Preface for the exhibition “Moon and steel”, Umjetnicka galerija, Dubrovnik 2015.
Curator and preface: dr.sc. Rozana Vojvoda
BETWEEN OPPOSITE EXTREMES
In his work to date Aleksandar Bezinović has presented as an enigmatic painter with a set of motifs that counts on a fragmentation of reality, with some personal elements and systems of phenomenal things close to mechanisms of dream and the fields of the surreal. The titles of his exhibitions have often carefully factored in some literary reference, whether to a philosophical essay by Pascal Bruckner (an exhibition of 2012, Happiness) or the title of a poem by Baudelaire (an exhibition of 2011, Anywhere out of this world). Moon and Steel is a reworking of the book title Sun and Steel (1968) by the Japanese writer Mishima Yukio who carried out seppuku, ritual suicide, after the failure of a putsch that he attempted with a few of his adherents. The main theme of the work is the spirit/body dichotomy; the introspection of an artist who observes his vocation, his love of script and writing, critically vis-a-vis his acceptance of the cult of the body and his personal search for virility. It seems to me that without going too far into the text of the Japanese author, it is possible to detect a correlation with the works of Aleksandar Bezinović; this would refer, in my opinion, to the much emphasised yoking of opposites with which Bezinović plays in his paintings, whether at a formal level, or in the more complex realm of motif and semantics. Replacing the Sun of the book title with Moon and openly using sun and moon symbolism for the “male” and the “female” principle, Bezinović speaks out about things that are deeper than the current social situation or some limited geo-political territory. In his creative work, the artist is clearly attempting to fathom or at least put into a dialogue what it is that occupies us, what it is that resists analysis or any kind of ultimate answer. A search for identity, whatever that might mean, the domains and dangers of technology, the role of art and science in the totality of their development, and finally the role of man in the constellation of the universe are the big themes that can be seen in the motifs chosen, and yet they have no pretensions to be able to give answers and are void of any overtones of emotionality. Bezinović simply does not forget to look at the broader context, even when it does not contain any liberating or positive charge but, on the contrary, underlines the fears that we meet in our most profound introspections
In three new works, entitled Moon Maps (2014) he provides the beauty of the names of lunar landscapes (written out in the approximate constellation of views from Earth) to all of us who rarely think about there existing on the moon a Sea of Cleverness, Sea of Serenity and Sea of Tranquillity, a Lake of Softness or a Lake of Sorrow, or that the craters were named after famous scientists. At the same time, writing out these names on diagrammatic depictions of nuclear reactors as symbols, as it were, of the dangers of artificially created energy and technology, he indicates the threat to and fragility of survival. It reminds me, this contrast, of the statement of an artist friend that every lovely natural scene that exhilarates him also begins to disturb him for he is afraid that someone with a crazed development or exploitation plan is going to come and destroy it.
The resort to a subject from astronomy is no new thing in the work of Aleksandar Bezinović; last year, for example, in the Greta Gallery in Zagreb, he chose as the starting point for a series of paintings the celestial phenomenon known as Sun Dogs (parhelia), which comes about in particular atmospheric conditions when symmetrical fields of light are formed at equal distances from the Sun, and the observer, in a kind of optical illusion, sees three suns.
Although of apparently simple visual formation (ground plus diagram plus writing of the terminology), Moon Maps marks a long-lasting process of making; the artist himself induces in the plate of what is called black steel a process of oxidation by exposing them to moisture and acid, and then fixing the rust that has been created with lacquer. The reddish ground is composed in fact of a mass of reddish-brown tones and works in a way very similar to that of the backgrounds on Bezinović’s canvases, in which, particularly in the earlier paintings, he most of all retained the painterly ductus in thick applications of different nuances of colour. The production process is not without overtones of a kind of alchemical process as the words of the artist himself show us: “The steel is obtained in furnaces at high temperatures, and consists of a compound of iron and carbon. The fire is a form of active energy that speeds up the process of transforming iron into a higher quality and more perfect metal. Water though is a passive element, creating a reaction on the metal, taking it back to its primal origins, i.e., the result of corrosion is metal oxide of the kind that can be found in nature before it is turned into iron. That is why I made use of the idea of energy through a technical drawing of nuclear reactors that in my mind belong in some kind of post-human, futurist technology and force, and combined it with primordial substance produced with the use of contrasting elements (fire and water) and the reversibility of matter. Since the moon is a passive-wet-female principle, I entered the landmarks from the map and subjected the idea of fire-force-reason to the poetic symbolism of the moon, to its dark, corrosive strength”. (A. B.)
It seems that in Bezinović there is no accident of choice or possibility of improvisation within the set concept; that he constructs the fragments of his new reality very austerely, consistently and precisely, this new reality coinciding amazingly with his guidelines, even the form of the nuclear reactors concealing within itself an allusion to female reproductive organs.
