Published in Nacional number 494, 2005-04-03

Autor: Nina Ožegović


"I fear for the future of my children because of Boris Mikšić"

Olga Bonc Mikšić, first wife of Boris Mikšić, opened her first Croatian exhibition of drawings and oil paintings entitled “Violence and Consciousness” in the Museum of Arts and Crafts

“I have no desire of demonizing or accusing my ex-husband Boris Mikšić. With this exhibition, I only wanted to make the statement that I existed, despite the fact that he denied me, as though I had never been. He mentions me only off-hand on several occasions in his autobiography, saying that I was pregnant when we came to the US and that I didn’t know English, as though I was some kind of parasite. For that reason, I was forced to make my own appearance before the public, to tell my story and to show that I am not a victim – I have my world of art, I am strong and I am moving on. I would like to be an advocate of human rights, to raise my voice against violence and to fight for peace and prosperity by using the only tool available to me – the language of art.”

This was the comment made by Olga Bonc Mikšić, a painter and sensible woman, who was the first wife of Boris Mikšić, American businessman and failed presidential candidate in the last elections. On Monday, she opened her first Croatian exhibition of drawings and oil paintings entitled “Violence and Consciousness” in the Museum of Arts and Crafts. These works were created in the early 1990s and represent a summary of her 15 year artistic career, and were inspired by two simultaneous tragedies – the suffering of Vukovar and her own traumatic life story which, due to her great sensibility and excessive politeness, she would prefer not to make public.

NACIONAL: How did the cycle “Violence and Consciousness” come to be, and why have you decided now to present yourself in Zagreb as a painter, after 30 years of living abroad?

This is a cycle of oil paintings and sketches and is primarily dedicated to Vukovar – violence in Vukovar and in all wars, violence in schools which is increasingly evident in the US, violence on the streets, in families, in marriages. Vukovar for me was only a symbol of the global violence that surrounds us, and which affects the consciousness of man and mankind. My parents brought these large sketches and oil paintings to Croatia from the US about 10 years ago, and even then I was thinking about holding an exhibition on Vukovar. I would like to donate at least one of my works to Vukovar. I have been living in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the past 30 years, and for years I have felt this strong yearning for Croatia, as do all the Croats living in emigration. When the war started, that yearning erupted from me, turning into a combination of horror, fear and hope. The events and scenes from the outside world in some way articulated my inner world. Power, aggression, enslavement, banishment, intolerance and fear became the fundamental elements in my series of war sketches and oil paintings. Fear for Croatia, for my brother Boris who immediately left the safety of the US in 1991 to fight for Croatia as a volunteer, fear for my children, and for all children of the world.

NACIONAL: How many autobiographical elements are present in your works?

All art is a reflection of the artist. Vukovar was my great inspiration, but these works are also a reflection of my inner life, and my life as a whole in the early 1990s. Vukovar was a symbol of the need of the Croatian people for freedom, independence and democracy, as well as a symbol of my own desperation and helplessness. At that time, I was passing suffering greatly in my private life – I was going through my divorce with Boris, and likely that pain caused me to follow the events in Vukovar with greater empathy. I identified own suffering over learning that he had a parallel relationship and that our marriage was falling apart with the suffering of the Croatian people. The sympathy I felt for the people of Vukovar was even more intense due to the feeling that I didn’t even exist in my own marriage – that I had no freedom and absolutely no influence. I felt trapped, as though I was in Vukovar or in a camp somewhere. I had to escape from that prison and I decided to create this exhibition to prove that I am not a victim. I do not want to blame anyone, perhaps the only thing to blame is the American dream of success. For that reason, Croatia should also take care not to fall into a trap – it is nice to have a dream, but in striving for that dream, one should not neglect their family.

NACIONAL: Why did you call the exhibition “Violence and Consciousness”?

