Art Comment Quarterly
Welcome to Art Comment Autumn '04.
In this issue of the Quarterly I have attempted to weave together some articles and stories that have come to my attention that all seem to relate to a common theme of which I recently have been pondering. When we think of Agony and Ecstasy, we think of Hollywood's portrayal of poor Michelangelo on his back painfully painting away as the Pope screams at him, "When will you be done!"
My question is, "Must Ecstasy be born of Agony?"Or more specifically, does the greatest or most significant art come from those artists who are experiencing the greatest anguish?
Does a 'real' artist have to be the stereotypical 'starving artist'?
And, considering the converse,
Can those individuals or societies who are 'fat and happy' produce serious artworks?
Some might argue that recent recipients of England's weighty Turner Art Prize (like the artist who flips a light switch on and off) represent prime examples of art that reflects the shallowness of an overly materialistic and wasteful society.
We only need look around us today to find significant and powerful art being generated by artists presently in harm's way. Clearly artists living in Baghdad Ahmed Al Safi, Qasim Al-Septi, Esam Pasha, Vian Sora, and Haider Wady have ample inspiration for 'giving their all' into each of their works. See more about these artists in the previously published Art Comment Spring '04. These artists are clearly 'on the edge' - of even life and death on a daily basis. I was fortunate to temporarily have one of Ahmed Al-Safi's paintings in my home. The power imbued in that painting was undisputable. One viewer actually wept openly upon seeing it. And then we have New York artist Steve Mumford who intentionally places himself in harm's way by taking his paint and brushes into the fray of Iraq to find his edge. See the latest in Mumford's series of Baghdad Diaries sponsored by ArtNet.com.
In an amazing story I read via ArtVitae.com's homepage link to The ArtsJournal.com> refering to an article published previously by Canoe's CNews: Russian Artists Face Trial for Exhibit Deemed Offensive to Religion. In this article we find that Russian artists, who once found their muses via their resistance to Stalinistic style censorship, now ironically are having to fend off government sponsored religious censorship of their art.
Expressionistic painter, Moises Monteferro explains his muse:
The image of a house in my work appears and disappears in my creations since I left Spain. The house is the representation of my family home in the northwest of Spain. The home of my childhood, the protecting home. Sometimes the primitive and schematic image is represented with windows or doors (The possibility of a return, the return's hope). But usually the symbol appears without windows or entrances and explains my feelings about the difficulties I've being thru to go back home after more than 12 years out of my country. My painting is abstract or non-objective in essence but some times the objects appear from my soul without a rational process or procedure. This series is about that. The migration, the immigrants, and the feelings related are a key element in my body of work. In the series "Hope against Hope" a boat symbolizes the hope of the Africans and Cubans that die trying to reach Europe or the US. The symbol here is an empty boat, alone, in an infinite ocean of solitude and failure. An elegy to the people that put all their hope in a fragile boat because does not have anything to lose.
Located at the vortex of recent and traditional battle lines of Eastern versus Western cultures, the Balkins has been in almost continuous turmoil for many centuries. Belgrade artist Djordje Prudnikoff has provided us with a dialogue between Marija Bumbiae and himself first published in Urban>. In his interview, reproduced below, he eloquently describes that elemental force of his inspiration born of his personal experiences of anguish as HOPE.
On a lighter note, painter and composer, Stephen Parker, related to me how even the pain of a toothache can enhance the success of an artistic endeavor. See The Ecstasy of the Toothache below.
Excerpts from Urban Interview with Djordje Prudnikoff
You spent your youth in Italy, and often went back there. Did the great Italian artists influence you to turn to painting, especially to the portrait, and to choose realistic style in the time of the dominance of the abstract art?
I went to Italy in 1968 for the first time because I had won a prize at the international contest "SORMANI" for "New Ideas in Furniture-Design". Having received the prize, I was offered to stay there. That was really the right time for new ideas in design, new materials were being found - and they appreciated me a lot, and the proof for that was me being selected into "ITALIAN-DESIGN " outside Italy, too. Just when I was to take firm hold of my position in Italy, because of a certain "admirer" of my works from Belgrade who lived in Milan at the same time and pinched on the streets while bearing my surname in his passport, I wasn't given the prolongation of my work permit. That "admirer" of my painting and of my "posh" surname was many times the guest in Vanja Bulich's show "Black Pearls" on TV Politick. After eighteen years, I am finally finding out why I wasn't given that prolongation!
What a destiny!
My turning to painting was caused by above-mentioned provocation in Belgrade, when the colleague of mine tried to draw me in Skadarlija, but my hard design work in Italy and ever-present abstract forms influenced it much more. I started painting and went back to my childhood and to realism that had been stopped by my schooling at the Academy. By the end of my work-stay in Italy, I even started merging realistic sculpture with my furniture designs!
I haven't, thus, been influenced by this or that painter. I've carried it all in me and merely waited for the moment to start painting.
How do you make portraits-by order, by photography, or by posing of a person whose portrait you're making - and how did you make the portraits of Tito and Milosevic?
