Milan Mrkusich (1925–2018)

Milan Mrkusich, the New Zealand painter and designer whose far-ranging contemplations of geometrical and architectural forms led him to become one of the country’s most celebrated postwar abstract artists, has died at age ninety-three.

Born in Dargaville in 1925 to Dalmatian parents, Mrkusich took on an apprenticeship in writing and pictorial arts with Neuline Studios and also attended night courses at Seddon Technical, including life-drawing classes. Influenced by Piet Mondrian and the Bauhaus movement early in his career, he held his first exhibition in Auckland in 1949, and his work was included in the Auckland City Art Gallery’s “Object and Image” exhibition in 1954. During this time, he worked at the architecture firm Brenner Associates as a color consultant. In the early 1960s, Mrkusich completed “Emblems,” “Elements,” and “Four Elements”—a trio of esoteric series whose mandalas and other symbols plumbed tensions found in Jungian thought. Later that decade, Mrkusich adopted a pared-down style that would captivate him into the late ’70s, and his first retrospective was mounted at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1972. In the 1980s, he earned international recognition, participating in the Forty-Eighth Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. 

In 2010, City Gallery in Wellington staged “Trans-Form: The Abstract Art of Milan Mrkusich,” and in 1997, the artist was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Whether working within monochrome or geometric expressionist traditions, Mrkusich consistently approached color in his work. “I do not choose color,” he once said. “Color is not mine alone. Color just exists. Achromatic and chromatic colors are material facts.” In what might be the artist’s most publicly recognized work—a 1994 commission for the facade of the Te Papa building in New Zealand’s capital—a mural of colored enamel resembles stained-glass windows, an art form Mrkusich honed following the closing of Brenner Associates in 1958.