Blesok no. 64, January-February, 2009
Gallery Reviews

The Cruelty of the Beautiful

Sonja Abadžieva

“Water lilies – the tones are vague, lovingly nuanced as delicate as dream”

Charles F. Stuckey

As early as in the previously mentioned term paper he had presented at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, Petković was a supporter of transparency and “pallidness” in the works made with intentionally left white unpainted parts. His writings refer to the need of attaining an impression of dematerialization. Thus he is focusing his attention to the phenomena such as the air, vapor, smoke, mist, clouds, dust or the transparency of the glass, the sooted window pans on the railway coaches or, at best, the transparency of nets. These are enabling him to eliminate the volume and the third dimension and to achieve the effects of transparency and unlimited space. The artist wrote: “I want to represent the space and its wideness in order to represent its illusion, to achieve a shallow … imagined space … a space left behind the absent objects … the illusion they provoke”. The silk becomes his material of choice as it is the finest support capable of stressing the effects of immateriality and endlessness.[35] In this term paper he is also pointing out his preference for the drawing, for that thin “body-less” line which is not tending towards virtuosity or sensationalism. According to the artist, the drawing gestures need to be slight. Thus, very often in the years to follow, say, in his first monochromes and after that in the entire series dedicated to Monet, his drawing lines are applied with great precision, using matchsticks, rods and spray cans. Apart from the vibrant representation, he is aiming “to accomplish serenity, through an action of calmness and composure”. All these procedures are intentionally avoiding the composition, the connection with the reality, the narrative. The calmness, the silence and the sensations of the view are very closely related to the artistic methodology of Monet.[36] The act of painting the impressions from the changing light conditions during the day and, in the Water lilies, the impressions of the interlocking skies and waters of the pond of Giverny where he lived during his last decades, contain identical attraction. That which Monet aims to additionally represent in the Water lilies is the feeling of the vanishing horizon and the impression of limitlessness as an “asylum of peaceful meditation”. The point he seeks to make is about enjoying the beauty of the calmness and silence.[37] The series According to Monet by Petković is also relying on the delicate shimmering of the matter, on the blotting colors, on the minutely applied pigmentation and on the discontinuous drawing lines. Of course, his initial motives are not the water lilies, visterias or the water and the skies above Giverny. On the contrary, his motive is the very ignoring of that which is referential, it is the very maintaining of the vitality and magic of the phenomenal which is to remain at the level of desired immateriality of the beauty per se – the visual absolute of things. Much more important relation between Monet and Petković is established by their persistent suggestion of peaceful and silent mood. The notion of silence “assumes that the realm of the art is in the beauty, implying that which is untold, indescribable, intransitive” (Susan Sontag).

It enables the colors, lines and generally the atmosphere to obtain visual resonance and at the same time to offer a virginal and more sensible communication with the public. Calmness in the silence is something that is inducing Petković to stress the absence of narrative and the estrangement from the associations. This permits the extension of the painting into the domains of the thought. This replaces the rhetoric with emotions. The ascetic “landscapes” stretching over the white canvases and drawings of the artist are made as open fields whereupon the imagination of the observer at free will may write down its proper narratives and experiences.[38] The white unpainted surfaces and the calmness are engaging the discourse of the “art dandyism” with Petković. “The clean sheet of paper defending itself with its whiteness” of the dandy poet Mallarmé, the Gustave Courbet's aristocratism, the conduct of Baudelaire as an predecessor of the 20th century avant-garde, the indifference of Duchamp, the dandiest of artists, all the way up to the Warhol's inertness and in general to the disregard that all of these artists had for conventions in fashion, behavior and, in particular, for the conventions in the artistic language – all this is explicitly opening (tackling) the problems of a socio-cultural demeanor which is in conflict with the received norms. The very act of offering a sophisticated resistance and casting the glove as a token of challenge to the social systems and artistic standards speaks of “the history of the modern culture as of an account about the struggle of the individual against the institutions”.[39] As concerns Petković, there are sufficiently convincing arguments favoring the recognition of his attitude as a dandy posture and of his creative dedication as art dandyism:[40] his delicate taste and refined perceptiveness, his dissatisfaction with the milieu, his awareness of the conservativeness of the system and its institutions, of the alienation and haughtiness, his lack of interest in the comments of the others, and most of all, his countercurrent position in respect to the artistic trends and his stubborn defense of the abstraction.[41]

“Maybe in life one is looking for the greatest possible sorrow .., so that one becomes a human before one dies”.

