MAGNETIC PROPERTIES OF DRAWING (White Noise), Rijeka, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Mali salon, MMSU, Labin, City Gallery Labin
TWENTY YEARS OF ART
A REFINED UNIVERSALIST
Predrag Todorović is a distinguished representative of the present mature generation of Croatian contemporary artists. His recognizable artistic expression was formed during the 90ies. The entire Todorović’s oeuvre, which can be denoted by a notion of multidisciplinarity, has originated in the milieu of pluralistic Croatian 90ies art scene. Together with exploring various media expressions (painting, drawing, object, installation, ambient1) he’s into graphic design and art education.2 During his student days he was shortly doing scenography as well. Todorović is prone to joining forces with his colleagues - artists, endeavouring to establish better conditions for the wider art community. Together with Ervin Jahić he co-authored a book as conceptual interaction of visual and poetic expression3. He was one of the founders of the art association “URA” and a director of the Kružna Gallery during the 90ies at Rijeka’s famous Palach Club. From 2003 to 2004 he was a president of the Croatian Society of Visual Artists in Rijeka. He inclines to refined social criticism, articulated through artistic actions of provocative nature or through rare but precious statements in media. He can be referred to as a post-modern universalist, one touching various forms of social and art activity marked always by the personal, individual approach.
This publication has been born from a wish to wholesomely valorise and enable complete insight - through a single publication -into the artist’s most significant realizations, from his student years down to the present day. Such a publication enables following the genesis of individual handwriting as well as the diversity of artist’s interests. In can be placed side by side to monographic 4 editions by the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art that were accompanied by comprehensive retrospective exhibitions. In comparison, this publication is of somewhat more humble character, due to culturally disinclined times.
INITIAL PAINTING RESEARCHES – STUDENT YEARS
At the third year of his study of visual arts at Rijeka’s Pedagogical Faculty,5 Todorović chooses a painting course held by professor Ksenija Mogin. By the end of the 80ies he makes his first mature works – drawings and paintings. His painting surface is abstract in character. The initial tendency to abstraction and deformation of a specimen soon develops into a painting handwriting of an entirely abstract lyric expression. These early works already discernibly feature Todorović’s refined taste for the material by which he structures the surface of a mildly enformel-character, originated from combining different materials – coal, sands granules, pigment. Besides, the artist gives considerable importance to the process of construing the surface by careful measuring of density and coats’ direction. However, this painting is not analytic in character. It is rather a result of recording painter’s energy, spontaneity and controlled gesturality. His unexpected linear details reveal permanent preoccupation with the drawing. He inclines to larger formats and to creation of sfumato-like effects, especially when painting is monochrome in character. Gradual work renders the abstract surface into growingly associative one, towards the lyric landscaping, especially in paintings originated by the end of the 80ies and in 1990.
Todorović forms his early art expression in the art milieu of Rijekan - Istrian circle where during the second half of the 80ies painters exercise controlling and disciplining the abstract gesture, and are hence called the painters of controlled gesture.6 Members of jury of the 13th Biennial of Young Artists (1985) have perceived prevalence of the works whose character is enformel-like and whose surface is extremely “matter-full”, while the actual expression is abstractexpressionist. The next Biennial (1987) has confirmed jury’s belief that this new painting phenomenon is rather widespread amongst younger authors, and consequently named it controlled gesture. The same title was also used for an exhibition7 comprising selected works expressing the spirit of postmodernist interpretation of enformel, abstract expressionism and monochrome painting in a sense of the controlled, but not intuitive, 50ies practice. These artists’ painting can also be interpreted as a reaction to appearance of transvanguard and neoexpressionists painting characterized by unrestrained gesturality and figurativity. They also practiced careful relation towards material and were focused at the primacy of constructing the material abstract sign. Few years after this, Todorović develops full reductionism and gets rid off the associative denotations. However, the importance of primary impulses should be stressed, as they came from the Rijekan art circles, especially from studying at the class of professor Ksenija Mogin.
MOVING INTO SPACE
The next important shift in visual researches happens in 1990 when Todorović outgrows limitations of two-dimensional surface and adopts space as a polygon of intervention. This is when “small ambients” arise as three-dimensional objects that get applied to a wall surface. Drawing and various kinds of surface scratching become spatial through usage of a wire. The artist pays attention to the atmosphere which he creates by inserting bulbs and by pouring polyester mass into the boards. Then he intervenes, superimposing drawing, scratching and processes of intuitive nature, effectuating accentuated tactile and painting features in these small ensembles. Working with the material, he is most drawn to following the logic of behaviour of material and its characteristic features. We shall also see how he will come to use the material in the same manner, during the later years. Although Todorović has accepted a challenge of moving into space by a very aspiration to make three-dimensional objects, his primary stimulant remains construction and structuring of the surface. Therefore, he relates to the background with painting and drawing sensibility. He paints and draws parallely. One of the paintings made in 1992 (“Fish)” is exhibited at the 1992 Zagreb Youth Salon, which was the first time he participated at an important group exhibition outside Rijeka.
