Criticism

RADENKO MIŠEVIĆ’S DRAWINGS

THE OPUS OF ELEGANCE, TACT AND STYLE
Zuko Džumhur

An encounter with artworks of Radenko Mišević, whether paintings or drawings, leaves a special impression, a mark that forces you to follow it, to think, to analyse, to discover and then to interpret and explain, first of all to yourself and after that to all others, why it is so poetic, balanced, a bit seductive, deeply thought-out and consistent. This experience is strong, as if poetry took you under its wings and led you to spaces of some imaginary worlds which imbue any sensitive soul. His artworks are poems and novels of a personal art language, where he was a ruler over painter`s matter. His works are also sonatas and symphonies that you listen quietly. The link with literature and music had a specific significance to him. He actually went through the path of gradual moving and development.
Born in Rogatica, where he remembers to have loved drawing on walls of the deserted Austro-Hungarian barrack, using a piece of found charcoal, clod of red earth or colourful clay, Bosnia presented to him a period of youth that was interrupted by war, as well as provincial region where the urge for art was autochthonous, actually, it was a kind of a school of desire, a wish to gain education and conquer new values. He drew anything that came to his mind, he drew under the table, because he was completely protected and calm there, turned toward his own world. The famous advice which he accepted from a character of his famous painting (Vlada Aborinac – the wonderful character that watches trains) reads as follows: Never go by rabbit`s paths, only through the big ones, where lions pass. He followed that path quietly and unobtrusively.
He finished Technical High School in Sarajevo, architecture course. Dedication to drawing gave him great pleasure. The earliest drawing was a portrait of a neighbour Dedić, and professor of drawing always encouraged him to draw. He was interested in architecture. He believed that it was an area where he would try his hand, and he also had this need for writing, for writing everything down. It is known that Mišević first had the wish to write, and he recognized painting later on, when he also chose it as his vocation. He wrote in his diary about various topics that had occupied him. He was hunting for, upon his own confession, beautiful words that he thought had made him live longer “as if in times of great hunger and scarce provisions”. He wrote poetry, later on art reviews, aesthetics studies, theories of form which he taught at university and texts on art.
He exhibited for the first time together with Zuko Džumhur, just before the war in 1940. The critics said for these works that they had been emphatically expressive, close to Cézanne`s modulation, of strong forms and clear linear structure. The series of drawings was done in 1941 in Negotin, where he was at that time and where he once exhibited those drawings. The critics noticed (N. Kusovac) some draughtsman`s insecurities in those early works and almost unreal framing of details, but also the essential setting of later art procedure and expression through drawing. In war years (1943) he started studies with professor Milo Milunović and he had interrupted them because he joined the Partisans. He finished specialization after liberation with distinguished professors Ivan Tabaković, Marko Čelebonović and Nedeljko Gvozdenović. He received the award at his 3rd year of studies from the Fund Petar Dobrović for the best painting and later, after numerous group and solo exhibitions at home and abroad, he received a great number of various recognitions for his fine art works, among which is the Order of Labour with Golden Wreath of SFRJ. He is one of the founders of the group The Independent, with whom he regularly exhibited throughout Yugoslavia, as well as a member of the groups Sarajevo 55 and Group 57, with whom he presented himself at group exhibitions. He also developed during other study trips. He is our last painter who had worked at André Lothe`s atelier in Paris, but the influence of Lothe on his art education was less than the influence of Braque, for instance. Other study trips (Pompeii) were also rather inspiring and they impacted his broadness of vision and his work. A vanished world from the town at the foot of Vesuvius had prowled into his spirit and become very familiar and comprehensible to him. The relation towards wall as a painter`s surface had changed, and gradually became the motif of his works in oil and on paper.
A part of his life Mišević spent in Sarajevo until 1962. The Sarajevo period was very prolific in his art work. He was one of the founders of the Association of Visual Artist of Bosnia and Herzegovina and in two terms he was its president. He had been teaching the theory of form for years. He filmed short films and he dealt with set design for the leading Yugoslav theatres. He worked as a journalist, magazine editor, theatre and film set designer, he directed films as metaphors, and his short film This wealthy house, in which his colleagues-painters were actors, was awarded with the international prize. Every film sequence presented mostly an art experience, as it had been the case with the films of Živko Nikolić, former student of Herceg Novi Fine Art School.
At the beginning of the Seventies Radenko Mišević moved to Belgrade, where he stayed until the end of his life. For a while he was concurrently engaged in both cities, and he gave his contribution, beside his fine art opus, as a professor and the dean of the Fine Arts Academy in Belgrade. He was a founder of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FLU) Gallery which, after several years of working, should bear his name and in that manner pay deserved recognition to him.
