Blesok no. 44, September-October, 2005
Gallery Reviews

The Painting as Sacrifice Object or Paintings Bleeding

Sonja Abadžieva

”Culture has always been beyond-national”
Robert Musil, Essais, Seuil, Paris

Immediately after the years when Petar Mazev left the physical context of our environment there was silence or a sign of satiety with his imposing artistic presence. A time distance was required to reconsider, reexamine, reevaluate his abundant opus and his constant influence on the artistic happenings in Macedonia.
    When the time distance (more than ten years since his death) tamed the passions and biases, the truth was crystallized in its objective form. Today one could hardly deny the fact that he is a mythical figure, a cult personality in the Macedonian painting. Petar Mazev was and continued to be the paradigm and the spiritual leader of many Macedonian painters born in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. These individuals, for generations raised under his aura, yet developed into autonomous personalities, are not followers of his explicit language but of his explicit skill in managing the painting phenomenon and his charisma.

The piercing sound of Petar Mazev's painting reached as far as the artistic circles of the republics of former Yugoslavia, with an enhanced echo in the places where he was exhibited, mostly in the USA. John Russel told the Americans in The New York Times of the “irresistible energy of his paintings.”[1]. In order to define him more closely he compared him to Francis Bacon and Willem de Kooning. The critic Harry Schwalb of Pittsburgh did the same. In the Art magazine he pointed to the “surprisingly subtle expressions of the faces”[2] in the paintings of Mazev. In some aspects he even preferred our painter to de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

* * *

This exhibition is focused on the last ten years of Mazev's professional engagement. Most of these works are exhibited for the first time. I think that now is the proper moment, in this, as I already mentioned, more relaxed conditions, to open to the public the works that have been patiently waiting in his atelier for their time, for more than a decade. Painted in the period of growing disagreement with the circumstances in his immediate surrounding and the cruel family tragedy – the death of his elder son, the painter Konstantin Mazev – mostly during his voluntary isolation by the Dojran Lake, the proposed paintings, following by necessity the traumatic context, could not be the same as the previous ones. They were composed of the color / matter soaked with a presentiment of tragedy and wreck, with endless pain and absence of future. The painting procedures follow this line of spiritual suffer in the most obvious manner. The procedures require a special explanation because they are special and particular, regardless of their visual relations with Picasso or de Kooning.

This relation is only a lure, an illusion, because the genesis is different, incompatible to the mentioned painters. Petar Mazev anatomically dissolves the human bodies on the painting canvas. Their muscles, tendons, the severed organs etc. are spread all over as the ground – basis. Then, in the coagulated paint of this huge wound, he skillfully draws the gloomy pictures of his distressed being: head contours or body parts, and seldomly some of the limbs. From the chaos and the destruction he tries to reconstruct the lost reality. In the points where the painting material is not a shapeless spot, he applies extremely wide strokes (sometimes even covering one third of the canvas), strongly vertically directed, squeezing and binding the liquid material with the horizontal on the ground. The direction of the spread of the paint, following the logic of the earth gravity, is not aimed to support the illusion of vitality, but means a return to the womb of the earth. The chromatics of the joining with the non-ontological is shown through the lead gray, the red is the coagulated blood, the green refers to the dusk instead to the dawn, the white stays as a replacement for the secretes. The linearity, alternatively applied as an emphasized fat contour and as a soft net, a posteriori impacts the shapeless mass, pulling out remnants of life with minimum interventions.

Especially impressive, in this sense, are the drawings. Black and white with emphasis on green, or blue, they use the disturbed and trembling line. Their composition introduces a new system in the known codes of the lace or the cobweb system. They leave an impression of a human representation incorporated into the web, and afterwards pressed to blowing, where the figure and the web are reorganized into an antipode of symmetry and harmony. The drawing only seduces us to the field of associations, announcing that the appearance of a thing is possible only as association, specter, apparition, deconstruction, as an incapability of revitalization. The human figures, sunk into a dense, black mash, couple with insects, birds and some indefinite formations or with complex organic-inorganic mechanisms.

It is fascinating how Petar Mazev pulls impressive characters out of the bloody coagulated magma of the ground, only by thrifty use of graphisms, with only a few energetic and eruptive gestures (typical also for his everyday communication with people). It is difficult to speak about his skill of permeating into the psychology of the characters having in mind the minimalistic economy of the artistic elements he uses. The sad physiognomies (looking with a consternated eyes at the horror and with grinning jaws) show an ironic smile, that dares the death, as the ultimate challenge of reality. The gallery of no-faces, no-heads, no-portraits, of psychological diversities, is mostly concentrated on the eyes that lurk form all the corners of the canvas, scattered as a simulation of the lost power to rule the things. The state of individual shock is projected into these self-reflecting glances.

The dispersion of eyes all over the paintings clearly suggests his incurable trauma, they helplessly ask for our participation or compassion, they see the public as their only escape from the spiritual nightmare. His suggestive scream can not be avoided, since it is most sincerely made of the material of feelings. And, when we perceive and interpret these painting, we inevitably know that we enter the spheres of emotions. The application of mere ratio will prevent us from real access, it will impoverish the authentic evaluation of the paintings, so highly positioned from an artistic aspect, if we consider the basic urge for their creation.

    In that sense, we could ask what was going on in the time scope from his “Red-haired” to the “Red-haired Woman 2”, painted before his death, in 1991. What transformation and distraction decomposed the tight corpus of the painting from 1995, what power of intimate trust made these two paintings similar and different at the same time? Undoubtedly, the spiritual erosion is the energy that influenced the dissolution of the compactness of the representation. The almightiness or the absolute power over the feelings – the most human axis in a painter – has determined, in the case of Mazev, the destiny of both paintings.