PRIMARY PAINTING PROCEDURES
Since 1992 the surface gradually gets cleared off all the superfluous admixtures and associativity, approaching the analytic painting’s pole aspiring to more primary painting procedures and analyses of material aspects of the painting (colour, material, base, texture), as well as further “enformel-isation” of a painting’s surface. Using spatula he deposits layers of coarser material – cement, plaster, lime, asphalt - and attentively constructs the surface, with measured gesture. When depositing material he makes much of procedural processuality and measuredness. Therefore he develops subtle, stressed tactile relation with material. Even during the painting procedure, he always comes back to drawing, intervening even into a painting surface with drawing sensibility, leaving linear traces with coal and pen. Despite impression of enformel surface, his paintings are not direct continuance of the 50ies enformel painting, since the matter does not emanate heavy energy, tragic or dramatic states, but rather subtlety and emotionality of a personal emotional field. White acrylic becomes his favourite. He coats it onto foil used to cover a plywood base. Characterized by linearism, these white paintings sometimes approach drawing deliberation. Parallel to the layers of material he intuitively deposits over a base, there is a tendency to create whirling structures which associate of a shoal, a motif that will become increasingly frequent in his work. At the first bigger solo exhibition in Mali Salon in 1993 he exhibits paintings, reliefs and ambients. For the first time, one of the exhibits features a drawing of dynamic, vortical character made by black graphite at the edge of painting field. It appears vibrant, in an op-art manner. However, its aim is not to leave an impression of an optical game alone, since it has very powerful energy charge.
Further procedure of elaborating the abstract mater-full painting is shown in paintings originated during the second half of the 90ies, the works driven to the monochrome pure abstract surface. They can be divided in two groups – those made by gestural act of the artist and those others, depersonalized, made without author’s intervention into the base, by recognition and exposing an actual base’s character. This is a period of black paintings’ series of which the most significant is diptych “Untitled”8 from 1998. It comprises two black monochrome paintings made by scratching and carving a board covered by an asphalt layer. Procedure consists of linocut and woodcut, while the base is treated like a graphic plate recording linear trace. Sticky surface is adhered to by freely floating particles and hence becomes a living body and a witness of interaction with the environment. The mentioned artwork mostly distinguishes methodology which, to a varying degrees, marks the artist’s work: procesuallity, repetitivity, Cartesian reductionist method, insisting on surface and line speech and matter-fullness. Diptych “Saturday / Sunday” from 1997 consists of two differently structured monochrome planes - black shiny surfaces created by depositing asphalt with a spatula over a masonite and a matt surface of tightened glossy black textile. Matt surface records traces of gesture and is in opposition with an entirely neutral textile surface. At the time, Todorović’s primary interest was recognizing patterns in various artefacts and their confrontation. Following those principles he chooses two pieces of polyester foam, minutely differing in tonality, and with no additional processing or interventions he exhibits them as two equal surfaces (1997).
MAGNETISM OF DRAWING
The first more expressed urge to create concentrated and vibrant drawing heaps - covering the entire base’s surface - arises in 1992. Todorović develops a process from a painting procedure, by rejecting matter-fullness and concentrating at the drawing in search of matter. At the time, he couldn’t foresee how important position will that most immediate visual art technique assume in his future work. By sensitive microstructural processing of a surface he creates miniature weave of vortical, wavy or spiral threads transforming the base into a dynamic field of tensely charged energy. In 1994 the artist happens to spontaneously perceive a natural phenomenon – movement of tiny sea fish in a shoal. Their shimmer, vibration and motion provoked Todorović into recognizing the characteristics which he intuitively anticipated and unconsciously transformed into another, artificial code of the artwork. Natural phenomena is a carrier of a same energy/visual phenomenon aroused by his drawings. Since then he became even more committed to minutely fill in the countless surfaces with meticulous drawing. Again, it is only his relation with a surface that really matters. Down to the last millimetre, he covers it with a drawing constructed in a state of aesthetic contemplation, similar to the state caused by a dedicated meditator chanting a mantra, getting increasingly absorbed towards a deep state of consciousness where superfluous, swarming thoughts disappear. For the artist, the process of drawing is an intuitive and sensual-spiritual experience, reflexive and spiritual intertwining arising during the work’s creation. He totally surrenders to the inner drive which moves his hand in the magic process of drawing.
