Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Improvements

I guess that most of the artists have the feeling, sometimes, of not being completely satisfied with the finished painting, and want to do it all over again.  The feeling that the painting has much more to offer in terms of exploring the hidden possibilities of the composition, the color balance or the emotional content, arises to the surface in my work, from time to time. I have done the new versions of the paintings I haven’t been completely satisfied with a few times in the past. Getting inspired by one of your previous paintings, and doing it again, in a slightly different way, is quite different from copying your own painting because you are approached by an art collector who wants to buy exactly the same painting you have sold to somebody else, and asks you to do the copy of that particular composition for his collection. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the client pays adequately.
Although an interesting and relatively easy way of refilling one’s piggy bank, one should not get too excited about making many copies of one’s own paintings just for the sake of money. If done too often, It could eventually turn against you, damaging the credibility of your artistic oeuvre. One of my artistic idols and “teachers” suffered that kind of destiny, although he was a great master of painting métier and produced a great number of brilliant paintings. In fact he did not suffer personally, because he was famous and quite a rich artist, but his artistic oeuvre did suffer to a certain degree. More about him in a future post. See his painting below – he did this one as a student at the art academy in Vienna in the 19th century. He was 22 years old when he painted this picture.

Paja Jovanovic, Wounded Montenegrin, 1882, Oil on canvas, 114 x 186 cm.

However, trying to improve a previously painted picture, or wanting to further explore the possibilities of the particular composition in question, could easily be combined with a new commission.
In 1998/’99 I illustrated the book, “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” for a publisher from Taiwan. One of the 33 illustrations I did for this project depicted Guinevere (you know - the lovely but unfaithful wife of King Arthur ) sitting by the window and waiting to be rescued by Lancelot, her most beloved hero.

Guinevere, 1998

Although I regarded this little painting as one of the most interesting from the whole book, upon the picture’s completion I was left with a feeling of latent dissatisfaction. I thought that the composition potentially offered much more than I was able to show in the finished illustration. In this particular case, I had a tight deadline, and therefore I was not able to spend much time on the illustration. In order to meet these deadlines, I worked frantically on this book project 6 days a week, day and night, for 6 months. As a consequence I was struck by a severe back pain and was forced to stop working for a week. I was not able to sit down, could not lay down or stand without experiencing a terrible pain. The doctor said that he could do nothing to help me, and suggested to be brave and wait for it to pass. After a week of “rest”, and still suffering from the  back pain, I proceeded with the work on the book. And because I could not sit on the chair for longer than 15 minutes, I often had to kneel down in front of my working table for another 15 to 30 minutes in order to go on with painting (I placed a piece of soft-cardboard under my knees to make this unusual working position a bit more comfortable. Then when the pain would became too disturbing I would sit on the chair again, and paint further for another 15 minutes. This highly unpleasant situation lasted for about two weeks. However, I managed to meet the deadlines, but just as I finished and delivered the illustrations to the publisher, the economic crisis in Asia broke out and the publication of the book was postponed for 3 years. Who says that the life of an artist is boring and without any adventures…?
At the beginning of 2010 I had the opportunity to paint the mentioned composition once again, when a Belgian collector asked me to make a painting of Guinevere. I wrestled for a while with a few ideas for the new composition, but none of them seemed to work out. Then I remembered the illustration from the King Arthur book, and recalled my feeling of discontent about it. I introduced some changes to the old composition and painted a new Guinevere picture. The client was satisfied with the painting, and I was satisfied because I took the opportunity to improve the old picture. At least I think I improved it, although I am perfectly happy if somebody prefers the old version. Despite the intentions to improve a certain composition and in spite of the effort, one sometimes does not get further then just making a different thing. Not every “improvement” is the improvement, I guess.

Guinevere, 2010, Oil on wooden board

Guinevere, detail


  1. Petar
    Your palette seems to have changed in the 12 years since you first painted this subject. The bright colours are gone and the new painting has a more earthy tone. It would seem that your current palette is closer to that of Paja Javanovic.

  2. I think I prefer the composition of the first one over the second. And I like the colors of the second one over the first.

    I like the way in the first comp that Guinevere seems to be thinking to herself and shows a little more emotion.

    The earthy colors of the second one appeal to me because they seem a little more romantic and help portray the mood of the figure.

    Thanks for sharing Petar I really enjoy your work and you inspire me. Keep it up.

  3. Hi Larry – your observation is sharp and conclusive. I admit – I’m getting older by the day. Therefore one might conclude that I am getting closer to earth by the day, as well. Hence my relatively recent attraction to the earthy colors … Just joking. We saw each other in person a few months ago. So, you know that I am an agile and a vital young man of 45 years.

    Seriously, the story of Guinevere and Lancelot, their secret affection for each other and the falling apart of the brotherhood of the Knights of the Round Table, as the consequence of her unfaithfulness to her husband, King Arthur, is quite an earthly matter. Hence the dominance of the earthy colors in the painting.

    Besides, as I become older I tend to incline more and more toward my roots. In my opinion the art of Paja Jovanovic depicts the epical character of these roots as no other, although many Serbian art historians and many artists as well, would probably argue about the authenticity of Jovanovic’s depiction of life of the Balkan peoples at the end of the 19th century. But, as I already said, more about Jovanovic’s art in another blog post.

  4. John - It seems that the first Guinevere does show a bit more emotion than the second one, indeed, although she does it in a kind of theatrical way. In the second painting I wanted her to be more discrete in showing her emotions. In fact I wanted to suggest the doubts about her own actions in that undefined look in her eyes. Whether this is an improvement or not, depend on the personal taste and projections.
    That is why it is so hard to say whether an improvement is a real improvement, or just a question of personal preferences.

  5. I feel the greatest difference between the two is in process. Your first Guinevere feels like an illustration of a story. That is wonderful and I believe that the colors would leap off the page in print form and enhance a readers pleasure. The new piece feels like a painting. More introspective and certainly more paint conscious. Your dialogue with paint adds to the overall conversation. To me the first painting seems an integral part of a whole. It tells part of a story and asks one to move on to the next page. The newer version contains much more in a single version, at least for someone who loves painting.

    On another note, will you be going to Comic Con this year Petar? It will be my first year and thought if you were, we could meet. I won't be able to do Iluxcon, although I would love to. I will just have returned from my opening in NYC and wouldn't be able to travel again.

  6. Hi Bill – Indeed. Having in mind the second version, it was my primary intention to make a painting, instead of an illustration. In fact, that is what I try to do all the time, especially with the pictures from my personal projects – I try to bring fine art painting and illustration together. I think you try to do the same in your work, in your own way.

    But, it could be a tricky business, as you probably know. It is not always desirable to “play” too much with "art" within the commercial illustration field, for “commercial” is often the key word. About two years ago, I was searching for a Dutch publisher who would be willing to publish Steel Bashaw in Dutch. When I finally found one who showed some interest, he asked me if I would be willing to remove a few illustrations from the book so that he could have his usual 32 page book (the original Serbian edition has 48 pages). I was a bit shocked. At the end he decided not to publish my book because it was, according to him, too much “art”, while he wanted just a proper illustration…

    Unfortunately, Bill, I will not be able to attend Comic Con this year. But I might go to California at the end of March. I was invited to give a lecture at the San Francisco Art School. I also intend to attend the Wonder Con and to be present at the booth of Flesk Publications during the convention. As you know, in November I have to pack my things again and go to Illuxcon. So, two long intercontinental flights in a year would be more than enough for me.
    I honestly hope to be able to attend Comic Con someday, perhaps the next year.
    Thank you, Bill! You are most kind.