Is there anyone oblivious of the marvelous short story by Balzac “The Unknown Masterpiece”, wherein the colleague artists Nicolas Poussin and Francois Porbus looking at the vision of the old painter Frenhofer of his beloved Catherine Lescault, are ill at ease to discern anything else but paint wantonly thrown upon the canvas instead of perfection. “… On drawing nearer, they spied in one corner of the canvas the end of a bare foot standing forth from that chaos of colors, of tones, of uncertain shades, that sort of shapeless mist; but a lovely foot, a living foot! They stood fairly petrified with admiration before that fragment, which had escaped that most incredible, gradual, progressive destruction. That foot appeared there as the trunk of a Parian marble Venus would appear among the ruins of a burned city.”[42] In this story Balzac is anticipating the abstract painting, while his main character, the painter, suffering from an undetermined condition between “clairvoyance and mental debility” is withdrawing into himself and is sinking into loneliness. The closure of the scene consists of him setting the canvas on fire and of his subsequent suicide. Relegating the beloved woman to a foot has its counterpart in the Origin of the World (1866), a provocative work by Gustave Courbet, which was disturbing the French intellectual milieu in the mid-nineteen century.[43] It was made as a counter-thesis of Olympia and Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe by Edouard Manet wherefrom we are being watched by the seducing eyes of the female nudes. The Courbet's realism escalates in the translation of that idea: from the spread out feminine body with cropped head and arms, we are stared at by the opening of the female genitals: arrogantly perched up and aiming at our gaze.[44] This kind of inversion is used by Petković in an even more simplified form: a crack-hole[45], positioned within a lush structural and coloristic setting made in collage. Speaking in visual terms, this work marks the artist's first more decisive move out of the field of the abstraction as well as his development of an intimate realism which is suggestive of some desire for closeness and acts of love. His “female” as it is the case with Courbet, wants us regressing towards the source or to “the native obscenity”, even to the “femininity of the painting itself”.

    This turnaround accounts for the need of the painter, in parallel to the existing phenomenological space, to construct one which is emotionally more dynamic and sexually more explicit. He is aiming at revealing the desire as something which is concurrently standing for both, the objective and subjective energy of the beauty in art. The response to the carnal calling, the act of listening in to the proper soul, the inner landscape stripped bare and the touch of the golden ecstasies – Petković is embodying all this into an ideal of the eternal female, shivering in her beauty and perfection and yet, untouchable. The opening-vulva is but a bait. The profundity needs to be hidden at the surface (Hofmannsthal) since what is concealed is not interesting (Wittgenstein). The alluring, mysterious and pink heaven with its pulsating center is, in essence, a persistence of some unrecognized hope from the bottom of the artist's being. In that supra-universe of his, it is the pain that is destroying the beauty. It's time to turn our attention to the melancholy which is deconstructing the pleasure.

    When one's love is lost, be it some ideal/idea or be it a person, the subject assumes the guilt and is withdrawing into oneself. The self-punishment is defined as melancholy – running away instead of a face off and struggle – “loosing oneself in the night of the body”. When the object of the desire disappears, the sorrow rears its head since love is the principle of renovating the other in oneself.[46] This is proving that the beauty, as it is unable to substitute all the values because of its temporal limits, may itself find its substitute in the sorrow. When one arrives at the conclusion that it is impossible to turn love into immortality, one realizes that it is to do with a riddle which hardly anyone managed to solve. “Aristotheles likened the melancholy to the spermatic foam and eroticism, invoking exclusively Dionysius and Aphrodite”.[47] During the making of the series According to Courbet, Petković was living as if he were in some de-centered temporality, stuck in the past entrenched in his attachment to the beautiful memories but devoid of future. He is painting a homage of absence, an erotic yearning entwined with a voluptuous sorrow. His dissatisfaction comes from the high expectations he devised for himself. Coveting that which is sublime and still feeling helpless – there lay the inner conflict and anxiousness. The feeling that the end of a beautiful day is growing near, is turning the walk down the eudemonic road into a crack. “Can anyone really take a good look into the naked face of an ideal? … And what is to remain then save a huge emptiness?”[48] Baudelaire's spleen – a condition of spirit which is compatible with the premonition of a catastrophe – gives an argument for that void of the eroticized agony.

    In the view of Ernst Bloch, the pipe is the beginning of the music. It is an expression of that which we lack.[49] “This playing the pipe is an existence of that which is no more … The vanished Nymph remained as sound”[50]. When life retired from Dragan Petković, we were left with his work, which not only was a sound but also a material and spiritual argument of his dedicated search for the beauty.

“… where to find this living Venus of the ancient people, the one who is many a time called for and is nowhere to be found? We merely may chance upon some of her attractions scattered all about … I would give up all my wealth for a moment … in order to see the divine and perfect nature, in brief, to see the ideal”.
Honoré de Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece

Especially important to art historians is that vigilant keeping of tabs on artists' statements for the mass-media. In the case of Dragan Petković I consider essential his interview “Towards oneself and backwards”, wherein the artist, in few sentences succeeds in sublimating his views on art: The perdurance of the delight in enjoying and absorbing the work of art, only very rarely happens to turn into a delight of the creation … The artist is consciously making concessions to the society in the attempt to transfer one's own knowledge and culture to the upcoming creative forces or, in exerting himself to surpass the pioneering stages in one of the existing directions thus laying the foundations for the creation of a visual identity where there was none.”[1]

    It is a fact that Petković had a conflicting relationship with his milieu. There was this mutual disagreement. Being born with a hedonist instinct, he created with an aspiration towards renovating the transcendental beautiful – an aspiration which was constantly disturbed by his dissatisfaction of the results attained. In his view, the mental picture did not had a counterpart in its subsequently acquired material guise, something which was to perpetually rip through his repose. The following text concentrates on the artist's passionate pursue in devising his proper concept of the ideal beauty, a pursue that was constantly followed by resignation. It is uncertain how justifiable or how true his skepticism was. Maybe it was only his imagination which removed him from the vast field of reveries on the beauty which is immanent to both life and art. Actually, we do not have knowledge on the nature and scope of his ideals. However, it appears that some traits of his personality were warranting the success of his endeavor: the unreserved love for arts, the strive to overcome that which is common, the striving for perfection, the well mannered deference for his teachers and paradigms in painting. The artistic genesis of Petković is enfolding along an incessant dialogue of the ever changing ebb and flow of doubts and gratifications.

