Monday, February 28, 2011

Remembrance – Remembering Meštrović

The painting Remembrance (see below)  was inspired by the sculpture, also named Remembrance, created by Ivan Meštrović ( 1883, Croatia – 1962, USA). This marble sculpture is to be found in the collection of Narodni Muzej (National Museum) in Belgrade, Serbia. Meštrović was a phenomenal sculptor known for his powerful epic sculptures loaded with emotion and movement.  He was an internationally renowned artist  whose work, in my opinion and in terms of expressiveness and emotion, could easily be compared to the  art of famous Rodin. In fact, Rodin himself called Meštrović  “the greatest art phenomenon of their time”. However, just before the outbreak of the First World War, Meštrovic abandoned his epical stylization and concentrated his  attention towards the religious themes. His sculpture lost some of its iconic epic energy, but gained more spiritual depth in return.  Below you can see some samples of Meštrović’s sculptures from the public places and museums from Croatia, Serbia, Monte Negro and the US.

My painting Remembrance is a homage to this great artist, whose sculptures inspired me greatly during my studies at the art academy. In fact, at the end of the second year, I was so moved by his art that I almost decided to became a sculptor instead of a painter.
Remembrance, oil on canvas, 50 X 70 cm, 2003

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No Words - Just Pictures

   "The Exit"

The Exit, oil on canvas, 90 x 120 cm, 2005

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Another Tolkien interpretation – a painting in progress

Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul, underpainting
“…Well, as you can see from the image I send you, I made a quite developed monochromatic underpainting of my new piece named Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul. I usually don't do the preliminary color compositions. The only preliminary color composition I did was the one I painted years ago for one of the paintings from the Steel Bashaw book (it was published at the beginning of  'The Making of ' chapter). The reason I don't do color compositions is quite simple - I have the feeling of spending (losing) an important  portion of my creative energy (or a creative tension, as I experience it) when doing it. I like to start with a new painting fresh and free-minded, so to speak,  and to search for the right color solution along the way. My paintings are often created in a flamboyant "fight" with the medium, the technique, the demands of a developing painting and my goals and aspirations in connection with that particular painting. When painting, I try to connect all the aspects of the creative process and make them work together, and as if in a state of creative "trance", I force my way towards my goal (This is especially relevant at the first stage of the work on a painting. Later on the grip of the mentioned “trance” gradually fades away).  I presume that this could sound as a mystification of the working process. It is not my intention to mystify my working process, although I am aware that it can appear to some people as such. It is just the way I approach painting.

On the other hand, there is perhaps  a bit of mystery in it as well, but of another kind. Every time I start a painting, I try to reveal that mysterious and elusive picture that already exists somewhere within me, or somewhere outside of me, I am still not sure about that part. I just have the feeling that such an image already exists somewhere as a potential, waiting to be materialized.  Through the intuitive painting process and the expressive behavior, (and without the preliminary color compositions, because they tend to reduce the level of that creative frenzy and excitement),  I try to grasp that illusive image and turn it into a most appropriate form.
This does not mean that I start the work on a painting without preparations, on the contrary. I spend much time preparing myself for the upcoming “fight”, as well in terms of collecting reference as in terms of mental preparation. Beside the other aspects of the future painting, I spend much time thinking about color arrangements and mood, as well.  And as you also know,  I do make many sketches, studies and  preliminary drawings, trying to solve the main problems of form, value and composition, but at the same time I keep on thinking about the color problem.
So, there is much painting going on in my head before the actual start of the work. I try to visualize as much as possible. So, when I eventually start painting, I often know what kind of color I have to use. But , I must admit, it is a struggle, sometimes a dramatic one,  to make a compact and stabile whole from a painting when doing it this way. As a working method, it is not very practical, and it cost a lot of energy. But again, that’s the way I like to work.

Detail of the underpainting
Detail of the painting in progress

Now, I also think that the making of preliminary color compositions is a very useful  thing, and it is quite advisable to include it in the working process, at least sometimes. At the same time,  in my humble opinion, one should not try to solve every bit of a problem with a color composition. I firmly believe that there has to be enough space left for the improvisation and the decisions that have to be made on the spot. I don't think the artist should have too much of a  "scientific" approach to art, or to have the intention to understand every part of the creative process, unless there is  a very good reason for that, of course . One has to leave some space for the natural, creative instincts, that are coming straight from our own, unique  personality, for these things are in charge of the uniqueness of the future art work. After all, if we pause for a moment and seriously think about it, we have to admit that the process of creation is a miraculous phenomenon. It is an ability that is “given” to us,  and that we should not try to control too much…” *

As Harvey Dunn, one of the greatest American illustrators from the Golden Age, and one of the most intriguing art teachers, said: “ Paint a little less of the facts and a little more of the spirit. Paint more with feeling than with thought…When intellect comes in, art goes out.”
(From the book Harvey Dunn, Illustrator and Painter Of the Pioneer West, by Walt Reed, Flesk Publications, 2010)

