changes in nature and in the Universe, thinking about “biopsychology” which encompasses “change of cells every seven years, change in shape, change in way of life, change of the atmosphere…”, which he afterwards applied to publikacijesing his biographic records. He assumes his own biography, creating working cycles of seven years each, starting from his birth date in 1921 and identifying himself with “Mangelos”, pseudonym that he took from memories to his late friend who originated from the Srem village Mandjelos. One cannot say with certainty when and in which moment he denotes his biography with the artistic publikacijes and when he realistically begins his artistic activity, but with this act, with this unique decision, it cease to make any difference. Mangelos exists.

It is well known that he started early with poetry writing, and some examples show that this creative consciousness, as a gesture of primary artistic activity appeared during the war and immediately after it, when he was burdened with war affairs, intimidating presence of death and loss of his own friends and acquaintances. He “buries” them, erases them from memory by black spots – “graves”, which he puts in his notebooks or on paper sheets. In the further publikacijes, he refers to those primary, small signs, and later ever increasing black surfaces as “Landscapes”, “Landscape deaths”, War Landscapes” and “Tabula rasas”. Facing “Tabula Rasa” in that period, which was marked with emptiness and “nothingness”, can be considered as psychological, emotional and intellectual discharge, a moment of internal change, initiation of a new beginning. The earliest publikacijesed documents collected from his period of youth are compiled in albums “Uberrest der ganz fruhen“, as well as in fragments 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

if there is ‘our’ or ‘their' truth,
there is also mine;
therefore there are many truths –
which one of them is the true one


According to first recorded years, the artistic beginning of Mica Basicevic can be linked to late forties. From that time on, the most characteristic types of work have been created and they would constantly be drawn through his pursuit. In time, the author will consciously repeat them, singling them out as individual autonomous motives in stories, records, letters and drawings.

During that period, he intensively works on notebooks, books, tables, canvases, sheets and objects:“Tabula Rasa”, “Letter”, “Alphabets”, “Latin Alphabets”, “Pythagoras”, “Negations Of Painting”, “Non Stories”, “Globes”… Series of “Landscapes” and “Tabula Rasa”, done with an automatic gesture, with a primary hand movement, are the first created completely black “paintings”- sheets, that only during later work would become a space for “painting” textual signs and drawings – the recognizable black and red colored foundation with thin drawn lines for caligraphy. “Letter”, “Alphabets” and “Latin Alphabets” deal with letter types, fonts – from Gothic, Greek alphabet, Old Slav alphabet, Cyrillic alphabet, Glagoljica alphabet, to certain Rune alphabet and Arab letters by imitating and transcribing letters’ outlines as graphic, but also civilization communication signs, all the way to their free transposition into virtual “drawings – paintings” of precise geometric shapes. Certain examples of these drawings are extremely well done abstract compositions, specific and minimal configurations of sharp contrasts between black, red and white, for which one can say that are potentially between notions of “constructive paintings” if singled out from the complex, and of “abstract miniatures” if looked upon within the context of the book (“Letter”). Records, letters or drawings were placed in recovered notebooks, books or catalogues whose original source was mainly erased by complete coverage of all pages in black or red color. “Non Stories” are short stories or phrases with incoherent contents, “no-stories” of specific poetic narration; most frequently they were written in combination with certain words or phrases in French, German or English.

These stories with elements of absurd in their semantic structure, seen today as a “poetic text” of the artist, gain new meaning of value, i.e. they confirm ever present and special literary quality in the work of Mica Basicevic. “Negation of Painting” express gesture of erasing or “negating” art as such, by redrawing reproduction of different artists’ paintings, although their names are left from time to time, in some kind of personal confrontation and reassessment. , Small tables, canvases and cardboards were made parallely with books, and their initial shape was a realistic school tables. Stories, recordings, letters and geometric figures were written upon them (“Pythagoras”).

