To Paint like Nature

… By leaving Belgrade, I took the radical step of abandoning an aestheticized hyperproduction and moving to the countryside. That has enabled me to realize an artistic methodology I have been dreaming of for years, a methodology that makes me one with nature. Not to paint nature, but to paint like nature. The difference in method is huge. It is not a descriptive method of creating a landscape, but rather a reading of the earth, its translation into the language of contemporary art.

When I say “paint,” I refer to all visual means of modern art, from the most classic to the most modern experiences. The methodology of work and the concept are important, being a direct reaction to the aggressive system around us. That methodology attempts to find a concrete response in the art sphere and a solution that would save both the artist and the observer. It simply happened that after a long time spent in the world of simulacra, I felt the urge to leave it suddenly and reduce the materials to the natural and elementary means of the space I am painting. I dig from the pit located in my backyard. I find the choice of material to be crucial for the work process.

The earth in its natural form is the key element in nearly all of my works. It is real and cannot be copied, simulated or created. Precisely therein lies its power. The idea of being born from it and the existential struggle of the born is the main motif of this methodology of artistic exploration. It personifies the human existential restlessness that I try to weave into the material.

The earth as a medium holds great power. It carries within it the history, psychology and existentiality of a certain area. I paint the area in which I live in its totality. I paint it with its own means. That is why I use muck, mud, chaff, wood, iodine… All the materials that carry the vitality of the space.

We are all made from the earth on which we were born and we bear all its characteristics. I try to paint that landscape like a tree in the rain, like muddy human faces, like the existential pain of birth and duration and like the power of life. I do not paint all that like a figurative ceremonial, but rather like its existential pulse. Is that art informel? I think not. It is the art of the earth. Simple and beneficial. The element of overcoming the initial energy of Eros and Thanatos is important to me. I wait for that passionate energy to discharge completely, so that I can paint in peace. After that discharge, simple, calm spiritual paintings are created, which hold much greater power than the screams of matter. The earth is quiet and modest, but has great power and vitality, it constantly gives birth to new life. The process of creating the works is long. It goes on the same way seasons change in nature or as patiently and slowly as a tree grows. I watch my works as they are made. They are always a surprise, both to me and to the viewer.

The rudimentary, the vital and insistence on the elementary make up the key conceptual framework within which my art moves. Joseph Beuys used the term pre-visual. For him, it is something undifferentiated and chaotic, like butter or felt, which exists within man as energy and which wants to express itself. We are all made of the earth on which we were born and we bear all its characteristics. I have inherited the manner of expression of people from this region. It is a way of inarticulately reading the earth through the signs carved into tools and weapons. I often collect them in my studio and after a while, once the critical spiritual energy is created, by decision, a usable object becomes aesthetic, a sort of assemblage.

In this region, we have not had the opportunity to go through classic periods of art and to form a clear aesthetics. History did not allow it. There is a saying in Vienna, that there is nothing but a battlefield between Vienna and Istanbul.  Wars cut down entire generations, whose successors always started everything from scratch. Culture, aesthetics and the civilizational layer of experience were always short-lived and very quickly disappeared in bloody wars. The manner of expression is crude and gnarly, but very alive. That vitality is a necessity of the modern man.

I believe that the only chance of my research work is a non-aestheticized and “uncultured” art. An art made from a life that is very cruel and strong. It shivers, it is afraid, it is gnarly, but also very vital. It carries the energy of a tree that suffers all seasons, that is never perfect and technologically correct, but is alive and beautiful.

In the context of all that, I formed the artistic platform Nature & Art, which gathers artists and theorists with a similar concept. The form and means of expression of all these artists are different, but the conceptual essence is the same. The forming of an intellectual microenvironment that gradually expands turned out to be the only way to survive in a cold macrosystem. The exchange of experiences, opinions, conversations, joint actions, exhibitions, theoretical texts, conferences, works in public space, site-specific works… To see one’s work through the eyes of others and to create together. All that sounds like a utopia today, but we are trying and managing to achieve all that through the strategy of small steps, as quietly as the water that always finds a way through. This platform is not a rebellion, or a manifest, it simply is. Like any existence in nature. It exists. Within that strategy lies the radicalism of the approach, which does not define the new vanguard as another step forward, toward disaster, but rather a step back, toward nature. The conclusion can be drawn that the Nature & Art platform, by all its features, is collective conceptual artistic work.