Having chosen painting, he endeavoured to devotedly discover the world beyond this known one, beyond data, and he strived to fathom into reasons for existence of certain states of things and to comprehend the worlds inside him, the spaces of unfathomable and irrational. He created his own specific world, outside the current trends and ruling ideologies. The sights of silence, sorrow and melancholy. The atmosphere of nostalgia and certain elegance. His originality was reflected in his gift and pure expression of inner solitude. Honest and almost mystical quest for truth was not in fashion among souls avid for novelties or worried about the form or abstract structure. To him, it was primarily the expression of intention to question the world and himself, the essence of all existing things. “Form is a necessity. It is hard to imagine it as being free without having a feeling that it is unnecessary” – said the artist. Along with plastic phenomena and solutions that were sought out through his own procedures of painting and drawing, Mišević did not neglect current events in the external world. He talked about miserable life, poverty of the world in his own environment, about ominous relation to the environment to which he belonged, using strokes of brush or pen, by tone harmonies, with scents of landscapes, expressions of faces “rigid with misery and distraught with despair”. He knew how to present a soul of every selected, and we would add, dear object, though it was an old vase, a scale taken from the household appliances of his mother, objects to which he suggested a kind of an old order, discreet lyricism and definitely a certain warmth and a feeling of enchantment.
Afterwards Radenko Mišević discovered that his ancestors had come from the surrounding area of Herceg Novi, actually from Kamenari. His origins were connected to a small place in Boka Kotroska Bay, to the Seaside, to the Mediterranean. After retiring, he would often spend time in Boka. It is not strange that he painted it a lot and made draughtsman notes. The artist`s origins, we must admit, additionally drew our attention to his work. Certain familiarity of motifs, being very recognizable, the Mediterranean sunlight. Light and whiteness on his paintings present the artist`s obsession, often interpreted as defiance, a contrast to Bosnian vilayets, dreary history, tragic life on the soil from which he originated. Whiteness was, as some people wrote, the symbol of indestructibleness, fixed atmosphere of a certain part of the day and certain state of mind. White in Mišević`s work is possible joy, promise, light of the Seaside that he had in his genes. Many wrote about the work of Radenko Mišević. A great number of art historians, fine art artists, writers and friends spoke inspirationally about his paintings on various occasions and opportunities. However, more seldom did they talk about drawings, which he did not often exhibit. Twice – in Belgrade in 1981 and 1985 and once in Sarajevo in 1984.
In drawings, which he drew permanently during all periods of his life, he knew how to capture an impression, beauty of scenery, the pose of some nude only with a few scarce lines, a portrait of a priest, his wife, a girl, a friend or his own art experience of selected theme that occupied his mind. Expressive drawing affinity, graphism and linearity, are noticeable in Mišević`s paintings, but drawing is the spinal cord and basic constructing element of the composition, a witness and a bearer of all artist`s fine art considerations. Among many drawings from his legacy, in big and small blocks, there are sketches, studies, landscapes, portraits, self-portraits, set design compositions, still life, nudes, illustrations, monotyping. Sometimes these are very precise strokes, as if a hand of an architect had made them, and sometimes the strokes are playful lines going into all directions that crisscross the surface of a paper making the composition abstract. There are drawings where an echo of associative abstraction may be seen and in which compositions and strokes we can feel certain chaotic state, but it was only a short phase, since it did not suit his expressiveness, i.e. his experiencing things and his need to transfer it in the appropriate way. He drew in rhythms of floral world structures as if combining notes for some musical sonata. Those were mainly interventions of a master who feels and carefully choose every object or space that he modifies, whether interior, town`s street or seaside landscape, flower or tree tops. The line is confident, pure, done skilfully, beautifully paced as if it was pulled out by music`s order whose closeness he consciously or subconsciously searched for. With music that surrounded him and which was the vocation of his wife and daughters, he was thinking better, upon his own confession, and more actively plunged into fine art adventures and more substantially spent his time. He wove music, we would say, into his art speech, and this speech resembled musicality of his lines.