Short, densely structured linear strokes cover the whole surface of undulating movement of the object’s base, originated in1993. A large charcoal drawing of a circular format 9 (1996), 2 meters in diameter, gets exhibited at the Biennial of Young Artists of Europe and Mediterranean in Turin in 1997, which was Todorović’s first more significant presentation at an international show outside Croatia. Whirling linear structure expands from a circle’s centre and radiates towards the edges as continuous energy circulation. Concave mirror placed under the drawing at the floor introduces a new quality – spatial dimension and possibility of seeing (in a deformed mirror) of distorted drawing segment. Opposed to the universalism of energy in eternal movement within a perfect form of the circle, with no beginning and no end, mirror reflection shows us transformed, partial drawing’s projection, visible in deformity. In the years to come Todorović develops his drawing passion. New challenge comes from using small wooden plates as bases. Partially due to economic factors and lack of optimal spatial working conditions, he draws on wooden plates of small formats, however, relating to the work and the material as if he was working under the most ideal conditions. By respecting its natural features and its texture, the base becomes a constitutive part of the work. And so he draws in directions dictated by the base, providing information from a zero plan. In 2000 Todorović creates twenty plates whose dimensions are 30 x 25 cm. Format dictates size and stroke quality, therefore small formats feature thinner stroke and denser line network. Most often he uses ceramic pen which leaves an extraordinarily fine trace.
At the turn of the century Todorović explores a possibility for expanding the drawing into new expressive media, through the usage of object, ambient and performance. At the 15th International Drawing Exhibition in MMSU (2002/2003) he exhibits an ambient titled “Flyfishing”10, which besides personal ready-made fishing items also contains drawings of trunks at wooden parquet and paper, as well as computer printouts of hermetic content. This was a result of the author’s completely personal story in the years burdened by searching for an exit from a shorter period of abstaining from the art. During the exhibition11 Todorović has a performance titled “Man Who Draws”12 comprising three levels – a direct author’s act of drawing at the opening and photographing of the process by a polaroid camera, followed by an immediate photo exhibition. His intention was that all the three get to be perceived simultaneously, while his desire was to encourage reflection on character of mental-perceptive processes: what came before – the painting or the act? These years give birth to a need for drawing’s expansion towards conquering three-dimensional objects. Hence the artist covers a surface of glass bottle in drawing, which gets exhibited together with board drawings in 2002 (“Table”) at the 56th Annual Exhibition of the Members of Croatian Society of Visual Artists in Rijeka, exhibition theme being a drawing. A jury awarded Todorović first prize for his stepping out of the traditional drawing notion13.
Drawings created from 2004 till today still elaborate same fascination with vortical, vibrant linear structures. The most significant shift in these newer drawings is problematizing the relation between format and stroke’s character, i.e. structure. Drawing covers a base sized up to 4 metres, so an observer needs a bigger distance to grasp the whole. For this reason the line is thicker, while distance between the line’s networks is bigger. Todorović modifies working means and draws with black and silver felt-tip pens.
Together with researching painting and drawing media in which he uses analytic and intuitive – meditative procedures, the second line of Todorović’s interest develops towards the artistic exploration of three-dimensional objects, installations and ambients as well as work in the non-traditional materials. Using the latter, he treats space, and consequently the sound (although both are immaterial in nature) as the work’s constituents, developing refined relation towards material’s features, as well as respect and appreciation of their natural characteristics. This process begun back in the early 90ies through attempts with the before mentioned objects – referred to by the author as “Small Ambients” - which then he didn’t yet succeed to render independent, whether as the ambients or the installations. This was an initial exercise in a skill which will develop further on. At the time Todorović builds three-dimensional bodies with painting and drawing procedures, remaining in planes, under a dictate of flatness.
Following an initiative to establish dialogue with the audience and to create dynamic platform for gathering and information exchange in order to ease art activity and create so needed database (a kind of archive), a group of generationaly close artists gathers: Jasna Šikanja, Lara Badurina, Predrag Todorović, Melita Sorola – Staničić, Damir Božić, Damir Šegota and few younger art students. They use stairway of the Modern Gallery for the occasional shows and authors’ explications, as well as talks with the audience. Unfortunately, this initiative was short-lived. At the first exhibition – dialogue, in April 1995, Todorović presented the audience with an object – a twelveangled ring shaped by the author as a dynamic form. Through a multiplied circular movement in the base of outer, brim mass and its inner hollow core, it continues the circular movement of the building’s interior and arches of the blind arcades at the stairway walls.
