About Sora’s Tales at Tea With Gauguin under the Moving Heavens in the company of Zoran Vukovic

Baudlaire’s definition of nature as a lexicon, whereby he had in mind that the vocabulary of the outward reality serves the creation of a new, artistic reality, represents an open book full of recipes to understand and interpret these two-way relations. Today, after all of the modern and contemporary art movements, one has arrived at a similar definition which takes art as a lexicon, meaning that present day artists understand and interpret the facts and forms stemming from the artistic, therefore artificial, reality by using different methods and procedures -quoting, diversion, rejection, irony, repetition with alternations, etc – in other words, they understand and interpret in a way which differs from the one determined by the historical period of their origin. We have recently seen numerous neo-isms, transformed stylistic characteristics of Modernism, from Symbolism and Expressionism, through both types of abstraction (geometric and lyric), to a multitude of figurative tendencies of the 20th century painting, altering their basic specifications until they reach the necessary visual and semantic state corresponding to the dominant sensibility of this time. In such a procedure the present day artists quite freely, with no unnecessary regard for their predecessors, take and use only those components of various periods which they find interesting and in harmony with their own creative temperament. This is the reason why the present state of art, denoted as a postmodernist paradigm, is a picture of a broken mosaic whose elements are microstructures of big historical artistic formations experienced in an utterly individual way, focused in the totally personal optics of the artists ready to undertake new creative adventures again. 

Tea With Gauguin in Topcider 

Drawing after nature. One of the most important methodological items in the academic education of visual artists. With the predecessors of modem art – plein-air artists and impressionists – this discipline leaves the studios and the classrooms and turns into direct drawing in nature. A whole stylistic epoch has passed between drawing after nature and drawing in nature. There has been a transition from one civilisation to another, while the borderline shaped within is the delicate line which separates the classical from the modern ait. One lecture course turned into a great theme of the visual arts. 

Nature. One word like a title of a work of art, and — like an integral program in the plastic arts. With the fundamental revolution in painting performed at the very beginning of the Modernist period by the fathers of the 20th century art, particularly Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, the creative will of the artist became totally free in relation to the preceding esthetic and stylistic systems which by then unimpeachably governed as academisms, those petrified concepts to which art students were severely drilled in European Academies. The period of artistic transformations toward the end of the last century, and the suddenly established individual visual concepts, held the essential key of understanding the new art and perceiving the dynamic and dominant values of the coming epoch. And, although the predecessors of the contemporary art may seem to differ one from another, opposed in their artistic concepts, individual temperaments and other characteristics, their painting reveals a uniform feature, a common poetic substance on whose esthetic pattern the great artistic transformation has been performed. 

It is beyond doubt that, in a strictly critical sense, the painting from the beginnings of Modernism appears to be totally historical, almost traditional in its spirit, its outlook and innuendoes. However, its internal, deeper messages, radiate with significances of the liberated artistic notions, adventures of spirit, new reflective and sensory stimulations, and therefore this painting represents even today a direct, almost mythical and fabulous attraction for the creative will of those modern artists whose genuine, original concepts serve as the foundation of numerous individual poetics of painting. 

The essential inspirational source for the predecessors of Modernism in art is nature. Not only nature as landscape, but as Baudlaire said, nature with its wide field of significance, its numerous phenomena – physical, material, visual, sensual, mental, psychological and other, which either individually (in some of their elements), or in a complex combination of different contents, touched upon the imagination of the artist, incited its active correlation toward an acute observation and a sharper selection of important perceptual facts and revealed meanings. Although these artists worked in different geographic regions, they mostly arrived at the same or similar esthetic conclusions, to that type of general plastic realization which united them in a common stylistic formation subsequently growing into whole artistic periods. Therefore, particular climate, ethnographic, artistic, psychological and other elements perceived in their fields of vision, appeared in their paintings as genuine facts of reality, represented, however, in such a visual interpretation that they turned into phenomena identified with nature itself resembling its parallel reality. Nature as the pattern and framework of similar interpretations in painting has become a constant and widely open dictionary for the creation of new and diverse languages of painting throughout the 20th century. 