In search of the beauty

Among the most unrewarding tasks of art theoreticians is the one of defining the notion of beautiful or of that which is aesthetical. For, the attempt of ours at penetrating this secret, means embarking on an eternal voyage which is directed towards the uncertainty. In order to establish a more precise orientation through the search of Petković, I will call upon some views of the great philosophers. Thus, contrary to the great Plato who finds the beautiful in that which is most conspicuous and most attractive, Kant is championing the “disinterested pleasance” which is relieved from the notion of meaning and is indifferent towards that which is visible. Schiller speaks of a “freedom in the phenomenon”, while Hegel propounds a “hidden intimation of the beautiful within the natural – in the self-consciousness – or in the sensory glow of the idea”. Guy Michaud in interpreting Stephane Mallarmé, refers to “the emptiness containing all the possible currents of the beauty”.[2] Gadamer relies upon “the aesthetic movement of affection without comprehension” thus wondering “how is one meant to benefit from the classical aesthetic means when confronted to the experimental usage of art in our times?”[3]. He finds the answer to be the play, the symbol and the festivity. In this inconclusiveness or lack of finality “the beautiful is fulfilled within a certain self-determination and is breathing with the delight of self-representation”.[4] For Donald Kuspit “Beauty is a kind of 'egocentric' defense against the body helplessness … Beauty is in fact an issue of the body.”[5] To this brief “lexicon” of anticipations and reassessments of old interpretations one may include Winckelmann's thoughts on the beauty as an “expression and action accompanied by grace and unity and simplicity.”[6] If we aim for a correct attitude, then we must not circumvent the eschatological version: the beauty as death, suffering or something similar, as the white night or a cup of poison.

    Standing on such a slippery terrain as is the concept of the beautiful, the work of Petković appears susceptible to those previously restated definitions of beauty which are having affinity with the metaphysical. Yet, there is also a susceptibility to the classical signifiers: symmetry, proportion, order, coherence, perfectionism, sublime goal … In a situation like this, one's desire to reconcile academe and modern conceptual aesthetic of the beauty is becoming manifest, as in the attempt of restoring the androgynous (male-female) qualities of that same aesthetic. The very redefinition of the notions Petković is reducing to the question of what else in the twentieth century the beauty may stand for, provided that the mystery is not relegated to a banality and the esoteric is not demoted to a cheap trick. Thus, he finds his answer pre-formulated in the freshness of the representations which are emancipated from a referentiality, a narrative or an association. Hence, Petković is to embrace the abstraction – that which is faceless and formless – as he is to give in to the feelings of accomplishment and gratification which are imperceivably present in the shiver, the clouds, the smoke, the dust, the vapor, the movement.[7] One may recognize in his canvases, as early as 1976/77, that refined semiotic of phenomenological encodings delivered as a cohesive wholeness wherein the airiness of the impression is shimmering, as well as the sound and tone of the color, the intensity and character of the lines. He is interpreting the beauty as a substitute for the imperfection of the world we live in, as a compensation for the negativity, disasters and frustrations, as an egocentric defense against the high tide of that which is unwanted. More to the point, Petković is erecting an emotion of assuredness and happiness, he is restoring the psychical status of the individual (the cycles Joy of Life 1985, In Search of the Enduring Beauty 1987, According to Monet 1997/2004). In order to achieve the abstract ideal of the beautiful, he applies a drastic dematerialization to the reality of his representation, jumping over all conformism and landing onto something different from that which is familiar. By that, he is transforming the factual into something which is timeless and spaceless. The real flowers are thus becoming ideal vibrations while the dance of the figures becomes a choreography of independent lines. Everything needs to be transcended at the level of emotions (about a thing), and everything needs to loose the aura of that which is concrete and which is to be turned into an idea. In order to achieve a definite shape, the true conception of this author calls for a migration in the spheres of certain gallant unnaturalness, of certain artificiality akin to the anonymous ornament, and away, as much as possible, from the familiar images. At this point precisely occurs the clash between his ambitious preconceived ideas and the cruel universe of the painting he is producing. Aiming to accomplish his conception with utter exactness he is filling up portfolios with loads of sketches and drawings, repainting huge canvases and destroying finished works[8].