We live in the world of money-race, stress, and you can hardly find someone willing to pose, which forces us to work with photographs. There's a great difference between these portraits and those of the old masters. They painted with less strain because of having a tri-dimensional model that made their portraits more plausible. I'm not sure who has placed me in this wretched time of ours, but there's nothing to be done. I have to toil more than the old masters did without the possibility to attain their results, although they were no more talented than I am! It all asks for a lot of curiosity, asks from you to peek into that inner self of a person you're portraying, and every single person is concocted in a different way. Only someone who loves people, which means the one who searches for and emphasizes their positive traits, can do it. My paintings are never ugly. There's been a lot of ugliness around us! "Gallery of Portraits" in Tuzla announced an open competition "Tito in the Works of Art" long time ago, but my portrait didn't pass although the famous photographer Nikola Bibic who often took photos of Tito said that he hadn't seen better portrait of Tito than that one - and five portraits of Safet Zec passed! Tito's Cabinet ordered a portrait later, which was printed as a stamp and as a postcard for the "25 May" Museum. I guess that it was just normal to await the order for a portrait of Slobodan Milosevic in 1989, which was later printed too. It was first ordered from Olja Ivanjicki, although she is not in the realistic portrait, but she did one.
Anyway, I finish a portrait for the same time as any other larger composition. Watching the ubiquitous faces on a TV screen has made me sick of doing portraits, because when painting a larger composition I offer much more delight to the lovers of my art. I also have an opportunity to commit myself to some other interesting themes. By the way, because of that Milosevic's portrait I've been expelled out of my flat and I haven't been painting for more than five years.
Almost all your paintings have dark or sfumato-hazy, sometimes almost black, background. Is your pallet, like the light, focused on some part of a painting, the reflection of your soul?
Maybe you shouldn't talk with an artist about that - He works as he works, and the result is probably all that experience accumulated in him and his ancestors.
My father came from Russia with his parents as a child! What his origin is and what my mother's origin is - a peasant from Zlatibor - Who can explain that - these are some strange things.
I was even born thanks to my mother's mother!?
My mother came from Prokuplje to Uzice to abort - I was an unwanted child at that moment but my grandmother saved me!
It always makes me cry when I think of my grandfather, a famous merchant from Uzice, of my grandmother, of all those memories - Who will explain me all that?
I don't know many things, along with why I paint in this way - I can just brood on all that and say that, even when meeting someone, I memorize only the most important things, the essential ones that one has said. Why I think the way I do, and why I treat the canvas in the same way, gently emphasizing the things that matter to a person portrayed, not making he or she look ugly, is perhaps explicable either for a psychologist or for a well-educated person. After all - I do it unconsciously and truly, chasing the results I've seen in my head that are set there who knows when! It's important to point out - any true artist works through emotions, if it's not the case there would be many artists - it would be enough to be well-informed - well-educated!
Everyone knows it's not so. Theory and the work within realms of painting are two different things.
Maybe such atmosphere of a painting comes out as a result of my wish to put a portrayee in the first perspective and emphasize the best in him or her. Furthermore, the sense of esthetic is very important, and I'm very proud of my son who has expressed that sense from his early youth, as well as his critical attitude.
I wouldn't say that I possess that rational, critical attitude; I just feel that something's wrong and I react creatively, or I used to react so.
It isn't said in vain - "Leave the world to the young"!
Although I have my comforting variation of the theme: "Any man has a certain creative capacity, and if it's stopped by force, it can be manifested in the later years of life!"
I hope that people won't laugh at this?
A painting has to have its own life, its own space in which something or somebody can be found - Why would you otherwise approach a painting - if not to reveal that little secret, that beauty - which is not the same as the observable particles. The living space has its own atmosphere that we create, and a painting adds to it - with more or less success - depending on the owner who has chosen the painting.
You've done several portraits of our stunning opera-singer Jadranka Jovanovich, as well as a number of paintings showing many musicians. How did these paintings come to life, and what is your relation to music, as to the other great realm of art? Is there music on your canvases?
I used to claim that I prefer singing to living. How it seems strange now, but then, during my student's days when I loved to sing and had that great Russian voice, I had some problems with tonsils that presumably hindered me to continue with singing. Singing meant the world to me! However, music has remained the part of my life and I can't work without it, and there would be ever-grater need for thematically corresponding paintings, for in these years, after all that has happened, I can't bear tragedy in any of its forms!
After one rather unpleasant experience when the persons who had ordered a portrait behaved in a very impropriate manner, I simply needed to paint Jadranka Jovanovich to recapture that pleasure of painting again. Her beauty and a mere contact with the person of resembling spirit and ambition return faith in life. She is a very special person.
Our critics and your colleagues have praised and criticized you, some even disdained you and classified your work as kitsch. How do you accept critiques, and are you personally satisfied with your work? Is it, at all, possible for an artist to be satisfied with himself and with his work?
I've had bad experience with most of our critics, even with many of my colleagues in the beginning of my career. The hardest thing is to stand out in a community that is accustomed to the old and hard on accepting the new. All of us, when forced to change, do it in a slow way.