negating a picture creating it from words,
negating a word by painting it
to make its meaning different from the one when it was written;
I was convinced
that the meaning of the word
or the painting


During sixties, with his books, Les excercices in 1961 and with the latter one, Les projection, different shapes of fine art and textual conveyance appear; new contents are being introduced, with theories, analyses and homages. Compared to the previous phase of primary gesture and reductive form in drawing and in general expression, in his new books one can note the change in colors, freer handwriting, more complex conveyance form, extended areas of dealing with the artistic, philosophic, sociologic and scientific subjects. Appearance of some new tones and the appearance of gold is described by Mica Basicevic as an influence of his father Ilija, while introduction of different areas and especially expressed interests in media and technology, point out to the moment of his personal opening, stepping out from himself, to react openly to publikacijeses and events from his immediate surroundings and the world. He continues with “Non stories” tales, he writes “Antifone” and also works further on tables upon which he often takes over certain quotations, letters and drawings from the previous period.

The sixties point out to initial public manifestations, first with his poetry book, Eulalia from 1961 which contained illustrations by Skurjeni, and then, in 1964 he publishes his tales for the first time in Picelj edition “a”, and there is an idea of realizing one “non-existing” number of “Gorgona” magazine. In the late sixties, also for the first time, he exhibits at the exhibition “Permanent Art”, at the fine art BITEF festival in ’68. His first individual exhibition with the Picasso cycle and with tables, was organized at the Youth Rostrum in Novi Sad, in 1972.

During seventies, Mica Basicevic increasingly deals with theoretical work, and records some aspects of his research in “Manifestos”, textually formulated critics: Manifest on Manifestos, Manifest on Impressionism, On Society Without Art, On Psychical Life of Picasso, On History, On Books, On Luddistic Syndrome, On Consciousness, On Memory, On Intuition, On Genius, Manifest-Triptych of Notions that do not Function in II Civilization, On Sense, On Truth, On Happiness, Manifest on Sid, Homo Naivus, On Sub-consciousness , On Aesthetics… Majority of recordings from the period has a character of philosophic notes and those papers are still in private possession.
The official appearance in Zagreb cultural context happens with exhibitions “Gorgona” and “Manifests”, as well as with his outbreaks in “Podrum” and “Dubrava” galleries. It is interesting that those public appearances provoked different reactions, but also a significant support and affirmation given by younger generations, by the critic Nena Dimitrijevic and a group of artists then gathered around the “Podrum” gallery.

The newly established connection with the youth had its roots, before all, in his early and then even sharper critical stands of negating arts, in his search for “something other”.

the art has to be without a secret – there must exist a rational solution


It is not enough to say for Mica Basicevic that he was “double” personality, since that is psychologically almost general for modern men; dualism in his case had a deep and creative incentive, primary and intuitive impulse for creating, for cognition, that he had carried out from his early youth and which he described once by saying: “My soul is always rebellious and unsatisfied, hungry forever.

Even as a young boy, he confronted well known writers and philosophers, and was especially obsessed polemically by Nietzsche and Nietzsche’s notion of “creation”. He casts doubts on accuracy of majority of theories and on cultural heritage as a whole. Uncertainty of the period before the war and during the war clearly illustrate these inducements of inner dissatisfaction, deposits of some unspoken resistance which would be expressed as an attitude towards life through non-acceptance of art models, general conventions of behavior and functioning of culture. That is why “Tabula Rasa” was a logical crossroads in his work, an initial base for freeing his creative gesture, thinking and behavior..

Late forties and fifties are marked with Existentialism, strong impulses of Surrealism and Dadaism, abstract Expressionism, Spatialism, geometrical abstraction, experimental music, specific poetry, theater of absurd… “Non-Art” awareness was inevitable, but in Mica Basicevic’s case, it had an anthropological meaning of “coming back” to primal thought, gesture and feelings that are coming from subconscious, as elementary signs of expressing something from the other side of experienced and empirical, through expressions of other ways for grasping things and their order. Conflict with reality is recognized in a fact that he keeps his work for himself, as a form of utter privacy and closure. That is where his peculiarity begins.