The pleasure of painting is hardened by the suffering: “It's been a month since I am in the purest glaciers of the Aesthetics. From the moment I discovered nothingness (le néant), I have found the beautiful” – writes Mallarmé to his friend.[9] With a firm determination to attain the absolute, to experience a higher/truer self and to pick the marvelous flower of the conceived, Petković is not shunning from the hard work demanded by the research, even when the asking price is his own health. His entire somatic, psychic, spiritual energy stands united in a single nucleus of cohesion. However, his correct and well mannered comportment, his carefully trimmed appearance, the aristocracy in his views and tastes maintain a continuous communication with his (self)critical frame of mind. The beauty, in order to exist and to be all around him, must be an integral beauty. Marinnetti as a founding father of the futurist movement, prefers the racing car's aesthetics over that of Nike of Samothrace. On the other hand, for Petković there are no preferences: the effect of contentedness by pleasures of the eye and soul lays in the dispersion, in things that are always and everywhere around him: in his impeccable road cycle, in the Lennon's trademark granny spectacles he wore, in his Burberry double breasted trench coat, in the music (Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Philip Glass), in the mountain air, to the same extent as in his artistic output. The perfection he sought to attain in the knowledge of techniques, media, styles, art disciplines is identical to the one he aimed to display in his well mannered conduct and tarten demeanor.

“Calme, Luxe et Volupté”
“Là tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté, luxe, calme et volupté”

Charles Baudelaire

Petković touches upon the tradition but – in what form? As the old adage of Goethe has it, everything is already done and yet, the thing is in the capability of an artist to see in a personal way that which is familiar. “… Every creative spirit is struggling its forerunners but it cannot do without them. History evolves through a constant, reoccurring writing of the past: it is not enough for a man to be original since a proof is required that the works of one's precursors are preparing one's proper work which, in its own turn, stands for overcoming the past achievements as both, confirmation and abolition of theirs.”[10] Petković's understanding of the cultural heritage is that of a translation or interpretation, not as something preserved for eternity.[11] He is interpreting the tradition as something coming from the past which is concurrently belonging to the present times – because, in the words of Italo Calvino, “the memory is concealed beneath layers of fragmented imagery as if it were a waste ground wherein for a figure to emerge above the rest is becoming an ever more arduous feat.”[12] Although Petković is maintaining a close relation with the modernism, the fact of being dissatisfied with himself and having no sense of belonging[13] directed his search for the ideal of the beauty towards particular artists, whose work he succeeded to internalize without sympathizing and replicating and to whom he only sought to preserve a transcendental relation. His preferred artists are the greats such as Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, Alexandre Rodchenko, Ad Reinhardt, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana – all renowned by their scrupulous aesthetical adherence. To the first three of the above mentioned artists Petković dedicated respectively his three series abounding in oil paintings, drawings or collages. The essential in this case is to accurately assess the kind of relation this artist aimed to establish. Immediately one needs to discard the lexical entries such as imitation, quoting, mimicking and impersonating. Maybe assimilation is a more accurate formulation[14],

but I would rather name this connection as dialogic, simply because Petković manages to establish an essential communication with his colleagues, he actually creates in parallel with them as an ally, as being of the same mind, as someone sharing their sensibility – certainly not as a prisoner laying in their shadow or as a devotee who would uncritically rip off pieces suitable to the proper artistic outlook. Since he is not a post-modernist or a snap-shooter of cut-and-paste variety, his focus remains affixed on that overwhelming feeling he gets while analyzing certain parts of the antecedent imagery. Most often it is to do with this artist's approach towards the phenomenological details: with Matisse it is the joyous color, the gaiety of the line and that distancing step away from the anachronic bond between the drawing and the skin of the format – actually, it is the departure from the four dimensions of the painting and the development of its subsequent extension into the space; with Courbet or Fontana, for that matter, it is about the slit that is concurrently striving towards the deep and crawling over the surface; with Monet it is to do with the sense of varying rhythms of the delicate cobwebby line and the overall diffusion of the view; with Reinhardt it is the usage of white as a condition of visibility and not as a signifier; with Rodchenko it is the absolute purity of the color. All of these points of interest are united by an extreme simplicity, by some painterly Dadaism which is limited to a certain phenomena and is breathing through a rather simple form. Would it be far fetching if we are led to believe that Petković absorbs on a nearly somatic level that feeling of abstract beautiful which he unearths with these artists, and that he is doing all this in order to subsequently rework his discovery in an aesthetic model of his own – a model which is in visual terms or by its contents incompatible with the source? This here is, fortunately, not an exaggeration because out of these excerpts, which are culled from the native context of the few poetic contributions, Petković is generating his conceptual model of beauty: that of making an idea from the original model or “intellectualizing” the raw material which was severed from parts of the modern masters' artistic system.

    My attention is retained by the relational analysis of the artist and the three prominenti of the modern painting: Matisse, Monet and Courbet – the masters to which he also dedicated three following series of works: The Joy of Life (1984), According to Monet (1997/2004) and According to Courbet (1995/1997). These series contain the explicit conceptualization of the beauty. Thus, as a most suitable form of my research I have opted for the formula which is comprised in the Baudelaire's spleen, and which is brilliantly articulated in the words LUXE, CALME, VOLUPTÉ from the poem L'Invitation à voyage. The first word (LUXURY) pertains to Matisse, the second (CALMNESS) refers to Monet, while the third word (VOLUPTUOUSNESS) applies to Courbet: those are the three discourses that while different in their appearance, are standing close in their sensuous and emotional transposition of the aesthetic idea.

