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.


  1. The question of interpretation has been weighing on my mind for a few years. I developed a concept for retelling classic fairytales in a very modern way, which I would like to do one day, and researching made me very aware of how stories and ideas have changed over the years for different contemporary audiences. Even now we have frequent remakes of old movies, and although the general outcry that Holloywood is just looking for money is probably true, I become much more tolerent of people interpreting work - it seems to be a phenomenon as old as humanity itself.

  2. In today's modern world it is very easy to get the facts. The internet has all the information you could ever want. What the internet does not have a lot of is passion and vision. That's why we have artists.

  3. Hoi Petar,
    Ik volg je tegenwoordig via deze blog.
    Interessant om te lezen!

    groet, Dimitri

  4. It's kind of sad, but now that I know the Artist's intent, I like "Gandalf" and "Shadow Comes" alot more now than I did. I have been heavily influenced by other people's interpretations of Tolkein's mythos that I was finding myself becoming as rigid as the Tolkein enthusiasts who were peppering Petar with questions.
    I don't think originality is what people originally percieve it to be. Even things that appear to be original are usually a unique combination of other much used motifs and ideas that are floating around in the primorial soup of human consciousness. I think that a major portion of creativity points back to the essential quality of Interpreting and synthesizing ideas.

  5. Hi Jason – I would say the same, interpretation is as old as humanity itself. As soon as we are born and open our eyes, we start interpreting the world that surrounds us…But, although a necessity, I don’t think that every interpretation does justice to the original script or concept. Also, not every inventive interpretation can be aligned with our own interpretation. I remember having a bit strange feeling after seeing the Peter Jackson’s first The lord of the Rings movie. I was impressed by the movie as a whole. The visual impact was overwhelming, but I was unsatisfied by the way the Elves were depicted. The depiction of the Orcs and the Dark Side was brilliant and convincing, but the depiction of the Elves was less convincing to me. It was not how I envisioned them. It took me a few years to stop feeling irritated every time I saw these stiff faces that lacked life and vitality, which is rather strange for the immortal creatures.

    Just like you, I became more tolerant of the interpretations and visions of other creative minds, but in some cases I just cannot aligned my thoughts with the idea behind the certain interpretations. Interpreting is one thing – changing the basic message of the original concept, is something different. To separate these two is not that easy as it seems. Sometimes I just lack the wisdom that is required for performing this delicate task…

    Larry – Yes, I agree, we have a developed technology, we have easy access to all sorts of information and knowledge, but we still need a bit more honest passion and clear vision. As for the artists – I hear more often these days people saying that, in our modern, democratic times, in fact everybody is an artist, or that everybody can be an artist, or at least try, or should try, to be an artist, in his/her spare time. It seems that it is becoming quite popular to explore one’s inborn artistic talents. So, I am afraid that, very soon, we will be drowning in the sea of passion and vision…Seriously, I do believe that the artist is a very important part of the society chain. Joseph Campbell saw the artist (a true one)as somebody who has taken upon himself the function of a shaman – a modern shaman, whose task is to penetrate into the transcendental level of existence in search of the answers to the crucial questions.....(fortunately, we do not have to worry about that, we are just illustrators…)

    Hi Dimitri - Welcome on board!

  6. Well spoken, Micah- I had an old professor who lectured on the history of Art. She often said: “Nobody came to this world without father and mother.”

    Once, when some people started to compliment Isaac Newton on his marvelous achievements, he answered that he did nothing more than standing on the shoulders of the giants that have preceded him.

  7. Petar, thank you for sharing your wonderful creations and wisdom with us. I've been reading this blog almost from the start. I'm a beginner in drawing & painting, but your writing has helped me tremendously to sort things out in my mind.

  8. Aljoša - you are very welcome! Good luck!