Present creative processes function within such a distribution of tendencies in art and have a critical attitude toward them, rejecting, changing, enlarging the content with a new understanding and new positions. Such an altered concept of nature has been defined by Zoran Vukovic in his work (drawings and painting), patiently, persistently, in a contemplative and quiet manner, later sensual and explosive, but always reasonable in its effective search for those substances of the real nature and the nature of a painter which have remained outside art since they are outside the field of perception, even with those artists who have had, in a general sense, nature as the focal point of their creative contemplation. Vukovic treats nature and the phenomenon of nature – form and object -with utmost responsiblity in relation to the creative legacies arriving from the time of proto-Modernism. In a creatively impressive triangle of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin, researching in the practically infinite field of their pictorial procedures applied to the character and manner of transformation of these concrete natural origins which stand in front of an easel, and the form resulting from the process of its contemplative analysis and the synthetic execution that follows both in drawings and paintings, Zoran Vukovic rises as a dexterous, mature and unfailing interpreter (and not describer) who knows perfectly where his goal lies, in which direction his own creative energy is leading him. 

The Moving Heavens 

For Zoran Vukovic, an experience of nature has manyfold features, but we shall now define only the two basic categories prominent in the three series of drawings made since 1992. The first to be noticed is the tonal communication of these works. Their chromatic potency, refinement, internal tension, the cheerful play of the short strokes and sheaves of crayon, raise the degree of the visual activity of these drawings to a very high, almost explosive level. These heights, accompanied with the same intentions, although not in the same way, were set as the standard by the historical predecessors of proto-Geometrism and proto-Expressionism whose messages are obviously relevant today as well. The solving of tonal problems in the drawings of Zoran Vukovic is the question of his essential means of expression; what follows in a further analysis of the colorific range, is its direct consequence: the compositional structure in these works is, contrary to their chromatic activity, remarkably balanced, quieter, resolved in only two or three different ways. The obvious partitioning of his drawings most frequently happens horizontally, separating the upper and the lower spheres. Vertical or diagonal partitioning is less frequent. In a confrontation of the two clearly separated planes at the delicate points of their contact, occurs a fine, exciting, hidden play of interweaving, permeation, penetration of the upper into the lower plane, thus suggesting in a purely visual language a unique poetics – vitur, an eroticized substance expressed in the language of plastic codes. 

In the works of Zoran Vukovic, the forms taken over from nature, transcribed (and, again, not described) in a pictorial language, have undergone a transformation into an expressive tonal state and an abstract structure of planes. Both qualities, easily recognizable in the drawings of these three series, represent the two poles of a unique artistic activity in this particular case. Their expressionistic part stems from his temperament, also the source of his interest in these sensual, passionate drawings and paintings, while the abstraction is more the consequence of the author’s insuscptibility to the object itself, than the impression provoked by the object or nature (landscape). Vukovic achieves the level of geometric structure in his works through the principles of Cezanne, or Cezannes’s paintings containing no visible objects, reduced to the well-known forms of cone, cyllinder and sphere. The focused action, the nucleus loaded with colorific and expressive eruptions in a state of genuine explosion, Vukovic owes to Van Gogh’s and Gauguin’s studies. These forms can be observed also as microstructures of his paintings, free of any visible object or human figure. In this way, strangely enough, Vukovic informs a picorial scene abounding in significance but also reduced in its artificial substance. The chromatic fullness of these works, originating in a rich palette, and their structure, reduced in its strict form, are borderlines of a space which generates a unique artificial cosmos, a new reality individually designed and authentically realized. 

