Blesok no. 41, March-April, 2005
Obsession with Painting Ontology
Dragan Petković (1952-2004)
One of the most loyal followers of the abstract discourse in the Macedonian art is Dragan Petković. With his recent tragic death, Macedonia has lost the most consequent transmitter of the phenomenological research of painting.
Dragan Petković was born in Skopje in 1952. His German discipline of spirit and action, his wish to recreate the chaos in an order and system might have resulted from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana where he graduated in 1977. He had independent exhibitions in the Club of Journalists in Skopje (1981), then at the Youth Cultural Centre (1983), at the Belgrade Student Cultural Centre gallery, together with Blagoja Manevski and Jovan Šumkovski (1988), and finally, he presented himself in s small monographic-retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Skopje (1988). In Zagreb, Belgrade and Skopje (1985-1986), Petković was one of the six participants of the exhibition “From the Miracles of Meadows to the Joy of Living”. The critiques of Zagreb and Belgrade who evaluated this exhibition quite objectively stimulated the euphoric dimension of their creative energy. Dragan Petković, along with the other participants at this exhibition (Simon Šemov, Aneta Svetieva, Dimitar Manev, Gligor Stefanov, Petre Nikoloski) was part of the generation that most explicitly opened itself towards the art spaces of the other republics of former Yugoslavia and paved the way of the new status of the new Macedonian art in the former Federation. The new evaluation of these authors with fresh ideas and new discourse was very stimulating for all of them, but Dragan Petković permanently lived in the memory of this, border than the narrow Macedonian cultural aerial, recognition of their special creative potential. Petković then exhibited at important, strictly selective exhibitions in Rieka, Sarajevo, Zagreb, Skopje, Ljubljana, he was part of the anthological exhibition at MCA in 1994, at the “9½: New Macedonian Art” (1995) exhibition and the study exhibition “Transformations of Macedonian Painting”, also at MCA (2000).
Dragan Petković appeared in the art sphere of Macedonia at the end of the 70-es, in a climate tired of the domination of one direction, while at the same time curios in awakening of the authenticity of the art thought through research of its own internal areas. In the spiritual worlds of the young generation of this period, it is visible that there is a changed behavior with respect to the world art empire. As a member of authors oriented like this, Petković, without background and prejudices explains its predilection for the American abstract expressionists and minimalists – on the mythic gestular choreography of Jackson Polack, readiness of Ad Reinhardt to endlessly repeat his Ultimate Painting No. 19, on Barnet Newman’s reduction of Piet Mondrian’s concept of two colors or two relations, on the decorative dramatics of Henri Matisse and the founding boldness of Rodchenko to paint Pure Red, Pure Blue, Pure Yellow in 1920. ..
If we use the dialectic key of Thomas Kuhn (Comparative Studies in Society and History 1, 1969, pp. 403-412), the art genesis of Petković contains the following stages: normal situation, anomaly, crisis and paradigm. It should be stressed immediately that there are no negative connotations in the crisis, because it is a nucleus of a new idea in birth. Interpreted via this methodological scheme, the creative thought of Petković enters the normal situation of the Macedonian art in 1977/78 as an anomaly, not so much in a morphological sense, as in philosophical one. The oil paintings Complementary Games 1, Complementary Games 2, Games of Simultaneousness (all from 1977); Yellow (1978), Structure of Yellow, Structure of Red, Structure of Orange (1978-80), with their monochomaticity or complementarity, these works have no reflections in our environment, although the last one is already adjusted to the abstract diction. However, no critic sees the absolute lack of well-known references in these paintings, as well as of citations, associations and allusions to reality. The abstract speech in Macedonia until then had not distanced itself from the idea of relations: the non-figurative expression of Petar Mazev was grown into the tissue of the historical patina, the enformelian paintings of Risto Kalčevski searched from the micro and macro structures of nature, Aleksandar Risteski searched for the meaning of geographical substrate, Ordan Petlevski and Aleksandar Jankuloski researched the biological map of existence, Ivan Velkov was interested in the cosmic exoteric worlds, and Rodoljub Anastasov dived into the layers of the injured psyche.