Human history is marked with wars, violence, crimes and power. In the 20th century alone, over 100 million people were killed in one way or another. In my work, I wanted to show the events and experiences that create the work in the victim and the aggressor, but also in impacting the consciousness of new generations. It is no surprise that the criminals in Columbine High School in Colorado or recently in Red Lake School in Minnesota were inspired by Hitler and Nazism. Even though my artistic content is pessimistic, I believe that it is important to remind people that “violence” exists in all of us. That is why education is so important, to develop awareness in order to forever eliminate fear as a means of control and desire for power. In that is my optimism and my message.

NACIONAL: When was your first contact with the world of art?

My first contact was a long time ago, but it left an unquestionably deep impression on me – these were small pen drawings made by my father. My cousin Maja Lanhamer and her oil paintings later instilled in my a desire to dedicate the rest of my life to art. And the sources of inspiration have been my wonderful children, my parents, family, friends, Croatia, the sea, cities, wars, refugees, beggars and all those beings with a beating heart.

NACIONAL: From you works, it could be said that you are very impressed by people’s faces. Have you ever done portraits?

Yes, I am very impressed by people’s faces. I see the whole world in each face. The entire history of painting is based on the human form. And my children – 30 year old Evonne and 28 year old Paul are constant motifs in my painting. My children have followed in my footsteps – Evonne is an art historian, and Paul is a painter and musician – he plays the guitar, mandolin and banjo. I never work with models, only with my recollections, and the faces of my children are always present within me.

NACIONAL: Which painting techniques are you most comfortable with?

I love to draw with pen and charcoal. I began making sketches as a children: at that time that was the cheapest and most effective way. I discovered oils much later. Just look at Altamira – the sketch is basic, a beginning, but so much can be said about it. That is why I did the Vukovar series in charcoal, because I believe that charcoal is best used to express its fate. Vukovar was torched, and the city was in coals. I think that oil would be too soft and too beautiful for the story of Vukovar. However I also love colours, and they have great power over me as an expressionist. Perhaps I am in some way dramatic, and I use colours to express my emotions and thoughts. In the beginning I liked the colour blue best, as I missed the Adriatic Sea terribly, as it left such a deep and inerasable impression on me. My art professor, the well known abstract painter Victor Cagliotti, who even worked with Pollock in the Art League in New York, always smiled at my “blue paintings”, saying he could see Croatia in them. Once I added so much blue paint that I became nauseous. After that, I began experimenting with other colours, but I have never forgotten that feeling, that fascination I felt when I first looked at the sea. And I am still waiting to again feel that impression, that feeling, that inspiration. However, with time, we all become colder and more indifferent.

NACIONAL: Did you continue studying art history in the US?

When I married Boris in 1972 and traveled with him to the US, I could not immediately continue my studies. I completed my degree in painting and art history in 1988 at the University of Minnesota. When we got to the US, Boris immediately began working, and
I was left completely alone in this small and nondescript apartment. Even then I started to feel trapped: I was happy that we had come to the US – I couldn’t work or continue my studies, nor could I return to Zagreb. We didn’t have enough money, so I couldn’t even buy paper or paints to paint. For me, that was a very difficult period, which lasted for a year or two. Then we founded the company Cortec for the production of corrosion inhibitors, and I did various tasks there, so I didn’t have the time or concentration for painting. However, in those ten years, I took several painting courses under the renowned art professors David Feinberg and Lynn Gran, and painted occasionally in my rare moments of rest, so that when I finally did go back to school I graduated in only a year. When we sold Cortec in 1984, I thought then that I could finally work to achieve my dream – painting.

NACIONAL: Why did you go to the US?

Boris had just graduated and received a job offer from his wealthy and powerful friend Dick Singer, whom he had met before our wedding. When he received the letter of guarantee, he immediately accepted the challenge. I knew then that our lives would be turned upside down. I was afraid, but I didn’t want to tell him that the US did not draw me at all. I that that it was my duty as a wife to go with him, and I didn’t insist otherwise. Actually, we didn’t have anywhere to live, so I just left our lives in the hands of fate.

NACIONAL: How long did you suppress your infinity for painting by doing routine tasks in the company?

Even though I worked in production where I mixed chemicals and packaged products, I always tried to be creative. That was wonderful and I did not feel deprived in the creative sense. And at home I was always improvising, painting and trying to beautify our home. Esthetics and working with my hands have always been most important to me. I am happiest when I work with my hands, my greatest fear is getting arthritis, for that would be a terrible blow to me.

