THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN THE EYES OF SLOVENE PAINTER BOŽIDAR JAKAC (1929-1931)
For the last two centuries, the United States of America have been provoking interest with their presence in the world and with their unlikeness. Many Slovene travellers have visited them and reported about the States through books, among those Božidar Jakac with the book Odmevi rdeče zemlje, which the poet and Jakac's friend Miran Jarc prepared from his letters. The work was published in 1932. It is placed in the group of travelogue books that were published on Slovene market in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, that is, just before, during and after the world economic crisis. Let me here mention the works: by the politician and publicist Anton Kristan V Ameriko in po Ameriki (1928), translator and publicist Anton Brežnik V senci nebotičnikov (1930), and electrical engineer and chess player Milan Vidmar Med Evropo in Ameriko (1937).
Božidar Jakac travelled round the United States from the spring 1929 to the summer 1931. As an artist, he perceived and took perspectives upon them through the eyes of an artist, painter, photographer and filmmaker; least but not last as a note-keeper where Miran Jarc also influenced his emotiveness of experiencing and written evidencing. However, assertions about America, its people, nature, art, immigrants, social and political order and other, are Jakac’s. They are subjective views, often stereotypic and many times accepting and refusing in almost the same breath novelties, diversity, tempo of life, American civilisation, achievements and similar. Therefore, we are not surprised Louis Adamič responded to those views and Josip Vidmar intervened in the polemics (in the journal Sodobnost 1933). Most convincing is Jakac with his American painting opus although at home he experienced more or less ungracious and negative critiques (Karel Dobida, Rajko Ložar, France Stelè, Fran Šijanec etc.). However, his Ljubljana exhibition in Jakopič’s salon (1931) echoed among visitors and Jakac sold half of the exhibited pastels, drawings, portraits, graphics …
Jakac’s contemplations in the book are variegated. Pointed out in the treatise are the following themes: contact with the New world, the United States and Americans, comparison of human with machine and American painting, film and nature. Jakac was particularly enraptured with the nature and with Hollywood. He deliberates with a large measure of emotionality and disappointment about Slovenes in the U.S.A. that will disappear in the American melting pot, which the author mentions only cursory for he presented the thematic in Melikov zbornik 2001. On every occasion, Jakac likes to expose the homeland in comparison to the American world. In the book, he also publishes 192 pastels, drawings, sketches, and similar.
In short, Jakac was torn between enthusiasm, despondence, and scepticism in regard of America, their way of life and its future. A black-white perception is present; he is often in contradiction with himself for something he disapproves of at his arrival he praises at his departure, for example New York. The skyscrapers as symbols of American mightiness are to Jakac something wonderful (we often find them on preserved Jakac’s films) and at the same time burdensome, as if they want to bruise the mass of pedestrians beneath them.
The treatise is based on the book and on responses to it in newspapers, partly in comparability with coincident previously mentioned books and the there published reviews. Unfortunately, Jakac’s legatees did not permit me insight into his personal archival material, particularly into his letters, which were the foundation for the book. Also not yet studied is the material on Jakac’s first visit to the U.S.A. (the second was in 1958/59); he was present in numerous intellectual circles, frequently portrayed American people from public life, had contacts with important Slovene emigrant organizations and individuals, cooperated at exhibitions, and similar.
Although Jakac’s American period painting opus is supposedly a step back, the book presents a large step forward in travelogue literature as compared with other travel writers about America, Jakac experienced the U.S.A. very intimately although by opinion of many deficiently… who experienced America into detail, and is that at all possible? The preserved paintings, photos and films (the latter are the only material entirely accessible to the public as they are kept in the Arhiv Republike Slovenije) enable us to understand Jakac’s experiencing, regardless of whether we accept or decline his views.