Sora’ s Tales 

In the plastic stratum of these works by Zoran Vukovic, one can descern that, after the first series of very strict geometrical principles and an elaborate, closed structure, the author later releases a graphic image toward an open visual and meaningful position. Vukovic emerged onto our artistic scene with already complete artistic notions resulting in a number of serious works, analytical in relation to the initial impulse of objects and nature, while the visible reality was, in that period, reduced to insufficientcy, to an absolute formal and tonal moderation. One could hear the following question then: where to from this point? And the semantic key was the solution. The closed geometric notions, so characteristic of high Modernism, the estheticism of the highest categories, were gradually, in later series of drawings and paintings, opened toward a fuller plasticity, a richer palette, toward a more expressive register; the strokes were denser, shorter, bearing qualities of fully controlled gestures. There is a turn from geometry toward expression, from a synthetic formalism of the drawing toward an impulsive transcription of the colored plane, from the non-objective reality of the modern art toward narrative chatterings of the post-modernist scene. Although the titles of these series of drawings are basically unimportant to the essence of abstract art, they are in this transitional development, this rejection of the dogmatic formalism of hard abstraction, only an aspect of certain pictorial intentions of the author or his creative disposition, his momentary contemplative activities exposed to diverse kinds of impulse and experience, and therefore, can have various titles and content designations. It is sufficiently indicated here that the general theme concerns an apostrophized subjectivity, a sensual projection leading the new drawings of Zoran Vukovic in the direction of new semantic areas – the pictorial content of the forerunners already mentioned, and the literature and narratives corresponding to the momentary temperamental disposition of the author (for example, Sora s Tales correlate to the exalted, Bacchusian poetics of ,,A Burlesque of Mr. Pyerun, the Thunder God” by Rastko Petrovic). The movement in these drawings goes from an closed (geometrical) system to an open (expressive) part which now comprises the associational, symbolic, poetic, literary and other contents which may, but need not, literally explain the substance of the author’s creative intentions, the state of his sensitivity and his real feelings. Rejections, replacements, irony, are only ways to read these layers of meaning in the new series of his drawings. 

This type of discussion on the meaning of abstract art in the new conditions of post-abstract period gains a new impetus in a study of the works of Zoran Vukovic. The starting position is an understanding that there is and cannot be pure abstraction since one always begins with a real thing, from the actual visual facts, ,,from a reproduction toward a description of landscape” (as Ivana Simeonovic states in her foreword to the his exhibition in 1986). As noted by the critics, in the next phase of Vukovic’s development ,,even the most descriptive picture was only abstract” (Bratislav Ljubisic in the exhibition catalog from 1989), and at this moment, analogous to what is happening with figuration and has been defined as pseudo-figuration, one can obviously descern procedures related to a pseudo-abstraction of fluctuating qualities, of those spiritual and artistic states which fully comprehend the great period of non-objective art, but also have an awareness of unavoidable rejection, a departure from these standard models toward a problematic structure which is basically general, global, but in the highest spheres of meaning, individual, significantly more narrative and autodescriptive. This art is no longer distinctly rational, like the first works of Zoran Vukovic, but more emotional, and this impression gradually becomes stronger. The cold foundation of geometrical models is covered with energetic, lyric disposition, with an extraordinary sensuality. 

The first works of Zoran Vukovic appeared in the early seventies, at the moment dominated by two basic creative positions: the conceptual art and the new figuration. It was a great risk then to exhibit abstract paintings which openly avoid the topics of the time and declare an exceptional attachment to the Belgrade School of painting. There are numerous examples of continuity in his works from that period, and his esthetic foundation was based on ,,the associational landscape painting characteristic of the Belgrade School” (as remarked by Dusan Djokic in his foreword for the catalog in 1990). Plastic abundance of Vukovic’s new works, born from a simultaneity of the two, already defined, important spheres, bring him to the ranks of the most interesting authors in the main stream of our visual arts. 

The pictorial field on a canvas or a piece of paper represents for Zoran Vukovic the place of experience, of free indulgence in beauty, excitement, the esthetic, the hedonistic, the cheerful, everything we actually miss beyond these pictorial planes. Is this the reason these works attract attention so strongly? In them, we find again the lost strongholds of our own spirit, of the great will for life’s positive substance which have hopelessly been repressed, almost annihilated by everyday reality. 

Jovan Despotovic 

Old Powder Magazine, Kalemegdan, Belgrade