* Taken from the letter written to a younger colleague illustrator.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Shadow Comes

A week ago I bought a CD collection named The complete Works of Johann Sebastian Bach ( 1685 – 1750). The 172 CD collection presents the entire oeuvre of this genial German composer, generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time. However, while reading through the booklet included in this marvelous  music collection, I came upon the following lines:
 Every generation, every epoch played “its own Bach” to the best of their knowledge, belief, taste and their mental and esthetic horizon, standards which we today should not disparage merely because we boast a broader knowledge. Nor can we expect this plurality, which from a chronological point of view is developing horizontally and dynamically, to come to an end in the future. Hence there never will nor ever can be one solely, eternally valid interpretation of Bach.”
Johann Sebastian Bach

Well, it is not my intention to talk about the music, although it is a very important part of my daily working routine, but I would like to say something about  interpretation.  I have repeatedly heard  people saying – all the essential things, things that really matter in life, have already been invented. The podium has already been, more or less, set up - only the props change and develop…
Anyway, whether we agree with this statement or not, when it comes to the illustration art, and depicting / illustrating already existing books, stories or famous characters, we are inevitably dealing with the interpretation.
Interpretation is a necessity, especially when we take in consideration the stories (the classics) that have properly and vividly articulated a certain phenomenon, or a situation that contains the universal, timeless character. All that is asked from the artist in that particular case is to retold the story by using a symbolic pictorial language that would appeal to the contemporary public and therefore help them to understand the message that is being communicated. In other words, this contemporary pictorial language has to make the connection between the old spectacle and the new spectator possible – to reconnect them.
Besides,  an artist is allowed to emphasize a certain aspect of the story, while at the same time neglecting to a certain degree the other aspects (we call it the artistic freedom (don’t mention it to the art directors…)). His intention to accentuate the elements of the story that are, according to his feeling, closely connected to the essence of the whole, justifies the use of this freedom.   
While working on the Gandalf painting (see the previous post), the thoughts  like, whether Gandalf should wear a gray, a white or a brown and red clothes , were irrelevant because my primary aim was to depict the essence of the wizard's character and his function in the book. I gave Gandalf the red sleeves because he is a dynamic, flamboyant defender of Good, and I thought that a bit of red color would properly stress that side of his character. At the same time, through the use of red color I wanted to bring even more drama and energy into this dynamic composition.  
But, not everyone is able to appreciate the notion of the artistic freedom, when it comes to interpreting the widely known story. For instance, a few years ago a group of Tolkien fans approached me demanding from me to clarify the true character of the creature Gandalf is fighting with on my painting. Was it a Balrog, or was it the creature from the dark waters of the lake in front of the gates of Moria? Somehow I got the feeling that they were not quite happy with my plea for the artistic freedom and the necessity of interpretation.
At the time I was  working on Gandalf, I was also being busy with another picture inspired by The Lord of the Rings book, titled Shadow comes.  I still can remember that summer day back in 1999, when I got the inspiration “punch” while sitting with my wife on the terrace near one of the Amsterdam’s famous channels and sipping a glass of refreshing drink. I asked  my wife for a piece of paper, for she always carried with her a small notebook and a pen, and quickly sketched the rough outlines of the future composition.

Back in my studio, I made a series of sketches, and eventually a developed preliminary drawing came into being. I used this drawing as a guideline for the photo session with one of my best Orc-models, who was always ready to pose for me when the Dark Side had to be depicted.

Shadow comes does not depict any particular moment from the book. It is rather an interpretation of the crucial aspect of the story, the rising of Sauron and coming of the Shadow. From the approaching Shadow the Orcs are launching their attack on the Light, and whatever is in the light, representing it and protecting it.

Shadow Comes, 50 x 70 cm, oil on Masonite, 1999

At the end of the nineties I used quite often the modeling pasta and the painting pasta  in the painting process. The modeling pasta was mostly  used in order to create the rough, rich structure of the stones and rocks. When the surface was dry I applied the subsequent layers of paint and tiny glazes of different color on the top of it.
Gandalf, detail
I used the painting pasta to make the paint more transparent. The shadow parts on both of the paintings were created with the help of the painting pasta. Nowadays I do not use that stuff anymore. Why? - Well, I do not use the modeling pasta because I feel that it makes the painting process a bit too orchestrated, that it takes the aspect of unpredictability, the “chivalrousness” out of the creative process.
As for the painting pasta – in the mean time I learned how to deal with the transparent colors, so the need for the painting pasta gradually “evaporated”.
The Shadow Comes original painting was purchased by an American collector. After he received and framed the picture, I asked him to supply me with a photo of the framed painting. He generously sent me the photo from below. On the left side you can see a painting done by the master Rick Berry - in the middle hangs a brilliantly executed painting of another master, John Jude Palancar. The Shadow comes painting is to the right.