No one has described temporary migrant workers and people on the bottom rungs of the societal ladder with as much compassion, comprehension and humour as Trumbetaš has. Particularly vivid in this aspect was the artist’s alter ego, his anti-hero Tonči, the protagonist of many of Trumbetaš’ sketches.

Drago Trumbetaš, one of the great Croatian outsider artists, passed away in his 81st year.

Trained as a typesetter, he worked as a construction labourer, in a warehouse and at a print shop in Frankfurt. Temporary work migrants, popularly referred to by the German loan word gastarbajter (gastarbeiter, guest worker) were a frequent motif of his work, from as early as 1968, when his first works emerged. Trumbetaš was an exception to the rule, one of those very rare artists from these parts that was equally esteemed by those not active in the domain of naïve or outsider art, and those that are, and he thus spanned these two worlds. His work has been the subject of sociological analyses.

No one has described temporary migrant workers and people on the bottom rungs of the societal ladder with as much compassion, comprehension and humour as Trumbetaš has. Particularly vivid in this aspect was the artist’s alter ego, his anti-hero Tonči, the protagonist of many of Trumbetaš’ sketches.

I [Patricija Kiš] last spoke with Trumbetaš during a major autobiographical exhibition he staged at the building of the Croatian Association of Artists—an exhibition that occupied the whole of the edifice. On show, along with the drawings and paintings, was a reconstruction of the small, modest guest worker room in which the artist lived, the small electric hot plate on which he prepared his meals, a bicycle and a television set—it all fit into a small two-by-two metre room in Germany.

In his Smokers & Non-Smokers series he portrayed the destinies of temporary guest workers from different countries in the second half of the twentieth century, at times doing so in a manner that is both serious and distressing, at times with a humorous bent. He later penned a book under the same title.

Trumbetaš was born in Velika Mlaka in 1937 to a family of the local Turopolje region petty nobility. He worked as a temporary migrant for over three decades. Before moving abroad he worked for a time in Zagreb as a geodetic (land survey map) drawer and print artist. He has been lauded by many, including Veselko Tenžera, and has been promoted by the collector and former culture minister Božo Biškupić.

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