The global view of his opus is usually related to the expressionism. However, I would like to point here the relation of his free figuration with a particular Neo-Romanticism. The last is not alienated from the inner depth and personal secret, from the “paradigm of the soul”, it demands an authentic projection of the subject on the work of art, it does not give up the phenomenon of originality. In this sense, Mazev is a romanticist in the visually non-explicit layer of the painting, while in the extrovert, representative aspect, however incompatible it might sound, he approaches the Neo-Baroque language. This is the reason why the comparison of his works, especially his latest works, with the ones of the group “Cobra”, with the painters Picasso, de Kooning, Bacon or Pollock, are the landmarks, rhetorical exercises: a reading of the paintings in their upper, surface layer.

    It is true that Mazev broke with the linear approach to art history. In his applications of the civilization tradition different cultures merge. He was Macedonian, yet he left a beyond-national painting, including in it certain forms of the national discourse (elements of the fresco painting, icon painting, heathen rituals and morphological aspects of the region).
    The methodology of non-chronological selection of cultural challenges from different corners of the world functions as a conjunction between the endemic semantics and the neo procedures of the Expressionism, Romanticism and Baroque. And, as I said, the color of his Romanticism does not exclude the relation with the Baroque. The shift of the center of the composition, the caricature feature of the figures, the overcoming of the dedication to the style, genre and codes of symmetry or stability, the breaking of the rules, include him in the main stream of the rapture, passion, intemperateness, feverishness, pathetic, disturbance and artistic arrogance. These features lead to the exaggerations typical for the Baroque, that culminate in an ecstasy / vertigo, into the center of the meeting point between the holy and the corporeal. The renowned art historian Guy Scarpetta answers why is Baroque contemporary in the following way: “Because in the end, it pulls us out of the romantic psychology. Because it rehabilitates the passions of seducing and the sense for playing.”[3]

Ecstasy, typical for the Neo-Baroque, is the binding link in the triad: erotica – holiness – sacrificing. When asked how an ideal holiday would look, Picasso said: “In the morning prayer, in the afternoon corrida, in the evening brothel”. This language sublimate perfectly unites these, at first sight, different and contradictory spheres. Should we remind of the fact how much related are the church rituals with the things that happen afterwards among the gathered people in the squares in front the holy temples, when and how do the great holidays finish at the end of the day? Or, how much separate or close were the prayers for fertility with sacrificing animals or people and the feasts in the heathen rituals? The real holidays, including the religious ones, are also love games, luxury, drunkenness, rapture, passion, plenty of blood. The reason for going to church, for believing is compatible to the call of the body. The ecstasy is common for the prayer, for the sacrifice and for the Eros. In distinguishing the kinds of eroticism Georges Bataille[4]

states the eroticism of the body, the heart and of the sacral. The distinction is very useful in the analysis of the latest paintings of Petar Mazev. His closeness to these kinds of eroticism is famous. But, if his works made by 1980 are dominated by the eroticism of the body and the heart, the paintings made in the years before his death are dominated by the eroticism of the holy. The painting “Sacrifice” (1978) contains the rapture of the sacrificial ritual of the animals in a merry, playful form, known from the paintings of the type “Adam and Eve”. After the moments of his heart wreckage, love was gradually replaced with a religious rapture. The painting “Pieta” (1990) reveals a monstrous laying figure in the form of a mummy, showing an unproportional head of a disturbed woman raising above it. In some other paintings, he also metaphorically visualizes the non-being. Another mourning is shown as a huge black spot with yellow lines defining the contours of the people sunk in crying. The real, tactile contact of Mazev with the death is obviously changing the character of his ecstasy. Now the paintings becomes an altar and a sacrificial ston at the same time e. In its basis stands the decomposed womb of the artist, which becomes both Christ's body and sacrificial animal. Mazev insists, as much as he can, on activating the passive state of the canvas. By introducing his creative energy into the painting he seems to reach a partnership relation with it, softening the pain, aiming towards rehabilitating of the artistic and human integrity. The way of the passion, regardless of its origin (erotic, theological, ludic), has the suffering as a closure, because the passion is, basically, search for the impossible.[5]

The destiny has, in continuity, defined the shift and the transformation of the painting of Mazev, from the eudemonism of the dawn, the game with the line and chromatism, into the eschatological density of the matter tasting of non-ontological. Our faith in his hedonistic paintings of love and happiness has its continuity in the excellent semantic replacements, in the visual materialization of his traumatized being, imminent for the works he made in the last decade of his live. Perhaps it is them than have kept the known artistic value and now, as forms of an almost absolute identification with the artist and more authentic than the previous paintings, they tell us of the touch with the most extreme layers of human suffering that follow the ESCHATOLOGY OF THE PAINTING and come as a definite physical rest of maestro Petar Mazev.


1. John Russel, Petar Mazev, The New York Times, New York, February 13, 1981
2. Harry Scwalb, Gallerymania, Art, Pittsburg, July 1981


3. See: Guy Scarpetta, L'Artifice, Bernard Grasset, Paris, 1988, or Gi Skarpeta, Povratak baroka, Svetovi, Novi Sad, 2003, pp. 26
4. Georges Bataille, L'Erotisme, Minuit, Paris; Žorž Bataj, Erotizam, BIGZ, 1980
5. Ibidem, 25.

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