However, in fact, the element of corrosiveness mentioned by the artist, the dissolution of matter that appears in the process in which the plate is produced, signalises an internal collapse of any system imposed from elsewhere. This element of corrosiveness appears in his painting in some close connection with the dualisms with which the artist is constantly playing. In a formal sense, this is manifested as a leaking of paint from the figures shown (some- what more distinctly in the earlier works), in the application of geometrical figures and diagrammatic drawings on the paint-laden background of the painting, in the insistence on diverse degrees of physicality, from full-blooded painterly treatment to contour drawing. The principle of the construction is simultaneously stressed and negated and exploded.
In a new series of works entitled Immortals (2014), he furnishes the chief motifs of the paintings – the Lion of St Mark, St Sebastian and a human skull with an emphasised construction diagram, a network of dots with linking lines, denying them any kind of genesis in painting and correlating them with the digital world in which instant evanescence is always possible at the moment the screen fades. At the same time he chooses motifs that have an exceptionally strong semantic layer; the winged lion is a symbol of St Mark and also the patron of the Venetian Republic, symbol of the former Venetian rule in the cities/communes of Dalmatia, a symbol that is both secular and religious, then. St Sebastian, as well as having his place in the pantheon of Catholic saints, also has a completely different set of fans, that is, the gay population, which has supplied the depiction of St Sebastian with homoerotic implications. Included here is the already mentioned Japanese writer Mishima, who once had himself photographed in the character of St Sebastian, shot through with arrows. The artist here additionally plays up the homoerotic implications by the choice of Greek torso, the ultimate ideal of classic male beauty, and does not use the familiar scene of death-by-arrows, but ingeniously sets up a plaque with the name of the saint, without any attribute of sanctity. The skull, which is appearing not for the first time in Bezinović’s paintings, is the most immediate symbol of death. It seems to me that it is precisely because of its location within a powerful semantic stratum of motifs that the disintegration of motifs that is carried out at several levels, including by the total identification of the figural and the decorative in the painting, gains so much in intensity. In the painting with the central figure of the zoomorphic symbol of St Mark, apart from the levelling of the impor- tances of figure and ornament, a conflict is going on between the patterns of the background (which in colour and shape suggest the brocaded tapes- tries of old-fashioned interiors) and the conglomerates of strident zones of colour in the central vertical axis of the composition. It is one further inroad of elements of totally disparate genesis into the composition of the painting and a similar principle is used in the play of ground and strips of vivid colour (this time in horizontal formations) in the depiction of St Sebastian.
In three paintings united by the title Imperium (2014), the painter presents simplified depictions of real submarines used by the great powers during various military ambitions; I-400 is a submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the biggest submarine constructed in World War II. Typhoon is a type of nuclear powered submarine that the navy of the Soviet Union used in the eighties. U-48 was in terms of combat missions the most successful Nazi U- boat. The depictions are located on a golden background created by the ap- plication of metal leaf and various technical procedures as a result of which the golden background is not at all similar to the smooth, even, golden film of modern icons, but in its flickering reddish, brown and dark-gold tones is more like the medieval icons that have taken on the patina of time. Not only does the golden background, as on the icons, cancel out categories of time- space, but the drawn-out, vividly coloured formations that with their organic forms totally oppose the clarity of the technical drawing of the submarines contribute to the noise present in the determination of the real reality of the painting. These coloured formations recall forms dissolved and distorted in reflections in water and in some cases hybrid water plants.
“These colourist-psychedelic details are fragments of a distorted reality, are subjective deformations that in their form recall the organic form of the water world that is quite opposite to the technical functional creations”. (A. B.) We can also find strange protracted forms in a somewhat different shape in the picture Shuttle (2014), which also functions as a combination of technical drawing and hybrid, decorative formations.
It seems that in the pictures with submarine motifs, Bezinović’s game with opposites has taken on its most suggestive form. The submarines, symbols of technology, the military, danger and war, via the gold background, are directly counterpoised to the spirituality of the icon, and are at the same time caught up in the psychedelics of colour and become symbols of immersion in the subconscious.
Drawing heavily on the tradition of figurative painting, including German Expressionism, Metaphysical Painting, Surrealism, Pop Art, the New Image and post-conceptual painting, in a formal sense Bezinović uses ready-made stencils, words in the construction of the semantic layer of the painting, interrelations and references to works from art history and stylistic periods (Antiquity and the Renaissance perhaps reveal his upbringing and formation in Split), sometimes even getting into fields of the grotesque, and occasion- ally glancing off kitsch through intellectual parody. In an alliance of opposites and of equal intellectual and emotional intensity, the hybrid worlds, strange and poetic at the same time, of this artist’s paintings are opened up before us.