“To use green greener than nature”

Paul Cézanne
“I achieved a very rare voluptuousness and elegance of line. I poured my entire sensibility into them …”
Henri Matisse

In times when modernists were marginalizing the phenomenon of the beautiful in art, Matisse was firmly inserting himself into its core. The sincerity of that deliberation is due to the natural need of being close to the beauty in order to be happy. The beauty's quality is transcending stylistic categories and movements as if it were something innate to the life itself. As early as 1976/7 and especially during 1984/5, that is, when the majority of artists was shunning away from the exploration of beauty's territory, Petković was painting his attractive monochromes and decorative cut-outs, thus demonstrating that – at the end of the day – the beauty is related to the wealth and complexity of expression. Only much later, the critics all over the world had to reconsider their attitude as to their evaluation of this category in the works of Matisse, of Minimal Art adherents or Post-Modernist. Even those floral patterns, as well as the ornamental and decorative instances, which are obviously present with both, Matisse and Petković, critics were interpreting in a rosy outlook and through euphemisms.[15] From the piece Le Bonheur de Vivre which he painted at the age of thirty five, up until the cut-outs which he made at the rather advanced age of over eighty, Henri Matisse considered his interest to be unchanged “because all this time I was exploring the same things that I just might have done in different ways”.[16] In course of the mid-eighties of the past century, Dragan Petković had set to unite these two examples from the work of the great Matisse: the Joy of Life effectively reduced to the cut-outs. The synthesis of this master's two extreme discourses – the expressiveness of color-form (as generated by the Fauvism) and the geometric minimalism – is standing in support of the skilled translation of the tradition into a proper discourse. Petković is building a unity out of this ostensible difference, especially since he himself, not unlike his elder colleague, spent his entire life in thinking beauty as the topos of the creation.
10#    That which binds together these two painters on a visual plane is to be reduced to the usage of the pure color, to the dynamics of the gesture, to the stress upon the decorative aspects, to the usage of unpainted parts of the canvas as an extension of space and its airiness. Petković is refuting the significance of form because he finds its alternative in the independence of perduring gesture and line, which is pasted over the wall's surface as a cut-out. Acting as a huge canvas which is compromising that received and rather limiting definition of painting-as-window, the arrangement of cut-outs across the wall offers a de-centered and wider view: the joy is not standing for a concentration in a single point but in the manifold of views.[17] The essential collaboration with Matisse takes shape of a glowing singing, of a musicality in the atmosphere emanating the bliss, of some heaven on earth, of sorts – it is, in the words of Robert Rosenblum, a hedonistic gratification shaped as a “pictorial equivalent of the high gastronomy or fashion”.[18] The imagery from Dragan Petković's cycle Joy of Life[19] is offering a festive appearance. It is to do with an outpour of fire, of yearnings, lust and eroticism, of bacchanal celebrations and follies coming from an artist that was hitherto unknown as homo ludens. If by his preferred imagery and analytical proclivity Petković makes part of the modernist family, then he is truly distant from the modernism as much as Matisse is when it comes to embracing those unfashionable relations with emotions and beauty. Both are exploiting that pleasure, above all, that pleasure of the desire which is stated with power and conviction – in different ways, with different means and techniques. Only their motive remains the same. While Matisse failed to achieve the effect of the pure form as “presentation of the desire without the object of the desire”[20] Petković appears to be closer to this goal, by reducing the emotional aspect to a form which is set free from the reference.

    To the French artist, the vision of ideal world takes shape in “making art for pleasure and happiness as a defense from the misery and tragedy of the world”.[21] He aims “through art to bestow happiness to the others. Although he was living in tragic times he did not gave up the optimism and enthusiasm, as he wanted to damp out man's pains with the beauty in art”.[22] Matisse himself actually felt lonely and thorn apart by inner conflicts. Maybe that is explaining his statement that his art has to perform “a role which is more therapeutic than an aesthetic one”. In order to retain his sanity he was idealizing art as a beauty capable to overcome the illness and despair. Robert Kushner is reading into this “the feeling of melancholy” which is pertaining to the majority of paintings and which is something that many others did not take notice of.[23] Behind Matisse's works ennobled with happiness and joy – apart from his fragile health which caused his acquittal from the compulsory military service – there is actually a disorder in his family life, a series of surgeries, the frustrations by the war, etc.[24] This explains the exchange of dissonances in life with the harmony in art, of difficulties with joy, of complexity with simple visual lettering. In times when Joy of life takes over the entirety of his being, Petković is truly experiencing a condition of great happiness, of gratification by the topic he is working on and of satisfaction with his autochthonous advancing in devising the language as inspired by Matisse. It appears as if some of the less pleasurable moments of his life[25] were pushed at the margins of his attention. Later, in the 1990s, a deep feeling of melancholy bordering the depression will make the repressed negativities to resurface although not sufficiently to disrupt the concept of continual blossoming of beauty on the canvases. Were the unpleasant moments, same as with Matisse, impregnated with the thought that the art is a regimen for troubles?

