Pieta 2016

While living in Tokyo, from time to time I checked the news from Europe. What really struck me in the beginning was zero news from Bosnia and Herzegovina or ex-Yugoslavia region. This lack of any news, after living in a constant bombardment of “life depending” issues in the Balkans, got me cured from being confined in the Hole You are In (I love you Nicolas Cage). On the other hand, apart from Brexit, the news from Europe was mostly about the Syrian refugees flooding Europe and the war in Syria. Was this deliberately promoted by the Japanese government to raise the fear of refugees coming to Japan, the most homogeneous country with the annual limit of 30 refugees per year that were allowed to stay in Japan? I don´t know. There is a sense of promotion of fear of foreign terrorism, yet at same time being terrorized by their own people- for example, in that year, a retired man threw the Molotov cocktails on the passing matsuri ceremony, under the excuse, for being too loud that year.

The Japanese society in general has problems with violence and dealing with violent or aroused feelings. There is this practice of “not addressing conflict” under the idea that it will resolve by itself. You will find surprising that Japanese people are really badly informed about Japan´s role in WW2, or about the wars ravaging around the world in post-WW2 period. If WW2 comes as a topic in conversation, you will hear Hiroshima, and the position of Japan as being victim, there will be no mentioning of the Japanese fanaticism or atrocities done in the Asian peninsula. To make extreme point an opinion by one man from Hiroshima was that Japan should abandon Article 9, buy nukes from the USA so that they could defend themselves from North Korea and China. And Article 9 is the only unique thing about Japan, where peace has been written in the Constitution. This article basically allowed Japan to have blooming economy, low interest rates on bank loans because the Government doesn´t spend vast amount of taxpayers’ money on arming itself. As you can read between the lines, dealing with topics like these, gets me really emotional. So I usually don´t include war, and post war topics in my works. But don´t get me wrong, once they are introduced properly to these issues, they will work meticulously to get as much information on these topics as possible, form their own opinion and take action.

One day there was this video reportage for heavy shelling in some Syrian city and there was this scene where the father was holding dead body of his daughter in hospital both covered in dust and blood, his face in agony, surrounded by other wounded people lying on the floor. Being father myself, this image deeply disturbed me. Although I don´t do sketches on paper for my works (I do them on canvas), I had Muris Halilović´s Pticoteka with me, so I did a rough drawing of my feelings. I had Pieta in my mind, where a husband loses his beloved family- ultimately the scariest and the most incomprehensible feeling that terrorized me at the moment.

Like I said before, this heavy feeling is not something that I could easily share through my artwork. My artwork is about depicting and promoting positive ideas and the beauty of life. But as the time was passing by, I was returning to the image of Michelangelo´s Pietà in Rome, this object glorified both in fine arts and religion, promoted as tourist attraction in both fields. I had these two conflicting thoughts about it, an admiration for this work and at same time loathing for its commercialized effects. This also transferred to general media, especially when it comes to refugees and Syria. I felt that people have more compassion for this inanimate object and that they allowed themselves to show “real” feelings in front of it, but at same time being shut off from everyday suffering.

In January (2019) I was doing 4 really positive and cheerful projects and I felt that by being surrounded by these projects I could address and work on this painting with much clearer head. I used Michelangelo´s depiction of Maria and Jesus for the base, changed their positions, and I wanted to do painting in black and white tones, with Bordeaux red for a blood stains covered by Payne grey and Titan white to simulate dust. I wanted them to share the wounds (of Christ), but for “Jesus”, I wanted him to have the Crown of Thorns, made of shrapnel from the exploded land mine. It is based on my personal memory from the Bosnian War. One day we were visited by my father´s cousin, who stopped by for a cup of coffee, before going to hospital to have shrapnel pieces removed from his skull. We were sitting in our living room, whit this man, his head in bandages with small pieces of twisted metals lurking between the sheets, telling the story how he got this wound. Apparently, he was crawling on the ground during some skirmish, trying to avoid bullet fire, when he triggered anti-personnel stake mine that exploded above his head. He wore helmet that took lots of energy from flying shrapnel but they went through. The doctors first treated his body wounds and they waited for him to heal and regain strength. The surrealism of this war event at our home, stuck in my memory so vivid, because we were all acting as if he just fell off the bike and got broken arm, nothing too serious.

As I was working on the drawing, more and more I was being uncomfortable with this painting, and I was considering giving up. The painting style I chose was not in consistency with my works, topic too. But I am not a quitter. I decided to finish it no matter what. So one day I decided to use white and black acrylic markers to crudely highlight light and shadows on the canvas. As I finished applying white for lighter surfaces, and drew the first black line, I got my resolve and I could truly see this painting finished. I decided to use comic like approach, painting with acrylic markers, just emphasizing the drawing and doing heavy shading with lines. I used black and white markers, while for cloth I added silver one, to separate it from “Jesus and Mary”. I use the quotation marks because this is not depicting of “Jesus and Mary” it is a painting of broken homes, families torn apart and lives being destroyed. I tried to use red marker for wounds but I decided not to go with it. It was just too much. No wounds, no crown of thorns, just a man crying over his dead wife.

Technique: acrylic markers on canvas

Size: 80 x 80 cm (31.49 x 31.49 inch)

Year: February 2019

Availability: In Private Collection

Utamaro Lichtenstein

After presenting/exhibiting first series of paintings from the 100 Views of Ukiyo-e, I immediately started to think about further development of my idea that Pop art and most of the modern arts are rooted in Ukiyo-e. In the 100 Views of Ukiyo-e I am trying to present Ukiyo-e prints as contemporary art, by giving them new “original” painting, new source. In the process of painting, more or less, Ukiyo-e prints are modernized to achieve more global symbolism.  What I noticed is that people still perceived my paintings as Japanese and even exhibitions are called Japanese art exhibitions, therefore failing to see that it became, in a way, Bosnian art, and that Ukiyo-e has still a strong global influence and should be perceived as one of the pillars of the global art, meaning not just Japanese/Asian but the World history of art.In the process of thinking I had to come back to the beginning of my research.  My research began with American Pop art and my interest for the fine arts began when I saw Roy Lichtensten´s Whaam! painting in some art magazine or a book. Printed on the size of the regular comic frame, even with the size written underneath the print, what I saw were just comics being recognized as fine art. One year later, I applied to Academy of Fine Arts, Sarajevo.  In the final year, I was able to research Pop art more actively and one thing led to another, and I ended up researching Ukiyo-e.

But what about Pop art and Lichtenstein and Ukiyo-e?

Lichtenstein’s work could be also perceived as Appropriation art, for its source comes from another visual medium. On the other hand, my art is mostly Appropriation art, and it usually deals with question of the copy and original. For example, all “original” subjects of my paintings are known to me through their printed or digital copies. I could only imagine their size, their colors, or their texture and surface relief. So my painting is alternative to original and in most cases it is alternated original. So if I say that Ukiyo-e is Pop art, am I not saying that Pop art is Ukiyo-e? And welcome to the birth of Utamaro Lichtenstein. It is a series of paintings that have source in Lichtenstein work, but they will be Japanized, as if Lichtenstein himself was Japanese, and we are all living in alternative universe where Eastern hemisphere and arts dominated over the Western. I chose name Utamaro, as it is one of the most mentioned artist who influenced Impressionism and I added Lichtenstein as in Ukiyo-e practice for artist to adopt family name of his school master. Painting will be comment to more contemporary subjects. As in early translations of Mangas (Japanese comics), where pages were mirrored to allow more left to right reading flow, all paintings will be mirrored to achieve right to left flow. All paintings will be signed as Utamaro Lichtenstein.