Right, or Wrong?

-By Petar Meseldzija

Is there a wrong way to tackle a painting? Do all roads lead to Rome, as they say? Can we really reach the same destination by different roads? I think the ultimate answer to the first question is NO, and YES is the answer to the second one. In other words, to get to the level of NO, one must pass through the level(s) of YES.

Yes, I believe that all roads lead to Rome, but only our own path will eventually bring us there. In order to find our own path, we must first walk the roads paved by others that came before us.

Another important question that addresses the same issue, only from another angle is – do we need to train our hand so that it can perform as we please; or, so to speak, do we have to learn to listen to that same hand and then act accordingly? This might sound like a silly, pretentious quasi-philosophical question, but it’s not. It refers to the following – at the beginning, one must learn in accordance to the existing set of rules and relevant insights, one must follow and obey them while passing through the various levels of skill and knowledge, and after having assimilated all that he requires, one begins to realize what it is that he needs to do in order to expresses himself genuinely, to live and work as one is destined to do, aligned with his innate character and sensibility.

In order to break the rules, or to let go of the guidelines that have helped and guided us on our developmental path and replace them with the new ones more true to our own character and our aspirations, we must get to know them first, we must live and work by them, at least for a certain period of time. Eventually it boils down to spending 20 years in hard work, learning and developing in accordance to the certain rules and criteria, just to find out that you must give up on them because you realize you don’t need them anymore, because they have become a restrictive burden, a stumbling block to your further growth. Of course, one can try to stick to the rules and guidelines, norms and values one grew up with, and live by them for the rest of one’s life in happiness and contentment - if one is lucky. But I am not talking to them, I am addressing those who are brave enough to walk “The road less traveled”.

The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović

Recently, I posted an image on Facebook of a painting in progress (The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović). Most of my Facebook friends, as it is called today, liked the presented image - some were intrigued, others puzzled by my way of working. A puzzled person asked why I paint like that? Another one was impressed by the “magic” of the process and suggested that I should go on television and present my skills to the kids to enjoy and be amazed by. There was a person who, quite genuinely and with best possible of intentions, advised me not to post such images online anymore because the “real” painters might think I am an amateur. A proper way of working on a painting, as he correctly pointed out, demands that the artist works simultaneously on different parts of the picture, gradually working his way toward the completion of the entire piece.

To make things clear, I did not feel insulted by any of these questions and comments, nor did I think they were silly, or mean. They were genuine and by the book…well, by a book. I perfectly understand that we, people, often have troubles understanding the dynamics and the logic of a level, or a stage, we are not familiar with, or the insights we are not yet up to.

What they did not know was that I spent decades working by the book, so to speak, following, as best as I could, clever and inspiring instructions and insights of those who preceded me on a similar kind of endeavor, and with which they paved and enlightened the path for me. Throughout my entire career, I spent countless hours preparing reference material, doing sketches and preliminaries, and making elaborate and complex underpaintings, some of which were in fact finished monochromatic pictures. But… but, about a year ago, I realized I did not need any of this anymore. And although I still spend much time on preparations, especially on creating a very detailed digital reference, I do not need the underpainting anymore. I might do a little bit of underpainting here and there when a specific under-color is needed, but generally I stopped working in this way – the thing that was previously very helpful, has become now restrictive and annoying. At the same time, the irresistible call of the virgin white painting surface and the freshness and vitality of the first, juicy brushstrokes became so attractive to me and delicious to work with, that some other aspects of my previous painting process did not matter anymore and were abandoned, or pushed to the background. The fear of paint, my faithful friend and companion, seems finally to have left me.

The Sentinel: Homage to Paja Jovanović, still in progress.

I realized that I have finally arrived - I finally “graduated” from my own school, my own art academy - I finally learned to paint (it’s funny to feel that way after more than 25 years of painting). Moreover, I understood what my hand - being a metaphor for the painter’s creative spirit – wants me to do, and how to do it. So, thus I entered a new level, a new stage of artistic development with new set of rules and challenges.

Nevertheless, I am not the first, nor the last one to have made this particular journey, this transition. Perhaps you are next…So, good luck!

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