If we perceive a drawing, primarily, as the space of freedom and revealing truth, let us recall the words of Radenko Mišević himself: “I know that we should draw first… cling to some advantageous truth that glittered beneath chaos.” Incentives were not only things that could be seen, as in music the things that reached sense of hearing, but they are somewhere in the depth of ourselves, in a place where we all carry and feel specific colours and shapes that our affinity chooses and selects. This is more emphasized with fine art artists; it is unpredictable, subject to their imagination strengths and powers of their gift. This may be drawing without caution, impulsively, uncontrollably, passionately, as a note of a pen in order not to forget something or the need to research even further. Sometimes this is not harmonized with what an eye can see. Lines were vibrating depending on emotional load and inner impulses, but the results were always the evidence of skilfulness and precision of the artist`s observation. An aspiration towards deeper and more meaningful art speech was felt. This is what actually characterizes the opus of Radenko Mišević. Sceneries and people that he selected as sequences and then transformed into plastic structure of an artwork, into art images, as he loved to name these tight details, moments caught in time and space. He completely defined object by drawings and using such fine art means he expressed best his own visual ideal, win over by selecting the already seen. If it was not Bosnia, sceneries with minarets, roofs of Islamic architecture or bell towers of a Christian edifice, some forest landscape or town scenes, then it was Dalmatia, anchored boat, a group of sailors, a street in Herceg Novi, deserted stone house, a wall with interesting portal, a view from the window, dried tree, etc. There is a certain feeling of emptiness, abandonment, sorrow, spiritual dusk in these drawings, such as in his paintings. Drawing was always very studious, never nervous or dramatic. He did them using pencil, India ink and pen, charcoal, brush or cane. And even when he withdrew into silence and meditation, drawings and his linear flows were conversing with environment, going down to casual or accidental written notes, taking into the atmosphere of all that is essential and necessary. Some landscapes, done during his journeys in Arabic states, look as if they were some kind of a set design, shown only as something significant, without shadows, without depth, as a small segment of the world translated into a domain of fine art, with intention to convince us that experience originated from a motif. Motif animates imagination, emotions, premonition, and quest for the unknown. It deciphers vision and it makes it more real, unbiased, and even as a film. We should reveal Mišević`s closed world, his secrets, sleepiness of ruins, metaphors about deterioration and transitoriness. His works are actually his thoughts about human lifetime, about loneliness, abandonment. And when there are no human figures, we feel their presence, we foretell a man`s need to record, to intervene, to leave a trace, to remember.
Radenko Mišević gladly had discussions with professor Milunović about a line and pacing linear compositions, about the type and value of contours, about their number, thickness when making straight, curving, vertical lines. Stroke of a pen and lines looking as sharp edges that he called “traitors` codes”, which sometimes act as another intention of his and make it weaker and redundant. What observation of a sensitive being! He defended his principles in public and supported them though his own artwork. “His drawings and pastels have the necessary classical rigour – Stojan Ćelić wrote and continued – while sketches made by charcoal end in direct, relaxed strokes”. When we talk about drawings, it should be emphasized that he did illustrations for newspapers and numerous books, especially for poetry books and children`s literature and that he dealt with graphic design in certain segments of his fine art work. He made monotyping and used engraving technique or graphic press so that a paper can resemble a relief.
Mišević does not belong to any style or trend in art. He was not a realist, but rather a poetic realist with distinguished intention of a higher degree to fathom into the reality visible to him. He was not an abstract painter, but he did a small number of associative abstractions. Diverse style approaches do not exclude one another, but they are happily and logically complemented in his work.
Oblivion and tribute do not have to be antithesis. Nevertheless, oblivion is invincible if we do not take some action and leave someone’s opus to decay. We took out some drawings from Radenko Mišević`s blocks and prepared this small publication and exhibition wishing to show with this homage, 20 years after his death, that oblivion can be defeated (and his opus is definitely worthy of our attention) and that his draughtsman`s style is unique, simple, analytical, poetic, contemplative, rich and similar to the creative personality of the author who in his book Days and years “draws portraits of crushed time using words” (M. Begenišić), time of dissipated meaning, where integral destiny of man should be significant. Unfortunately, it is not. Times are far worse than those “woollen ones”, war times, time of crises. “Time is not here only so that things are to be forgotten. Time is here so that things can be enlivened, escape from transitoriness and oblivion, and become bigger and acquire the value they deserve” – he would write down in his diary, this extraordinary man, a painter and a poet.
We have started and we will finish with the words of the artist`s peer and friend Zuko Džumhur, who, among other things, wrote down the following: “In the European choir full of singers without eyes and ears, Mišević stands out with beauty and sonority of his voice.” Radenko Mišević, that elegant man from Boka Kotorska, that melancholic Bosnian man, that human Yugoslav citizen, he left remarkable artworks to our art history. Drawings present the inseparable segment of this opus, whether they represent studies, first idea sketches or an independent artwork.

Borka Božović
Belgrade, September 2015


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