Based on this experiment, I also built the Nature & Art gallery. It is located right across from my studio. It is built from natural materials, suitable for man. It is an old outbuilding, comprising one room. It is entirely made of wood, has one window facing east, while on the floor there is clay brick and a little sand around it. The gallery has no design and is just big enough as is necessary for living. Namely, precisely that measure of man preoccupies me as the essential question of today and I try to reach it in my art. What is the measure of man today, that is the fundamental question of modern civilization. Why has man lost his measure and how can he reach it again in order to be in harmony with himself? Can art help him in that segment? Is that kind of art, which brings man back to nature, one of the most engaged today?

I am interested in the relationship between man and nature and the measure of that relationship. That measure puts man in a position to be grounded. To be one with nature and to find his calm as his happiness in such a state.

The gallery is in itself a conceptual work. It was created when I, completely by accident, got a study of the cultural heritage of western Serbia. I saw the drafts of houses made by our ancestors more than 200 years ago. The abstract geometry of those drafts, reduced to rectangles, in a totally Mondrian manner defined the ergonomics of living of the people from this region. The rooms were only as large as necessary. Without design and ulterior motive. The measure of human living determined the concept, size and materials from which the gallery was built. Paintings and sculptures live inside it. It is very important that a painting or a sculpture I am making has a life of its own. They are like a tree that grows and has its own periods of blooming and bearing fruit, but that also has a period of very difficult existential struggle with the environment. They last like any other existence in nature, I let them ripen, have their history of creation, pain, downfall, despair, defeat… All that makes up the history, maturity and quality of a work. At a certain point I realize that a painting or a sculpture can, as ripe, continue living and then I let that life continue in some other spaces. My paintings are created like a tree that grows and fights for life. Heavy, gnarly, bitter, like the need to make the old human dream of unity and harmony come true. That harmony is not static and idyllic, it is bitter, gnarly, cold, but alive. Like a human vertical.

I don’t care what my painting will look like in the end, all that matters is that it is alive. Alive on the inside. Painting is that which is unseen. A painting must have aesthetics coming from the inside, rather than from the outside. Aesthetics from the outside are of no interest to me, it leads to decoration. The process of creation is what is important. The end result is only a consequence of the ethics of creation of a painting. “My objects are a secondary matter,” said Joseph Beuys.

I paint the way night falls, the way roofs collect the moisture of autumn, the way grass grows in the rain, the way clouds move, the beauty of a cold starry sky. Scents, the cold, cruelty, death, birth, joy, light… It’s all in the painting. It is the sublimate of all those elements in their totality. I try to bring myself into a state where I must paint. Rainer Maria Rilke said that good art is created from an inevitable need. Through constant work, I bring myself into that need, from which a painting then “bursts out” (Jackson Pollock). I don’t care about style, what matters is ethics. The result is then consistent even at the level of form. But when I feel that form has become imperative for me, I tear it all down immediately. I adhere to the method used by Giacometti, who destroyed a sculpture when he entered his studio every morning. He said he did so because he always saw farther. I think that is the key to my methodology. Always keep the painting very alive. As soon as the process of polishing starts, it should be destroyed. Destruction of the ego. Overcoming one’s own weakness, the way that leads farther on. It is always that incredible courage with which a man can go one step further. To be as alive as the work.

That is great excitement. One never knows what result will follow. It should happen. To surprise both the author and the viewer. Only then does the work carry that substance that is alive and cannot be copied. When a painting reaches its maturity, in time, I let it go on with its life and no longer touch it. It is ready for its own journey. What is important is that it has received the impulse of life and is grown enough to carry on alone, without explanation or discussion. It simply is, like a tree.

Djordje Stanojevic