Sunday, November 20, 2011

IlluxCon Lecture, part 2

Emotion in Art

                                                                     This image is taken from Christopher Burdett’s blog


In order to explain properly these three stages of infusing an art piece with the emotional content, I will have to tell you something about the genesis of my book The Legend of Steel Bashaw, for as far as I am concerned, it perfectly reflects all the mentioned stages.

In 1991 the civil war broke out in Former Yugoslavia. Although the area where I lived was not directly hit by the war violence, just about 80 km / 50 miles away, the fierce fighting was going on. Because it was a bloody, dirty civil war, and because I thought that I was not born to hold the rifle in my hands and destroy (or be destroyed), but to hold the painting brush and to create instead, I decided to leave the country. So, I quickly packed some things, clothes, a few paintings and drawings, took some money that I previously earned by making comics, and left my parents’ home.  A few hours later I was sitting in the train that was heading towards Budapest, the capitol city of the nearby country of Hungary.

So, unexpectedly and just within a few hours, and with much pain and anxiety in my heart, I was forced to leave the first 26 years of my life behind; my parents, brother, girlfriend, friends and about everybody and everything else that defined and made up my life. Besides, I did not know whether I would ever be able to return and see them again.

A few days later I came out of the train at the Amsterdam Central Station in the Netherlands. I have never been in the Netherlands before, I did not speak the language, I did not have any relatives or friends there to help me, I did not have place to stay, and I had very little money in my pocket.

This was the beginning of my new life, and although I was afraid and extremely sad, I had to react quickly and make sure to find a place to stay, and to find the way to survive in this new surroundings, that were quite alien to me at that time.

However I struggled and fought for survival on a daily basis. The next 5 years were the hardest and the most dramatic years of my life. It was not only very hard to survive physically, but also I was going through an emotional hell.

Fortunately I was able to find some job relatively soon, and for the next two years I was doing commercial art. And although I did my best and worked very hard, everything in my life was uncertain. I somehow managed to earn enough money to buy some food and to pay my bills. During these years I have learned well what poverty, uncertainty and anxiety are.

There was only one thing in my life I could rely on; it was my work, my art. However, after two years of very commercial and badly paid work, I felt the urge to do something only for myself. I was also very homesick and was starting to have problems with my identity, as most of the emigrants do, I guess.

You come to a strange land and bring with you the sense of yourself that was built upon the life experience and the things you have learned from your surroundings in your homeland. Eventually you find yourself in a completely new situation and you realize that your old identify is not compatible with these new and unknown circumstances. You wrestle with this emotional issue and eventually have to reconsider who you are, and to reinvent yourself and your identity in order to be able to function properly in your new life.

You who never have been in a similar situation have to believe me that it is a big emotional struggle and a painful issue and problem that, I believe, many emigrants never manage to solve entirely and properly, and therefore never become whole again as a person. You stay kind of spilt for the rest of your life, for one part of you actually has never left the place you came from and has been stuck in the past, while another part does its best to integrate into the new life.

In order to help myself deal with this problem, and to find out what my true identity is, I decided to illustrate a very known and popular Serbian folktales called Bas Čelik (or Steel Bashaw).

By the way, Edmud Dulac, the famous French/English illustrator has illustrated this folktale in 1916, within his collection of fairytales from the allied nations.

   1 - So, we have here the first of three stages – my emotional involvement with the subject, and even more than that – a strong urge to dive deep into this subject and therefore help myself solve the problem of identity, which implied profound identification with the subject.

   2 – For a number of years I stayed in emotional contact with my subject by digging through the history, ethnology, literature, art, etc., of my people and my motherland. By doing so I strengthened and examined my relationship with my national identity. It was an important journey into my inner self, and it was elating, as well as painful. Traces of these emotions were brought into the paintings through the compositions, design patterns and the brushwork.

I do not remember when and how, but after a while the national aspect of this inner journey slowly shifted towards the more universal dimensions and, although I stayed connected to that national part through a kind of invisible inner cord, I kind of drifted away towards the world of archetype and mythology. Strangely, I slowly realized that I was able to feel pretty comfortable and at home out there. My wounds started to heal.

   3 – Because I was working on Steel Bashaw book for number of years (in fact it took me 15 years to complete it, including many breaks of which the longest one took 7 years), my vision and my technique developed and changed together with the changes in my thinking and feeling. And as my technical skills grew, my ability to express my emotions through painting grew as well. Towards the end of the project I felt more and more liberated and self-confident, and that helped me express myself without (or with significantly less) strain in my paintings.

Now I will try to demonstrate how I use my painting technique to express emotions.


Here are some photos of the painting demo, including one short video, made by my wife Anita, Morgan Bantly and Mark Harchar.


I did the underpainting before my trip to the US.


  1. Overcoming emotional obstacles must be the toughest thing and all those thing you struggled must be important thing for your life to become great artists! I really appreciate for your thought and process when you start to do your painting. Fabulous!

  2. Yes, Nicholas, you are right - There is no shortcut to the place that is truly worthwhile of being at!