But, who are those critics? They are humans just as we are. It's difficult to be an objective critic-contemporary, but it's unrefined when such person behaves as if being the wisest and the one knowing everything. It takes time to see who is who. Many faults are being unrevealed in a judgment of an artist because many critics are not able to follow the artist's evolution- they are either not interested in it or doing it by mere chance. It's all very serious. Some people say that a painting is never finished. I, on the contrary, stop painting when I think to myself that there is nothing more to be added. I am, on my part, dissatisfied with myself because I haven't done as many paintings as I could, and as far as design is concerned, in terms of international competitiveness, my evolution has been stopped when I was forced to return to Belgrade!
Why haven't you been painting for more than five years?
I wrote this to a friend of mine January 2003:
I'm not sure if you're familiar with the fate of our most famous actress Zanka Stokic?
I've seen a TV program about that great actress today, and there's been a lot of talk about her lately. Many talked in different media of her ill providence.
During the WWW II, as many other actors, she performed humorous plays in some theatre…to earn for her medications because she was of poor health and needed the treatment. In 1945, because of that, she was deprived for seven years of her Civil Honour at the Court, and wasn't allowed to perform in theatre.
All that distressed the great actress badly and completely changed her life, so when, in 1947, she was notified that her "sins" had been forgiven she died three days after!
The same thing is happening to me /politicians are always the same idiots/
my flat was taken from me and given to a judge of the district court in 1995 for painting Milosevic in 1989.
There are papers for all that, and those same people ( SPO, the ones that took it) joined him later took all control in Belgrade in their hands and stole as long as they could do so. I just painted him in accordance with the request, but they were the ones who collaborated with him.
All that killed Zanka Stokic who is today praised as our greatest theatre actress and I'm, thanks to the contacts on the Internet, preserving the only thing that is left to us and it is HOPE!
The Ecstasy of the Toothache
Over a cup of coffee one morning recently with painter, composer, and friend C. S. L. (Stephen) Parker, I broached my subject of 'Ecstasy from Agony' to him. Stephen offered a humorous personal story relating to that theme for me to relay to you. I paraphrase his story as best as I can recall it here:
Denis Quaid took the silencer off his quad just so the film crew would know he was coming over the Nambian dunes to the location for the "Flight of the Phoenix." Among those in that desert who were unimpressed with Quaid's antics was Focus Puller, John Conroy yelling over the noise to be heard on the phone to yours truly, Stephen, in a phone box that April morning in front of City Hall in Cashel, Ireland.
John Conroy (whose father Jack Conroy shot "My Left Foot" and "The Field") was, in addition to his desert duties, in the throws organizing the sound track to a new film he was directing called "Poker Nights" - a black humor comedy about guys playing cards for each other's wives - eventually the girls kill them off one by one. It is the second of a trilogy of films he is directing. (The first, "Selfish Minds" won the Grand Jury Prize in New York last year.)
It was my job to record the music for John's trilogy of films. I had recorded the score for the first film with the Moravian Philharmonic of the Czech Republic together with the principal director of the National State Opera in Prague. That was an eighty-piece ensemble. After having to pass on the Israeli Philharmonic and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland due to scheduling conflicts I was happily able to secure the fine talents of the Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra - all 112 of them.
What many people don't realize about the creation of a work of art in the realm of film is that, a large part of the success of that art is dependent on un-romantic and un-glamorous organizational skills - even down to the timely arrangements of insurance contracts. That brings us back to the phone box in front of City Hall. After six months of intense effort pulling together and coordinating the orchestra, and the various other integral talent and support people, I was on the verge of exhaustion. One last essential detail was to secure the 11.6 Euros worth of insurance needed to cover all those people for the two day recording session. To top it off, the toothache that I had been willing away for so many weeks finally reached epic proportions and I had had the tooth hurriedly pulled only minutes before.
I had a list of nineteen insurance companies with me in that phone box, all of whom I had to negotiate with for the best deal. I was in excruciating pain and my mouth was packed full of cotton wool. I had to scream though all that packing and pain just for a muffled anguished version of my words to be heard on the other end of the phone. Amazingly through my Agony came my Ecstasy. The insurers must have mistaken me for some sort of terrifying Mafia character, a la the Godfather, because, by five o'clock that evening, I had successfully secured the ridiculously low rate of just two hundred Euros to insure the whole lot.
This comedic spark seemed to engender a positive wave of artistic energy that propelled us all on to Cork City for the recordings, and beyond that - the eventual mixing in Ardmore Films studios and screening in Los Angeles.
ArtComment's sponsor, ArtVitae.com's first 'brick-and-mortar' venture was their 'Unplugged' exhibition at the Narrow Space Gallery in Clonmel, Ireland. Artists from Ireland, France, the UK, America, Italy, Russia, and even Iraq were represented there. Well over $20,000 dollars worth of artworks traded hands during the exhibition.
The next 'brick-and-mortar' venue for ArtViate.com artists:Patrick Horan,
Lee Michael Tiller, and
Suzzane Van de Boom will be the Art Fair Ireland in the RDS, Dublin, November 19 to 21, 2004.
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