NACIONAL: How did your husband react to your studying painting?

In terms of painting, he always stimulated me in my hobby and he liked my paintings. However, our problems arose because we were so different, and this appeared as soon as we got to the US: we were ripped out of the world we knew in Zagreb, and he completely dedicated himself to business. He wanted to succeed in his career and achieve the American dream, and in that time, he completely disappeared as a person. I became unnecessary. At that time I thought that I was his connection to his homeland, that I offered him support, and that is why I watched over him like a mother watches over her child.

NACIONAL: You mean that he was oriented towards material values and business, and you were oriented towards the spiritual world and art. How did you adapt to that situation?

I intuitively felt that great difference between us in Zagreb, before we were married. At times, I also feared that our relationship would not function for long. But I loved him and hoped that he would change and that we would succeed in working things out. Later I realized that people don’t change, and that their character is their fate. In the US, I became very disappointed and unhappy. I am a very sensible person: I grew up in a family full of love, and everyone was very caring and gentle with me. I am not accustomed to harsh words and insults. At the beginning of our marriage when my husband reacted very insensibly several times, that deeply hurt me. Words can be so cruel, and can hurt more than actions. He also drank, and I was afraid of provoking him with my opinions, because I didn’t know how he would react.

NACIONAL: How was he towards the children?

I was the one who raised the children, while he was involved in his business, playing tennis, and traveling often, so he was rarely with the children. He left the house very early in the morning, and came home late, so we gradually grew apart. I think that our children never really had a father, not did they have better opportunities or a better life because of his success. He is likely afraid of communicating with the children, and perhaps he blames me because I decided to leave him. However, I had to because I just couldn’t survive in the marriage any longer. After the divorce, I proposed we have joint custody of the kids, but he never took advantage of that. It pains me greatly when I see that he doesn’t want to help them.

NACIONAL: Did you paint in those periods of depression and disappointment?

Yes, mostly self-portraits in which I expressed my inner experiences. I think that those were my best works. I portrayed myself with a sad mask, even though I am a great optimist. Boris used to say that I loved sadness and that I was depressed, but that is not true. Even when we moved to the US, I was happy that I would meet new people, see new landscapes and get to know a different way of life.

NACIONAL: Are you known in Minnesota as a painter?

I have had several exhibitions in Minnesota, and occasionally I teach at the university as a “visiting artist”. I am known as a Croatian painter, which is very important to me. I want to be part of the Minnesota art scene and say something through my work, though I prefer not to be conspicuous.

NACIONAL: How do look back today, from the perspective of an independent, mature woman and confirmed artist, at your first marriage and the time you spent with Boris Mikšić?

I hope that I am stronger today than I was then. I am always saddened that the relationship ended as it did, especially because of the kids who suffered most. It was very important to them that their parents stay together and that they have a good relationship with their father. Unfortunately, he does not have time for his children. It pains me to see how much time he sets aside to work with youth, while he has no free time for his children. That is painful for them as well. I think we could have had a nice life, for he is a man with many wonderful qualities, for example, a great sense of business and being a fast learner, perhaps too fast.

NACIONAL: What is your relationship like today?

I last saw him at our son’s wedding on 20 November last year, where he did not even say hello to me. His new wife Anne came to me and embraced me, even though I had never even spoken to her before. He didn’t even want to look at me. I wanted to ask him to financially help with our son’s wedding, but I didn’t succeed. We saw each other one year before that wedding, and at that time I even offered him help in his political campaign.

NACIONAL: Do you blame him for what you’ve been through in life?

No, I don’t want to blame him. I think that the problem was in his excessive ambition and desire to prove himself. But he is a man with a good side. Today he has a new life, and I have my world of art. It appears as though he gets along much better with his new wife because they are likely more similar. I am happy and I like my life the way it is. I can finally dedicate myself to painting. I have a feeling as though I am at the beginning of a new creative phase. I would like to be friends with Boris, because of our children.