Sixties were the second focus of important artistic changes, with appearance of Informal, Neo-Dada, New Realism, Happening, Fluxes, Pop-Art, new tendencies. Zagreb, being an extremely active cultural center, was within European artistic trends with its exhibitions and contacts, especially through activities of certain artists and artistic groups. At the same time, very important was work of the “Gorgona” Group, in its completely informal relation towards art, in a way of behaving, communicating and in dealing with certain production of artworks, exhibitions, magazines, letters, events. Mica Basicevic is in “Gorgona” Group, but stays aside, because being a person with the existing inner contents in a specific “meta” atmosphere of the group, he becomes even more closed, unexplainable, although there is a feeling of close friendship and spiritual kinship. However, already late sixties and seventies, with their conceptual, poor, minimal, analytical art, with introduction of ideological stands, philosophic quotations, sociology and psycho-analysis, and before all with their technological break through, information technology and new media, to the final appearance of new generations which expressed another view of society and art, all together as a general wave of changes, become the important motivating moments of self-confrontation, of his own recognition and affirmation, his opening towards public, and time of revealing Mica Basicevic Mangelos.

During that period, already a mature age of the author, diversified examples of “contradictions” are created: theoretical explanations of negation - affirmation, definitions of notions recorded in earlier manifests on arts – non-arts, rational – irrational, manual – technical, subjective – objective … It could not be neither said that these contradictions had been based on some known artistic category of “irony”, nor on an exact critical-analytical premises. Although elements of irony and criticism are present in formulation of expression, they had their objective to reassess value systems, to point out to relativity of some notions, of understanding life, to provoke civilization codex. They are also expressions of his contradictory disposition, of ever present subjective confrontation with the world of reality, expression that behavioral form as such becomes a matter of personal principle, and surely a worthy constant. Eighties, with their general openness, seemed to have reconciled two authors and brought to consciousness that the long struggle with art became the art itself.

what is the most beautiful, is not to be present


The remaining question at the end is, who is Mica Basicevic Mangelos: an artist, a poet, a philosopher?

A precise and critical retrospect of his place in Yugoslav and European context has already been given in the above mentioned reviews, although it can be noted that the established parallels were not so direct, since Mica Basicevic did not consciously build his opus of an artist and an opus of the art work. It appears, before all, as an expression of a sensitive personality that intuitively reacted to publikacijeses in time and tried to fit in spiritual artistic movements in an entirely authentic and original way. His books, paintings and texts express a feeling of multidisciplinary work and thought, all those formal and conceptual features that were present in many Neo-Dadaist appearances after the World War II, which would gain its full sense with sixties and seventies, with inclusion of new media, extension of spheres of creative work and especially, with the overall multimedia treatment of art. The eighties, with the tendency of full-fledging and affirming certain artistic fields, open a new view to the Mica Basicevic’s work; they offer possibilities to single out and analyze individually only poetic texts, or his paintings or objects, or philosophic-aesthetic papers, as autonomous disciplines. Although this extension of the approach today somehow eases grasping the material, basically it cannot give the full answer if the work is not contemplated as a whole, but in its final meaning, in its layers as such, it represents a new view, a nonconformist and paradigmatic awareness in the poetic, artistic and philosophic sense. In his persistent search for “the other”, Mica Basicevic found himself on the “second line” of contemporary art, and although creating on his own, he did not remain alone, he has become a part of the important wholeness which made a step forward only because it never made peace with the existing.

but what was it that happened on the ball,
where my shoes stopped; why the
beauty of those marvelous women
vanished as soon as I met them.
it seems that I have lost several feelings
on the stairways;
I bended in the dusk
to find them. I haven’t found anything.
thus I lost my feelings and
gradually ceased to be


Exhibition Catalogue from the “Sebastian” Gallery, Belgrade, 1986

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