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.

Friday, November 18, 2011

IlluxCon 4

Illuxcon 4 has passed and left us with loads of wonderful impressions, memories, photographs, inspiration and a wish to return to Altoona the next year.
Illuxcon 4 was an extraordinary experience and a very successful show for me. I saw many beautiful and inspiring artworks, had wonderful conversations with many fellow artists and visitors (it’s pity I did not have enough time to speak with more of them), made some new friends, sold some paintings, drawings and many books, and I even had my first public lecture and painting demo during this amazing event. It was truly unforgettable and I will surely be back the next year.
I totally agree with Donato Giancola's observation that“…The one biggest drawback to this event is that it is not long enough!...”
A special thanks goes to the organizers Pat and Jeannie Wilshire, who have put together yet another impeccable show; to Morgan and Jean Bantly, our most dear friends and wonderful people, who selflessly helped us in so many different ways; to my dear fellow artists and friends Donato Giancola, Justin Gerard, Dan Dos Santos, Jesper Ejsing, Daren Bader, Raoul Vitale, Garry Lippincott, Eric Fortune, Thomas Kuebler, Omar Rayyan, Marc Fishman and Mark Harchar, who inspired me with their art, thoughts and insights; to Gregg Spatz who is a first class art collector and a great guy; to the kind people who bought my “Giants – Bull Fight” painting; and to Katie Langford, for a wonderful present!
In fact, I want to thank all of you who were so kind to visit our booth, to buy a book and to talk to us and express your feelings and thoughts about art we had on our display. It’s much appreciated! I have certainly enjoyed every and each conversation.
For those of you who were not present at my Illuxcon lecture, but might be interested in what I had to say during the presentation, I am offering you the written version of this lecture. You can find the first part of it at the bottom of this post. The second part will follow in a day or two.

Opening the crate full of paintings, with Jean Bantly

Morgan and Jean Bantly "framing" the Eowyn painting

Our booth, with Anita and Jean

Anita, my wife, faithful companion and my invaluable assistent, watching over our booth

The show seen from the balcony.

Donato Giancola's booth

A part of the exhibit

Jesper Ejsing's booth

Steve Prescott at his booth

Daren Bader's booth

Lucas Graciano at his booth

Raoul Vitale, with his son and wife, at his booth

Tyler Jacobson at his booth

Anita and Jean talking to Omar Rayyan

Somebody made a good joke, with Daren Bader, Jesper Ejsing and Ryan Pancoast in the background

With Katie Langford and her amazing giant present

Katie's giant and her 2D model

Illuxcon Lecture, part 1
Emotion in Art
“I think, therefore I am” –Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650).
Rene Descartes was a French philosopher, writer and mathematician who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the father of modern philosophy, and much subsequent western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day. Descartes was one of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution.
I have no intention to deny this ingenious idea, which greatly influenced the thinking of the modern era, and therefore defined our own approach to life, the human being and of course art. But as we know, thinking, or ratio, is not all we have or need in life.
So, I say - I feel, therefore I am.
It has been said that the complex emotions define a human being perhaps more than any other aspect of him. People need emotions in order to connect, and because Art is created by people, Art needs emotion to connect with people.
When it comes to Art, emotion plays a key role. It has often been proved that Art without emotional content is like food without taste. I don’t want to marginalize the importance of an idea in Art, but I believe that the emotion is more essential. Generally speaking most of us react more to emotions than to ideas. Even when an idea is very appealing to us, it is in fact the emotion that goes with the particular idea, that draws our attention toward that idea. In a great piece of art, emotion is what touches us deeply and moves us profoundly.
Well, the theory is nice but it has not much sense unless it has been proven in practice. Therefore a question that present itself is how do we infuse our artwork with emotion?
I will try to explain this by dividing it in three parts, or stages:
1. Get emotionally involved with the subject matter you paint. Identify with what you
paint. A nice example of this identification with the subject matter is to be found
among the icon painters.
An icon is a holy picture which has primarily liturgical function. Although a product of art, its function, first of all, is to allow contact between the transcendental world and our own material world. Some call the icons the windows through which the inhabitants of the transcendental worlds look at us. On the other hand, these painted "windows" help us to get in contact with the transcendental level of existance. So, a painter of icons is a monk whose function is to be the medium between these two worlds. Therefore it is expected from him to submerge himself in the religious life and to become as “clean” as possible, in the spiritual sense, so that the information that comes from above to us through him, or through his icon, is as clean and as pure as possible. He prepares himself by prayer and meditation, in order to align himself spiritually with the transcendental, and to perform his task properly.
If we now project this principle to non-religious art, we might be astonished by the similarities between an icon painter and the usual “true” artist ( by true artist I mean the artist who lives his art very much like a good monk who lives his religion.)
Many masters from the past have emphasized the need of getting in contact with, or even temporarily becoming, the subject that the artist wants to depict in his artwork. This is a crucial point in making art, and good art in particular. Art is conceived from within first. It exists in the spirit and needs material means, like the paint or the art technique, to express itself in the material world. So, the art technique is a tool, or a medium, through which Art is incarnated in our world. However, all of us here have, at least once, encountered a painting that is brilliant on the surface (technically brilliant) but somewhat hollow from inside.
Of course the components of the process of creation are many, they are interconnected and entangled, and it is not that easy to define the borders between them.
Anyway, we have to try to see these things in the right perspective. Technique is extremely important simply because it represents the bridge between the world of ideas (emotions) and the material world. But art doesn’t reside in technique only.
2. Stay in emotional contact with your painting’s subject by visualizing the painting before you start your work. Make conscious contact between the painting and your past experiences with the subject matter you paint, as much as possible. Go back to the source of inspiration.
For instance, I
· listen to the music that helps me stay in contact with the source of inspiration, or source of emotion (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Edward Grieg, Antonin Dvorak or Alexander Borodin, especially his pieces like Prince Igor –Polovetsian Dance, or In the Steppes of Central Asia).
· try to recall my childhood or youth memories of, for instance, big trees, forests, rivers, faces, certain situations, etc., and the emotions that went with them (I meditate and contemplate on these subject matters)
· look at the old photos
· read books
· study nature, architecture, folklore
· I bombard my mind with large amounts of appropriate images, until it starts to create the most vivid pictures, and I start seeing them when I close my eyes
· analyze the work of the artists that inspire me
These things help me to stay in touch with a particular emotion(s).
If you do these things, than the next step will happen (partly) on its own.
3. Express the emotion through your art technique. Choose an appropriate technique. In order to express emotions freely and without restraint through the chosen technique you have to master this technique first. These days there are many books, web sites and blogs that can help you to achieve this goal. Just choose the most appealing master, or technique, and practice hard. After 10 to 20 years, depending upon your talent and how hard you work, you will become a master in your own right and be able to express your emotions freely and without restraint, focusing only on the expression through your technique. But beware of the trap; if you linger too long on technique, you might never make the step towards the free expression in your art.
Fortunately, what happens in practice most of the time is that while we are developing our technical skills, we also develop our expression and gradually become cognitive of our own path, who we are and what we want to achieve as an artist. Only, in the beginning the emphasis is on learning and developing the technical skills, unless you have chosen a form of artistic expression wherein the technique doesn’t play an important role. But now, I am mostly referring to the illustration art.

(end of part 1)