    The impression of luxury is also due to the rich sound of pure paints (red, green, yellow, blue), which are, for the first and last time, so resonating and intensive as if they were the triumph of an unlimited gratification. The artist's palette, which is organized in dynamically controlled gestures, is shamelessly opening up towards an affluent ornamental aesthetics. The above mentioned lack of center in the composition, that is, the diffusion of the field of view, stands out as crucial particularity of the decorative aspects in the Petković's abstraction having its source in the “Matisse's system”.[26] Moreover, the created situation is an all over diffraction of the painting in manifold details with a point of stress in the planar effect, in the poster qualities of the gesture, in the absence of volumes, spatial profundity and perspective … These details – cut-outs are strengthening the “modulation created by the interrelation of proportions between the surfaces”. The ornament as a metaphor of infinity is neutral, disinterested, de-ideologized, it is analogous to the music or abstract art wherefore very close to the beauty. Petković is embracing the ornament during the times when the modern age ban on its usage was lifted and re-evaluated by the post-modernism. Yet there is a peculiarity with this artist regarding his treatment of the ornament. That which is basically decorative, devoid of mythology, drama, tragedy[27] or of affects in general – less with Matisse[28] than with Petković – is not absolutely neutral and released from emotions, especially in comparison to his monochrome paintings from the 1970s. The closest relation between the two colleagues is established by their even-handed views on the significance of drawing (arche-drawing according to Y. A. Bois) and color. As an aside, Matisse was among the first to offer a solution to the long standing battle of these two artistic phenomena for a higher rung on the ladder of values.[29] The beauty for Matisse may also be perceived in the dance. Several of his canvases (Le Bonheur de Vivre 1907, La Dance 1909, La Musique 1910) were inspired by the dancers from the Moulin de la Galette on Pigale, from the folk dances he encountered during his stay in Callioure, from the oriental dances or perhaps, according to Alfred Barr, from the painted Greek vases. With Petković on the other hand, those simple figures dancing over a neutral surface are reduced to a play of drawing gestures. Modeled with scissors, his cut-outs are considerably emphasizing the effect of the movement within the extended space, thus establishing a curious dynamics which is due to the vast proportion taken by the white wall surface. The delicate pieces of unpainted canvas as seen with Matisse, are now with Petković assuming their primary function as a support of the composition and at the same time the unction of the “silence in music, ellipsis in the poetry or stillness in the play”. However, the very methodology of execution as well as the interrelations of playful events represented by the drawing gestures over the huge wall panel, are all suggestive of the puerile purity – one that may be seen in his architectonic constructions of little houses from the series Uninterruptedness 1-5 (1977-1982) and Variations on a given topic 1-2 (1982). The relevant anthropological signifier of this human activity, in case when it is taking place on the field of arts – “the artistic play” – is something that is surpassing all forms of play in nature … “a play providing durability”.[30]

Considering that playing is a disinterested activity, as are the music and the abstract art, we may immediately recognize its logical connection with the beauty. Play is there for the sake of playing the way the beauty is for the beauty's sake. There is no associative, political, symbolic or mythological connotation. Simply, it is a “phenomenon of the excess”.
    The music, too, may be a “phenomenon of the excess”, something which is “genetically” connected to the dance, to the beauty and enjoyment. It performs an important function in the oeuvre of Matisse, but it also constitutes a fundamental element in the life and the creative process of Petković. It is no a pure coincidence that Matisse – who watched the dancers in the night clubs of Paris and folk dances at village celebrations – was overwhelmed by the jazz music during his stay in America and that on this theme he had illustrated a book of cut-outs. Even less coincidental is that Petković is considering music as an elementary life substance. He is constantly painting accompanied by the music, that is, in practical terms he is translating its colors, nuances and rhythms on the canvas, cardboard or in the pigments of the installation art piece Simbio (1995). The blood stream of his work is inconceivable without the ever present complement of the music. The two arts for him exist within an earnest cohesive relationship. All the phenomenological aspects of the one are having their counterpart and lexical equivalent in the other. “The formative years of my generation coincide with the arrival of the Beatles. Those were the times when music was connected to life in a different, more fundamental way. Maybe those were the times of illusions but, nevertheless, they left their imprint so that ever since persists this love of music … Presently I mostly listen to the experimental avant-garde music. At times it inspires me with its rhythm, at other times it enables me to devise a more concentrated approach to the work at hand … Music and painting are complementing each other. This complementing goes in both senses – indirectly, through the inner structure, as well as directly, in those so called integral works. In this music that we are now listening to (Steve Reich – v.v.) there is a structure which is also extant in a painting: contrasts, dark and light, combination of elements connected in a logical stream, possibility of unlimited duration which is delivered in a single time-frame”.[31] Yet, at this point one needs to stress the distinction in the different approach towards the jazz music, proper to each of the artists. While Petković is embracing that which is timeless, disinterested and phenomenological in the music, Matisse for the illustrations of his book Jazz, resorted to concrete mythological themes, popular stories etc.[32] After all, to both of them the music means “to be able to sing freely” as Matisse would say.

