The Sculptures of Svetozar Radakovich

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Svetozar Radakovich – circa 1974 Bronze 16″ x 9″

We recently acquired this sculpture by Svetozar Radakovich circa 1974. We have written of this Radakovich’s work previously (jewelry) and now do so in relation to Svetozar’s sculptural abilities as it relates to a static, non-jewelry form.  Ruth and Svetozar conceived designs and had execution abilities that seemed to be exceptionally rare.  None of the modernist jewelers reached the sculptural levels they achieved, and their accolades accurately reflect this unintentional dominance, however we must keep in mind most modernist jewelers veered away from attempting to make sculptural jewelry except in some instances; however the greats all shared the same levels of execution.

In viewing Toza’s body of work, there can be no doubt that his work changed after Ruth died in 1975,  I find only elemental likeness to his early works and distinctive changes. Times also changed and we saw all extant modernist jewelers change.It seems true that the early work of artists is usually their best, and because Ruth Radakovich died young, there is only her earlier work available, however with Toza who survived Ruth by over 23 years there is certainly more of his work out there with a very distinctive style change in the later 70’s.  Perhaps if we look at the influences surrounding Toza we may come to understand why he chose this form of expression rather than his formal training.

Toza was born in Yugoslavia in 1918 and was 22 years of age when war broke out. This is an impressionable age for any man, and given his geographical location and what was to happen to Yugoslavia, it can be stated the impression was more severe.  He was a young man when he was captured and sent to a prison camp as well a forced labor camp.  What Toza may have experienced in those camps and with the unique atrocities of how War was conducted in Eastern Europe we should at least be aware of the psychological change to people who think help is beyond them and are doomed to be forced in a way of life forever. This is not something we in America ever experience.
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Belgrade post WW 2 The war was over but the devastation would inflict suffering for years to come.

Following the war his troubles only got worse when he fell in love with Ruth (tongue in check)  and imprisonment followed along with some years of wondering if he would ever see her again – certainly their bold actions in attempts to be reunited could have resulted in his death and I would imagine his imprisonments were not good – let us consider the state of mind of many ex-war army staffs then in charge of prisons following the horrors of WWII and at once you can make your own conclusions as to the state of care given to prisoners.  Yugoslavia was obliterated in the war more so than many others which is saying something very sad.

Svetozar’s life was dominated by incredible fate, a mixed series of highs and events in his younger years, to the horrors of World War II, to the denial of his living right to be with Ruth, to that challenge being beaten followed by an incredible life together, and then the seemingly unfair death of his wife which he survived by nearly quarter of a century.
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America was scared, but not destroyed and America’s cultural revolution lead the way.

When we consider modernists in the United States in the 40’s and 50’s we hear of the boutiques and the rubbing of elbows, political and thought rebellion – when we view the origins of Toza, they just could not be more different.  The modernists of the United States represented rebellion, bold thinking and a disdain towards capitalism,  and in this matter Toza rightfully belonged.  He experienced Communism in a repressive form, The Iron Curtain, personal viewing and experience of death, torture, starvation and the questioning of political systems and religion. With terrible uncertainty as to the future of Eastern Europe destroyed and the countries treated as pawns in a world game with oblivious overtones, it could be said there were ideas and forms of expression to be released.

Fast forward this man to the late 50’s in the United States with the freedom of expression and we have to wonder what Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 4.31.17 AMwould be trapped in a mind of a sculpture, painter and teacher waiting to be released. I have not heard or read any explanation from Toza or authors as to the origins of these human form

sculptures.  He said in brief “see what you see” but clearly his communication is within a narrow channel in regards these human form sculptures.  Research shows clear links to ancient beliefs, Gods and ways of life going back to Crete and ancient Europe. There is a sense of savagery in his bronze works and I almost get the sense that Ruth extroverted in her art as well as Toza, but at times some of the forms from Toza’s mind seem the result of introversion as there is nothing in California that I can think of to conjure up these cold bronze forms.This sculpture by Toza is dated circa 1974, and the artist lived until 1998. What does the work seem to immediately impart?tozas1

There can be no denying the dark nature of the piece. This can be seen in the lost-wax sculptures he did but no more markedly so than when it came to human forms.   This sculpture from Toza is one of the largest human forms he produced given the medium of stones, rarely do his works of this type exceed but a few inches.  At some point he had a sister piece to tozas4this (identified by very similar elements, particularly the head) but it was never cast and remains in wax form, never to be articulated fully and the only explanation can be that there was a sudden change in his life and there must be a reason why he chose for decades to never cast that sister piece. I suspect this related to Ruth’s death.

