Pero Mandić was born in 1938 in Zdena, Sanski Most. Even though a lathe operator by profession, he has been painting since he was 15 years old.
During his time in the military service in Zagreb, he met Ivan Lacković, Matija Skurjenij and Stjepan Bastaljac, people who introduced him to the art, and with whom he later exhibited writing the history of Yugoslavian Naïve Art. Together, they were members of the Croatian Society of Naïve Artists.
Pero Mandic with Janez Gartnar and Ivan Lackovic
As the most prominent representative of naïve art in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mandić painted landscapes, folklife and customs from his surrounding environment with vivid red colors. The architecture of the Bosnian townlet, the imam on the minaret, Muslim woman in shalwar kameez, the drummer or the harvester with a fez – and fez was his trademark as well – are paintings that remind us of past times when two nations, now so distant, lived together.
Pero Mandic “Harvest” 1973. oil on canvas
Despite he was a member of the Croatian Society of Naïve Artists, Pero Mandić is one of the first and most significant Bosnian-Herzegovinian naïve artists. With hundreds of group and solo exhibitions throughout Europe, he was also the founder of the First Colony of Naïve Artists in Bosnia and Herzegovina entitled “Majsko drugovanje na Sani” (eng. May Companionship on Sana River). Thanks to the colony, this small town on the banks of the Sana River was visited by great men and women of European art. Besides Mandić himself, Ivan Generalić, Krsto Hegedušić, Ivan Lacković, Ivan Rabuzin, Leka Prečnik, and many others contributed the colony with their paintings, sculptures, and other artworks. With more than 500 paintings and sculptures, these great men and women of Yugoslavian Naïve Art did not just help the colony, but placed it at the top of the artistic map as well, both in Yugoslavia and Europe.
In the winds of war, almost the entire gallery exhibition was lost, but what makes the story of Pero Mandić even more incredible is the fact that his painting “Križni put Isusa Krista” (eng. Way of the Cross of Jesus Christ) is among the only surviving paintings from the collection. From today’s perspective, the series of 14 paintings created in the 1980s transcends the boundaries of art and tells the story of a town that will never be the same again.
Before the war, the paintings adorned the walls of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Sanski Most. The church was burned in 1995, but the paintings were saved thanks to the people of Sanski Most. The priest fra Mijo Rajić saved the paintings, and after the church was restored in 1999, he returned them where they remain today.
Pero painted a series of paintings that adorned the Serbian Orthodox Church in Sanski Most – the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul as well, which were personally presented to Josip Broz Tito during his visit of Sanski Most in 1972. The paintings disappeared without trace after the war, and remained so even today.
In addition to paintings, Mandić did a lot of illustrations as well. His drawings in ink wash were exhibited all over Yugoslavia. He illustrated a large number of books, and as a interesting fact, Mandić collaborated a lot with Branko Ćopić, for whom, besides illustrations for his books, he painted a portrait also. During the discussion on what the portrait should look like, they agreed it should be in the form of a village idiot. Mandić explains this by saying that a specific political climate was felt in society at the time, where the intelligentsia started to be marginalized, and some political moments with a negative impact on society came to the fore. However, those who understand portraits a little better can see that Branko Ćopić represents the wider public, where he actually belonged.
Pero Mandić – Portrait of Branko Ćopić “Seoska luda”
After the portrait was presented, in one of their meetings, Mandić and Andrić discussed its meaning. They agreed that big changes are happening in the society and that many people, even the seemingly “normal ones”, carry a dose of madness, where Andrić finally concluded that stupidity is indestructible.
Pero Mandić left Sanski Most during the war, and hasn’t visited for a long time. He currently lives in Feketić, a village between Subotica and Novi Sad. Interest in his paintings still exists, much more among foreigners who on a couple of occasions even showed up in person trying to buy some of the paintings. However, Mandić finds it very difficult to give up his paintings, especially those he painted before the war when he lived and created in his home Sana.
Author: Nikola Rodić