Ambient titled “Morning” exhibited at the Biennial of Young Artists of European Mediterranean in Rijeka in 1995 is his first work of a kind. The far predecessors of the spatially characterised works are the mental images perceived by Todorović in nature, on the streets. These are accidental phenomena (shadows, reflections on rejected items...) in which he recognizes perfection of the form, compositional harmony, extraordinariness and magic of the atmosphere. Such experiences define his path when deliberating ambient works. He solved drawing problematics with a success equalled by his solutions to the visual arts problematics in the new media. In the ambient installation “Morning“ we recognize his subtlety and skill in expertly chosen materials (glass, led) whose opposites give rise to extraordinary painting and associative values. In this way, drops molded from crystal glass shimmer, imitating a water drop, while irregular puddles on the floor supplement mimicry of the natural phenomena. At the same time, few works explore energy quality of the water, its motion and direction change, transferring a kinetic dimension into a static medium (“Piece of Water”, “Wave”, “Morning” exhibited at the Museum of Split’s premises in 1996). Yet another shift occurs in 1996 when in a tunnel under Istrian city of Grožnjan he intervenes into present spatial conditions by letting the smoke in, accentuating musty atmosphere of the space.
Series of installations including sound are created in 1997 (“Gus’s Bench”, “Birch”, “Melancholy”) while a work titled “Edith Piaf” originates in 2004. All these works display simultaneous and equal inclusion of various media expression in one work, so the sound is totally even with computer printout, photography, ready-made object or text. Transitory metamorphosis, ready-made raw beech parquet boards “arbitrarily” arranged over a showroom floor in Filodrammatica showroom, deliberately leave the accident to decide a manner of grouping object at a base – also parquet. Parquet over parquet is a tautological conception and the purest example of Todorović’s minimalism and sensitivity towards character of surface and a space treated as an artwork’s constituent. He prefers “samizdat” catalogues of ready-made character, which he personally makes and designs, using them as a communication extension of the work itself. Thus the catalogue of the mentioned exhibition was a parquet piece with a printed sentence: “I can transform myself into anything whenever I want ”. A gilt German 100 marks banknote created for 1998 Todorović’s show at the Žgabucin Gallery of the Gal Gallery is a work most explicitly connoting the artist’s attitudes on his own existential turmoil as well as a social-critical sting directed at modern civilizational distractions. Filling a honoured post of a President of Croatian Society for Visual Artists in Rijeka has strengthened everyday confrontation with problems in functioning of the art associations and institutions, as well as all the other difficulties met by artists in Croatian transitional society. He comments on weak audience’s response to cultural events by an engaged action and provocation in 2003. Namely, he photographs accidental passer-bys whose figures (life-size) he cuts out, pastes them on cardboards and installs them in a lobby and stairways of the always empty Croatian Cultural House and halls of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, where they stand as mute witnesses and ostensible visitors of the cultural events.
Media pluralism of the 90ies doesn’t offer us possibility of forming groups of authors expressing through the same poetic codes. Todorović’s appearance in Croatian context is an extraordinary one, since he masterfully handles a wide range of media expressions. His consistence in using drawing as an independent visual technique which he always anew reinterprets in a contemporary fashion has achieved a significant shift in Croatian art of today. Hence, Todorović’s creative potential pushed traditional media into evolving towards new position in the art macrocosm.
1 More on objects, installations and ambients in Sabina Salamon’s text.
2 Especially during his work in an atelier at a small village of Pašac nearby Rijeka, within inspirational company of colleagues he shared his atelier with: Damir Božić - Pišta, Marjan Blažina and Melita Sorola - Staničić. Since 2000 he has also worked as a professor at the School for Applied Arts in Rijeka.
3 “The Book of Materials (A Weekend Manual of Body Utopia for Pets)”, Graftrade, MMC Rijeka, 2001.
4 Hitherto, MMSU has published monographs on the ouevres of Ljubo de Karina, Ivo Kalina, Romolo Venucci, Stjepan Lahovski, Jakov Smokvina, Carlo Ostrogovich and Marcelo Ostrogovich. A monograph edition on Joško Eterović is currently under preparation.
5 Graduated in 1990.
6 Mirko Zrinšćak, Ksenija Mogin, Dalibor Laginja, Ðanino Božić, Marijan Pongrac.
7 The exhibtion has originated as a result of the association of art critics from six galleries in which the exhibition has been shown during the 1988 – Koprivnica, Ljubljana, Maribor, Subotica, Sarajevo and Rijeka.
8 Since 2005 within the Painting collection of MMSU.
9 “Circle”, within MMSU holding, Inv. No. 1993
10 Within MMSU holding, Inv. No. 2253
11 Exhibition “Drawing Versus Method”, Mali Salon.
12 Within MMSU holding, Inv. No. 2248
13 The jury included Sabina Salamon, Nataša Ivančević and Berislav Valušek (a show selector).
/ From the Monography PREDRAG TODOROVIĆ, 2006. Publishers: Museum of Modern and
Contemporary Art Rijeka, City of Labin, Croatian Association of Artists of Rijeka, Cultural
and Artistic Association ARTEL /