There are no associations in Petković’s monochomaticity, but what is there exists per se: red is red, yellow is a yellow surface without stretched meanings, symbols, metonymies, etc. This painting, left to the areas of its own phenomenological syntax: pigment, light, reflex, absorption, substance, confirms the individual existence of the art work as a work in itself filled with meaning (Art has no meaning outside itself and this meaning can not be translated to any other medium, as the great American minimalist Ad Reinhardt preached in John Walker, Art Since Pop, Thames and Hudson, London, 1975, p. 26). Once free of its form, the abstract painting now is also free of nature and reality, feelings, imaginary descriptiveness, formalisms of empyria, in order to dedicate to itself, its ontological structure.
There are no denotations or connotations in the usage of color. The pigment is in constant connection with the move. In the beginning, the color only has a primary function, in the middle of the eighties the gesture and the color are equal in their meaning, then the move takes over the superior position, so that these two categories are reconnected again later. The complex and delicate relations between the color games and traces of the hand movements give its painting the basic diffrentia specifica. He reconciles in a specific way the exponents set in such an antagonistic way, such as the American gestular and minimalist painting. In this marriage, the emotional (gesture) and the rational (monochomaticity) build a holistic structure, where the mentioned dichotomies are equalized, and the result is a rationalized organization of the move, a drafted gesture, system in the emotional filling, censured, controlled emptying – order in the chaos and spontaneity. The constellation of these meanings brings to the unimaginative descriptiveness where there is a premeditated calligraphy (similar to the procedures of Henry Matisse and Frank Stella).
The genesis of the move with Petković is analogue to the genesis of decorativeness. The first monochrome paintings are woven with a gestular arabesque of the paste and brush. The moves are visible, they root out of the impasto (actually, the traces of the hand exist in all monochrome works, it is only a matter whether the artist wants and how much he wants them to be visible, that is, invisible). In some aquarelles, (Course, Pulsating, Spreading of the Violet from 1980/81) the moves are cobweb-like, sfumatously gentle, directed via hundreds of careful whirlpools of the hand (reminding of the white paintings of Mark Toby). The cobweb rhythm of the lines is followed via geometrically drafted objects (exposed in his individual exhibition of 1982, at the exhibition of the young generation in MCA the same year). In 1984/85, the energy of the gesture comes in the front, the monochomaticity is substituted with a colorist variety of the bows, the move is almost absolutely individual: the complete work is created from several physically separated, each-for-itself moves, and the decorative component is strengthened. In these paintings the question of the possible separate life of the gesture has been brought to a heating point. The homogeneous unity of the rhythm of the hand and chromatic values is brought to a crisis point. However, the problematic points lead to further elaborations and, as we said before, they contain the root, the potential energy of the new paradigm. After all analytical processes in the paintings, aquarelles, objects, découpages and mosaic-like shaped paintings, after all the requests of a new space for both dimensions – on painting – Petković has proven that he was in search of the structure in his work that can be most appropriately formulated as an entity of the color and gesture as an ontological and at the same time axiological / phenomenological foundation stone of his artistic concept. The research of the borders of the possibility of the gesture and the color as a central cognitive model (Georg Kepas) with Petković enables the process of reduction and extravagance of the decorativeness and search for another possible space for the painting, not forgetting his strive to professional perfection in the technical work, which indicates the synchrony with the nerve of time. These specifics put his painting in relation to a new mannerism (overstressed glow, care of the tactile elaboration, elegance, decorativeness), relevant both for the late modernism and post-modernism, neo-geometrcisam.
Petković is among the rare Macedonian authors who come to a space for his possible paradigm, without being drawn into the nostalgic-sentimental temptations of the local tradition and the conscience because of the use of other empires in his exciting colorist-gestular syntax, which speaks of another understanding of the freedom of choice.
It should be mentioned that Petković has left the two dimensions of the painting on several occasions. It happened in his cycle Continuity of 1977, when he placed his beloved primary elements (color and move) in the three-dimensional architectural structures. In this context there are his several performances and ambiences (1989, 1995), created with the desire to overcome the stereotypes and conventions to remain constantly awake and thirsty of the experiment of the color.
The hundreds of oil paintings, drawings, and découpages that were left by Dragan Petković are an explicit alibi for his permanence and endurance of the passing of the real life. They are a guarantee that the future will be kind to him. This culture owes gratitude to him for his valuable ideas and deeds that he left behind to overcome the end. Providing the public presentation of the many un-exhibited of his atelier will be the first occasion to initiate the trace of the new life of his work in the time that is ahead of us.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska