On Goran Juresa’s ‘Chocolate Road

Painting and ‘painting’ can be realized today by practically limitless means and through numerous kinds of media. (The difference between painting and ‘painting’ is that the former corresponds to the general contemporary creative image, and the latter more or less just imitates modern art, consequently raising questions about its value ). At the same time, the field from which it can cull its topics is as limitless as it is vast, and anything that could be its topic or content finds its expression in plastic language on the flatness of the canvas, or on the surface of the paper, in the case of drawings or collages. In this current linguistic whirlwind of endless authorial poetics it is clear that each artist builds his own individual position with which he defines those imaginary or real, intellectual or irrational, psychological or visionary phenomena which interest him and which he needs to transfer into the visual field of his work. This need of the artist is the decisive element that enables the work of art to be created, and enables the artist to communicate to the spectator the feeling with which he is preoccupied, to announce his inner need to narrate, in this case through visual works, a historical, current, invented, or real subject.

In the case of Goran Juresa’s painting, or more precisely in the case of his recent cycle ‘The Chocolate Road’ this is entirely what is at stake. Writings about his work at the beginning of the last decade located the point of departure of his colourful and expressive paintings in the objective world – not the world to which we are accustomed, recognizable by its forms and ways of use, but a world that has suffered certain changes which have disrupted its recognizable form and made it dysfunctional.

That is the plastic foundation on which Juresa continues to work, and the current cycle of paintings ( not excluding his drawings and collages that form a pendant to his painted works ) aims to defunctionalize, through the means of colour and its forms, form, reducing it to mere elementary visual data that combine to influence the perception of a spectator. This ‘game’ forces the spectator to participate in the act of reconstructing content, or building a narrative to which the author only alluded with the occasional word or sentence included on the surface of the canvas thus guiding the participant through the necessary path of realization and experience.

Chocolate, like everything, has its own history. It has become a global phenomenon, and is produced and consumed in enormous quantities, but was, nevertheless, discovered only relatively recently, in the era of the conquest of Central America, when besides gold, the conquistadors brought back to their emperors in Europe some unknown things of whose value and use they were, at first, entirely unaware. This was also the case with cacaowhich arrived with them in the form of seeds of this tree as a new, exotic, edible and nutritious food, which would, in future, be used to make what we today consider the most important and ubiquitous sweet – chocolate. In the native language of Mexican Aztecs (who first taught Hernándo Cortés and his conquistadors how to use it) xocolatlmeant a drink of divine origin made of cacao. In 1525, Cortés brought a new seed that had been kept and grown in secret in monasteries to the Spanish court of the emperor and King Carlos I. More than a century later, the first chocolate shop was opened in London.

Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV made chocolate consumption fashionable in European courts. Thus it was that chocolate spread throughout Europe over the course of the next two centuries, but it was not until 1875 that the most popular chocolate today, milk chocolate Nestle , was created in Switzerland.

These are just a few points on the historical map of the chocolate road. Goran Juresa mapped the itinerary of the sweet in his cycle ‘ The Chocolate Road’,  using a specific visual language that both reveals and conceals formal-plastic meanings. The latter, while being emphasized, are also concealed through the act of pictorial imagination and praxis of production of artistic objects. Juresa has also invented a pictorial procedure that is adequate, specific and authorial, painting the history of chocolate in a fragmentary style through the use of symbols, citations of famous paintings from the history of artistic production, and through his inclusions of text on the canvas. He also draws on expressive colouring, making use of vivid red fields. His compositions are, moreover, liberated from academic canons, featuring drawings of naval maps, allusions to battles of conquest, and to the portraits of emperors and their ( even more ) influential wives. A closer look at Goran Juresa’s paintings suggests that in order for them to achieve their own convincing and sustainable optical construction, they had to first undergo a process of destruction (or, better, of self-destruction) of initial visual notions (based on historical models ) in the linguistic domain of deconstruction – a kind of disassembling (in the way that Derrida established this model of interpretation).

In order to better illustrate this multiphase process , a commentary of a few of his works is indispensable. (Auto)- destruction of the coloured field in Jureša’s paintings has been taking place for years, owing, in large part, as previously mentioned, to their defunctionalized form. The author found this form by reducing forms to the threshold of recognizability (‘Maria Theresa Surrounded by Midgets Drinking Hot Chocolate’, 2010) to a point when we can barely make out the famous Velásquez’s portrait with conspicuous baroque hairstyle transposed into a hat. In that way, the visual data, like the black hat with a red feather, gives the painting its complete meaning and removes any doubt on the part of the spectator about the sort of visual spectacle he is facing. Upon closer observation, the remaining elements of the narrative ( mentioned in the title ) can also be recognized as a formal depiction sufficient for obtaining the confirmation of the authenticity. In other words, through the destruction of the visual status of the historical composition, and by including content that interests him, Juresa constructs a composition with all of its necessary meanings which seem, at first, ‘unfinished’, but nevertheless constitute a complete work of art. We can see a similar procedure in Juresa’s paintings ‘Maria Theresa’ from 2011 and ‘Louis XIV’ from 2010 and 2011 where basic Baroque forms are transformed into semi-abstract coloured blotches scattered on the surface of the canvas. To this author, painting through ‘blotches’ amounts to something like the colouring of his own creative ideas. The same principles of (auto) destruction were the basis for the paintings-maps of the chocolate road, or more precisely, the maps of the travels of conquistadors who discovered chocolate and brought it back to Europe. The first technique Juresa applied in the further painting procedure was  to mark on these paintings (such as ‘Mapa mundi‘ or ‘The Paths of Sweetnes’ both from 2011) the imaginary movements around the coasts of Central America, more precisely the Yukatán peninsula, and to create the optical (re)construction of sea routes and ports of Cortés ‘s ships.

On the more general map (of the then known world), the artist used formless spots in shades of blue to ‘copy’ the map which the navigators drew sailing the oceans and along unknown lands. Although the construction of these paintings is only loosely traced, or only suggested, they still manage to look very convincing in the domain of pure imagery, allowing them to achieve their complete plastic unity. At the same time, they look like finished works, but also like ‘models’ for free interpretations by spectators, for the discovery of their semantics and how to interpret the narrative.

The canvases which are especially interesting are the ones on which Jureša narrates the imaginary (that is, nevertheless, based in facts) history of Hernándo Cortés: ‘Eleven Black Ships of Hernándo Cortés’ (2010), ‘Quetzalcoatl – Mayan Deity’ (2009) and ‘Hernándo Cortés versus Quetzalcoatl‘ (2009). The Aztecs believed him to be Quetzalcoatl ( ‘feathered serpent’ from which the peoples of that part of America were thought to originate ) and they, accordingly, treated him as a deity. In the playful, dynamic blotches on these paintings in which the colour red (the colour of blood) is predominant ‘ the battle’ is visible, not only Cortés’s battle to conquer new Hispano-American territories, but also the inner tensions that created his dilemma between myth and reality, between his goals and the possibility to achieve them. This small cycle dedicated to the conquistador Hernándo Cortés is among Goran Juresa’s greatest pictorial achievements according to which his whole pictorial creation can be interpreted and assessed. The strength of the coloured blotches on Juresa’s canvases is both pictorially and plastically so expressive that it, in fact, also sustains the structure of the sights on the canvases. They seem, on a first viewing, abstract, but, as has already been indicated, they remain on the borders of deconstructed, extremely expressive figuration which is, in fact, unimportant for the pictorial narrative to which Juresa is alluding.

With few basic colours, formlessly applied to the canvas, either directly by hands and fingers, or from colour sticks, the artist has created such artworks which are, one the one hand, enigmatic, but, with the help of the captions and texts he has included in them, the spectator is able to unmistakably recognize the story that interests the author in this cycle of paintings. Imagine a painting from the period of abstract expressionism (for example the colouristic canvases of Helen Frankenthaler) that could ‘cover’ an emblematic Baroque painting (Rubens’s parade portraits) and Goran Juresa’s pictorial language becomes decipherable. When the goal of his pictorial language has been revealed, it leads us to further questions and guessing about the meaning of today’s art, deprived both of its own style, as well as its own mainstream, or framework around which authorial creations converge, as was the case in the history of art, especially in thetwentieth century. Today it is a vast field of authorial individualities to which each artist contributes with his own linguistic understanding. All these understandings are legitimate, except that some are, in the creative sense, more convincing, explicit, articulated and consistent than others. Using these measures, it is possible, hypothetically speaking, to construct a hierarchy out of them. In that hypothetical, vertical hierarchy of recent pictorial phenomena, the art of Goran Juresa is among the most interesting and pictorially most defined.

His cycle of paintings ‘The Chocolate Road’ on view at this exhibition is certainly a considerable contribution to the effort to discover the meaning and to build understanding of the sense of the visual arts of our time.

Jovan Despotovic

Gallery BelArt, Novi Sad, Gallery Zvono, Belgrade, 2013