Painting past borders

Artist Zdenko Krtić draws inspiration from Croatia and Italy—in a Temple University gallery.

Artist Zdenko Krtic is inspired by global locations and ideas.
Artist Zdenko Krtic is inspired by global locations and ideas. | Courtesy ZDENKO KRTIC

There’s a huge difference between higher education in America and that of Europe: for example, college in Croatia is completely free, but it’s considerably difficult for applicants to be accepted. Art students alone endure a five day exam.

According to Zdenko Krtić, the American expression “third time’s the charm” rang true when he was applying for art school. It took three attempts until the persevering Yugoslavian – now Croatian – artist was finally accepted into the University of Zagreb.

Today, Krtić’s art stretches far beyond the university he attended and past the borders of his home country. The painter has citizenship in the states, a masters degree in painting from the University of Cincinnati and a teaching position at Auburn University in Alabama – a spot that he said provided an especially bracing amount of culture shock.

He and his wife first came to America to visit a friend studying in Ohio. Krtić recalls being struck by the open-mindedness of the people he met, and the couple decided to return the next year to pursue higher degrees.

“Go deep whatever your chosen course of study is,”Krtić said he often tells his students at Auburn. “The deeper you go, the more likely you will discover something of value. Also, be open to experiences, and be willing to grow both as a person, and as an artist.”

He has an additional tie with America that makes his career particularly unique: his latest series of paintings is currently on display on Temple’s Rome campus.

If it weren’t for a radiantly red Temple flag hanging in the window, Temple’s Rome campus, a simple brownstone building sitting in front of the Tiber River, would blend in perfectly with its surrounding settings. The historical building houses classrooms as well as an active art gallery where Krtić is currently showcasing his “Vernal Pools,” an assortment of work that culminates Krtić’s experiences in Rome.

“In each [painting] I try to foster ideas of exploration and discovery, while recognizing interdependence of all things,” Krtić said.

After falling in love with art through an admiration of the dark humor in Croatian comic books, Krtić began working with oil paints early in his career. Soon, the abrasive chemicals in the paint began to burden Krtić with throbbing headaches, but didn’t stop him from pursuing an artistic career. He began working with encaustic painting, a method involving the pigmentation of hot, melted beeswax.

The artist, who has had exhibitions in cities as local as Lancaster and countries as far away as Denmark, said that this is his first time showing work in Rome. The opportunity arose when the director of the Temple gallery, Shara Wasserman, reached out to Krtić.

“I have received very positive comments from those that viewed the exhibition, mostly from art students from various schools and my colleagues who teach studio art, art history, architecture, or design and who come from different universities,” said Krtić.

Vernal pools, another name for spring wetlands, serve as Krtić’s analogy for the richly saturated content one discovers in a city such as Rome. Krtić compared the limited amount of time he gave himself to paint with the finite span of months that he spent in Rome.

“And since both are characterized by their ephemerality, in order to be enriched by these experiences, one should always pay close attention,” said Krtić.

Angela Gervasi can be reached at

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