    Matisse was labeled feminine painter: a gentle rendition of the women, of the floral decorative elements, of the rounded uninterrupted line or contour, of transparent airy atmosphere. In accordance with some of the above mentioned statements as well as in accordance with his delicacy, pedantry and strive for perfection[33] Petković too could be labeled the same, of course not in some derogatory sense but as a semantic determinant of his delicate link with the painting which is especially convincingly demonstrated in the series According to Monet.


34. Charles F. Stuckey, Blossoms and Blunders: Monet and the State II, Art in America, NY, September 1979;
35. “I did not give up on “beautiful painting” so that I have found materials that are reminding of the nature. I exchanged the linen canvas for a silk fabric. The silk is smooth and shiny, and is by itself with an ethereal and abstract effect. It is smooth because it is neutral … The color on such a surface becomes transparent and as such it is also acquiring the airy and spacey quality. When it is stretched on a frame it appears as if it were glass” says Petković in his term paper. I would like to point out that in the artist's heritage I did not encounter an oil on silk;
36. Yet, with the great master of the impressionism, behind the abstract sensation there is the serious problem of impaired sight. Monet was subjected to twenty surgeries of the cataract as he was ailing from hanthopsia – for a period he was seeing either the yellow or the blue part of the light. In 1922 in a letter to his friend Marc Elder he is writing about the several works of his that he had destroyed, about his becoming nearly blind and of the necessity to give up painting altogether. In the artist's studio Marc Elder noticed … “a wild butchery of canvases, massacred works, bloody as wounds”. In: Op. cit. No. 34, p. 119 (Charles F. Stuckey …); It maybe too far fetching to explain the aesthetics of this master with a sight problems, since what Monet started in his youth is not that different from his latest works – the Water Lilies commissioned by Clemanceau for the Orangerie in Paris.
37. “Considering the delicate spectacle Monet had attempted to depict-photosensitive water lilies floating on the surface of his garden pond along with the reflected images of passing clouds, the miraculous illusion of the world overhead interwoven with his feet … as if horizontal, vertical, behind, before, proximate and distant were useless concepts …” In: Op. cit. No. 34, p. 121 (Charles F. Stuckey …)
38. “Clarity of the white as a first color is the container of all others”. In: Robert Ryman, Art Forum, Summer, 1992, p. 92;
39. Carter Ratcliff, Dandysm and Abstraction in a Universe Defined by Newton, Art Forum, NY, No. 4, 1988, p. 89;
40. Idem, p. 85; Carter Ratcliff is defining the pictural autonomy in the abstraction as dandyism.
41. In the essay cited above, Carter Ratcliff is recognizing the existence of dandyism in the dressing manners which is subsequently translated into the field of art. Petković is entirely entitled to be labeled as dandy, among the rare ones on the artistic scene of ours. Maybe the only other deserving of this designation is the great master Nikola Martinoski – the predecessor of Petković.
42. In: Оноре Де Балзак, Филозофске приче, Непознато ремек дело, Култура, Белград, Загреб, 1949, p. 407;
43. “In those times it was literally qualified as “swinery”. The Courbet's realism was immediately recognized as an attack against the good taste and the hypocrisy of the Second Empire .., as a vulgarity and obscenity”. In: Bernard Marcadé, Devenir femme de l'art, In; Feminimasculin, Gallimard/Electa, Paris, 1995, p. 25;
44. “The female genitalia that is watching us” (“un sexe de femme qui nous regarde”);
45. Associations may be found in the work Etant donnés by Marcel Duchamp; in Concetti spaziali, the lacerations or punched through canvases by Luccio Fontana who said that his “discovery is but a hole and a spot, and that's all so that I don't care if I die after this discovery” (Ma découverte c'est qu’un trou et un point, c'est tout, et ça m'est égal de mourir après cette découverte”);
46. Јулија Кристева, Црно сунце, Депресија и меланхолија, Светови, Нови Сад, 1994, p. 252;
47. Idem, p. 13;
48. Op. cit. No. 3, p. 31 (Guy Michaud …);
49. According to Ovid, the flute expresses the sorrow that the forest god Pan experienced after the nymph Syrinx;
50. Ernst Bloh, O umjetnosti, Školska knjiga, Zagreb, 1981, p. 150


1. Драган Петковиќ, in: Софија Ѓуровска, До себе си и назад (interview), Нова Македонија, Скопје, 8.3.1995;
2. Ги Мишо, Маларме, КПЗ, Штип, 1966, p. 82; (Michaud, Guy. Mallarmé: L'Homme et l'œuvre. Paris: Hatier, 1953)
3. Ханс Георг Гадамер, Актуелноста на убавото, Магор, Скопје, 2005, p. 46;
4. Ibidem;
5. Donald Kuspit, Idiosyncratic Identities, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 169;
6. Idem, p.51
7. These are the phenomena that he explicitly approaches in his term paper at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana: Permutations on the Problems of Illusion of Space in my Paintings (Permutacije rešitve iluzije prostora v mojih slikah), 1976/77(?)
8. Claude Monet was known to having destroyed some of his canvases: he would cut them with knife or set them on fire. Henri Matisse who was too rather self-critical, would take photographs of every stage his work were to pass through. Ad Reinhardt would constantly emphasize: “To paint and repaint incessantly the one and the same thing, to rectify and to make more accurate one and single motif. Vigour, consciousness, perfection in art may be attained only after a painstaking, tiresome work and preparation”. In: Ad Reinhardt, Art-as-Art, Environments I, FI, Autumn 1962, p. 81;
9. Op. cit. No. 2 (Guy Michaud, Mallarmé …), p. 67.