At first glance we see a bronze sculpture on a rock in it’s simplest explanation, but after examination and positioning we see more than this.

It is my interpretation, but I see “force” simply put. Whether that be force of the mind, force of your choices or force of your actions, I simply see “force”. Greek mythology is bound by two aspects – fate and the force of others or yourself to be trapped or freed by it, but never seemingly in control of it.We see in this sculpture the stark use of negative space, a single form on a jetty of sorts with “endless” space behind him and yet accompanying him are these little rocks of which he seems bound to literally – are these the ties of life as in Greek Mythology? Was the subject bound to be alone or confined by these stones? We note the ties could have just been from the shoulder to the stones but he opted to have them go across his chest as if he is a slave to these ties. The figure seems to have time to ponder or is lonely.

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The triangular forms are expressed in the leg and arm positioning of the sculpture are reflected in the stones used – all of which have triangular elements. Triangular forms tend to express connectivity and cycles more than circles as they have points – perhaps as events. It is also a very strong shape that resists outside forces.  There was a brown darkened spot on the back of the stone which I thought was odd given that the bottom of the stone was covered in dead invertebrates (Ruth and Toza often with their children searched the Californian shore line for objects to inspire or use in their work.) yet the top had clearly been made clean – so why the dark spot? It was purposeful as with every element of their work.
It was not until the object underwent gallery lighting that the detail revealed itself. The long shadow cast gave a secondary image of a lonesome figure in shadow, with now what looked like the shadow of a mountain and either the sun or moon above it (the dark brown spot!). Also the light shone through his gaping hole in his torso and gave an impression of him being incomplete, lonely or as if something had been torn away from him, making him less wholesome.   Given where they lived I imagine this sculpture is on a cliff in California thus viewing the Pacific Ocean where the sun sets.  The subject seems almost alive but dead in the heart.  Bronze suddenly seems the only cold form the subject should be in and the stone while beautiful becomes barren and desolate in my mind. I wonder what the hole represents, it could be nothing joyous, and the fact it is solitary unlike many of his other human form sculptures which are grouped seems to serve the purpose that the sculpture is alone.
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So it is no longer a bronze sculpture on a few rocks to me; it is a powerful communication and a reminder that the masters of modernism are considered masters for the right reasons. With great pieces by the various modernist jewelers whether it be in sterling silver, bronze, gold or simple stone, some aspects will become evident: that it took years of education and pain-staking time to learn their craft with no shortcuts, that the work took time to plan and execute and that you won’t see anything like it today, and at best a close approximation of these greats which is why these Modernist Jewelers really do stand alone.

While the work of the Radakovich duo imparts extraordinary sculptural abstract forms, I appreciate deeply the early work of Toza in his human form sculptures which imparts thoughts I see in no other artist of the era, and when viewing his later work in life I see the emotional element lost, and fail to see the driving forces behind his monumental work of the late 50’s, 60’s and very early 70’s. The execution is there in his later work, but not the same forces driving him and to me, this sculpture represents one of his last efforts as an artist that communicated well.

Pain, triumph and strong influences unleashed incredible talent, and it would seem that loss and pain later in life would rob him not of the ability to communicate, but of the emotion and richness in his work.

In Svetozar Radakovich I see the life cycle of an artist in it’s full form and a beautiful case study in fate, success and tragedy.

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2 Comments

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  1. I’m surprised you don’t have more comments. This is obviously a labor of love–well-researched and elegantly presented. I deal in Modernist jewelry and I’m pleased to see the enthusiasm of other devotees!

    • Thanks for your comment. The work of the Radakovich’s is so rare you don’t see a lot about them because everything they made was either a commission or a one of a kind work. There’s not really any incentive for dealers and galleries to “promote” their work because the chances of getting their hands on a piece by Toza or Ruth is remote. This is why you see them highlighted so often in books or museums, but almost never written about online. (Most online promotion is directly tied to sales.)

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