Julije Knifer was a member of Gorgona (1959-1966), and a participant in the New Tendencies movement. His consistent reductionism impacted the second half of the 20th century in Croatian art. Even in his early self-portraits, created between 1949 – 1952, prior to his enrollment at the Academy of Fine Arts, it was possible to envision the direction in which Knifer would develop in the future. These drawings were created every day with a pencil, always using the same format, and always depicting the same facial expression void of psychological insight.
In Knifer's words, "what I discovered during this period, was that my drawings were no longer self-portraits but rather just one monotonous rhythm ... Out of this rhythmic sequence I realised that I didn't want to create a single painting, a work that would be self-contained and complete in and of itself. I understood that my drawings and my own images, were only one in a series of connected similar acts." This concept of art was significantly influenced by the serial music of that period popularized during the Zagreb Music Biennial, as well as in statements by Igor Stravinsky on music as rhythm. Both motivated Knifer to ultimately reduce his paintings to a rhythmic exchange of black and white, vertical and horizontal surfaces.
A year later, Knifer's drawings of Stenjevec, then a village near Zagreb, displayed a visible reduction in volume into surface. During 1957 and 1958, Knifer applied cubist principles to achieve extreme reduction, and to gradually separate his paintings from mimetic principles. Thus details taken from reality appeared less frequently and were less recognizable while colors also became systematically reduced.
The first Meanders occur in the 1959/60 period, as an expression of extreme reduction, aspiring to create anti-images and the aura of contemplation. Knifer remained faithful to the motif of Meander until the end of his life. In his own words Knifer described it as "the escalation of uniformity and monotony", a definition which art critic Zvonko Maković expanded to include the concept of the sporadic introduction of "minimal, but artistically significant differences within one and the same formula”. Examples of such differences were the introduction of blue, gold and gray colors during the 1968 – 1970 period. In 1976, Knifer began a cycle of ever-larger-in-format drawings in order to achieve the powerful intensity of black, or to "put out the light."
From 1971 Knifer started to produce large-scale Meanders on exterior and interior walls. His first mural was created on the walls of Elementary school Gornje Vrapče, for the television show Urban Painting moderated by art historian Vera Horvat-Pintarić. Later he painted the lobby of SC Cinema (1979), the wall in Branimir Street (1987), PM Gallery (1987) - all locations in Zagreb, and in 1990, the Catalog hall of a university library in Dijon. In 1975, in the quarry near Tübingen with help of many collaborators, he painted a 20x30 m large banner. The Arbeitsprozess, as it was named, was documented with photographs and video.
In 1977, Knifer started a cycle of drawings with graphite on paper in which, drawing his meander motif with various pressures of graphite, he commenced the process of removing light from the drawing surface. These works, executed with careful and deliberate moves, reflected sharp awareness of the process. According to art historian Davor Matičević, these dense and smooth black surfaces contained all the "density of hopelessness."
Julije Knifer was born in 1924 in Osijek. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1956. His Meanders were first exhibited in 1961 at the New Tendencies exhibition at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, and again at the New Tendencies 2 in 1963, the New Tendencies 4 in 1969 and the New Tendencies 5 in 1973. He exhibited at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1973 and at the Venice Biennial in 1976. During the 2001 Venice Biennial his work was represented at the Croatian Pavillion. Knifer died in 2004 in Paris.