10. Марио Перниола, Естетика Двадесетог века, Светови, Нови Сад, 2005, p. 202/3;
11. Cf. Op. cit. No. 3 (Ханс Георг Гадамер, Актуелноста на убавото …) p. 128;
12. Итало Калвино, Американски предавања, Темплум, Скопје, p. 113;
13. Cf. Donald Kuspit, The Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 24-27;
14. This term is used by E. H. Gombrich In: Norm&Form, London, Phaidon, 1966, p. 123 (“as the bee transforms nectar into honey, or as the body assimilates its nourishment”);
15. Cf. John Perreault, The Cultivated Canvas, In: Art in America, New York, No 3, March 1982, p. 100;
16. Cf. Yve-Alain Bois, Painting as Model, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 1993, p. 54;
17. Leaving unpainted, white stretches on the canvas was initiated as a procedure by Cézanne, while Y-A. Bois is calling this jumpy procedure;
18. Robert Rosenblum, Matisse: A Symposium, In: Art in America, No. 5, 1993, p. 75;
19. His first work on this topic is dating from 1976;
20. Donald Kuspit, Armchair Agonist, In: Art Forum, New York, October, 1992, p. 95.


21. Ibidem
22. A. Izerghina In: Henri Matisse, Aurora Art Publisher's, Leningrad, 1986, p. 17; “His art it seems to have smiled all through the Nazi occupation”. In: Robert Rosenblum, Op. cit. No. 18 (Art in America, No. 5, 1993, p.75);
23. Robert Kushner, In: Matisse: A Symposium, In; Art in America, No. 5, 1993, p. 82;
24. Cf. Op. cit. No. 20, p. 96 (Donald Kuspit, Armchair Agonist …); When he fell ill at the age of 20, his mother presented him with a box of water-colors to alleviate his healing. Since that moment he follows the pleasure principle – the painting as a priority in life, instead of reality principle – the pressure from his father to become lawyer. All representation of women on his canvases are homage to his mother and are having no erotical connotation, according to Kuspit;
25. The divorce, the period of social transition, the insignificant interest of his milieu in art produced around his eudemonistic approach;
26. About 1908 Matisse became the grand master of the “decorative”, something which is established in his statement that expression and decoration to him are one and same and that it is “a grave mistake to speak of the decorative in pejorative terms … The things need to be decorative because I am not painting things but the differences among the things”. In: Ad Reinhardt, Timeless in Asia, Art News, No. 9, 1960, p. 34. This line of reasoning is also finding a support with Gombrich, Gianni Vatimo. Oleg Grabar thinks that “the work of art may exist without the ornament but that it can not exist as a work of beauty and to be communicative in a fundamental way”. For Heidegger the ornament is “a central phenomenon of the aesthetics in the final analysis of the ontological thinking”, In: from Đani Vatimo, Kraj Moderne, Svetovi, Novi Sad, 1991, p. 91
27. Cf. Massimo Carboni, Infinite Ornament, In: Art Forum, New York, September 1991, pp. 106-111;
28. The affinity of Matisse for the ornament derives indirectly from the linear calligraphy of Van Gough, while its direct source is his admiration for the Islamic and, in general, oriental culture;
29. Op. cit. No. 16, p. 21, (Yve-Alain Bois, Painting as Model …), “Matisse discovered the fundamental inseparability between drawing and color”;
30. Cf. Op. cit. No. 3, p. 13 (Ханс Георг Гадамер …);
31. Драган Петковиќ. In: В(алентина) Вeлевска, Ова е период на истражување, Млад Борец, Скопје, бр. 1480, 10.4.1985, p. 11;
32. Cf.;
33. Matisse has said that “I myself redo the composition every time. I never get tired. I always rely on the preceding state to help me begin again”. Lydia Directorskaya writes how Matisse used to take photographs from all stages of the painting because every morning he would find imperfections remained from the preceding day that he would subsequently repaint. “ … even if it meant many extra days of struggle before finding a new solution that would satisfy him … Matisse always erased at least compartments of undesirable color”. Lydia Directorskaya In: Henri Matisse, Peintures de 1935-1939, Paris, Galerie Maeght, 1986, p. 23; When I visited Petković on several occasions in his studio, I could not help noticing that there are missing paintings that I have seen previously. He explained to me that he was dissatisfied and thus had to repaint the canvases. In order to achieve the conceived beauty in a fervid tide of self-criticism he would constantly find his works flawed and constantly in need to be reworked.

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