(About Čemerski’s Art)
#1 My life-long affection with the work of Gligor Čemerski makes me believe in such definitions of the nature of artistic creativity according to which we can often identify the artist with his works. I think that they are the true artist’s biography, his testimony and materialization of his creative spirituality. The act of creation is often regarded as a phenomenon in which the person who performs it is in an extraordinary state, when the artist yields to the trance in order to reach the sublime areas of the spirit where the Good and the Beautiful unite. Through this catharsis he practically becomes equal to the ritual and the mystical effect of any mythology or religion. In fact, it is there that he searches and finds the sacral.
Let us not forget that Čemerski grew up by the side of Petar Mazev, surely one of the bards of newer Macedonian painting, who said many times “since Čemerski’s early childhood and throughout my whole life, I have never had a closer creative collocutor”. In Belgrade, where he completed his studies and post graduate studies in fine arts and where, with great success, he experienced his first cultural promotion, he found himself in a friendly four, together with Todor Stevanović, Radislav Trkulja and Filip Bulović. “We shared the bread and the salt, the canvas and the colours, but because of the anarchism and the extreme individualism of each of us, so ‘unbearable’ to our painting environment of the time, we never created a ‘group’ “, the artist confides in me. #6 Even in this early period Bata Mihailović, who had an excellent position in the Paris hierarchy, opened the doors of the “Rive Gauche” gallery and those of his friends from the famous “Cobra” to Čemerski. Here’s what Mihailović writes in a Paris introduction to Čemerski’s exhibition in the “Galerie du Fleuve”: “I love the painting of Gligor Čemerski. Gligor is a born Expressionist. He is a painter with a strong gesture, full of élan, of lightning and thunder. We were in search of the same spirit, when a long time ago we met in the Nerezi monastery, near Skopje. At that time Gligor was just nineteen. This encounter in front of the grandiose ‘Mourning’ led us to discover our common roots. Since then we swear only on Kurbinovo, Sopočani, Van Gogh, El Greco and Picasso…
We pledge ourselves only to painting”.
#2 So Čemerski was not alone in the obsession to dive into the deepest areas of the artistic chasm, into the traumas of human personality and existence, to declare personal defeats and anxieties. The artist builds into his compositions the challenge to evoke the powers of evil, the earthly, but very often the metaphysical as well, in order to “free” himself from them, but surely also because he expects to share them with others. The form of such engagement of creativity has not appeared only once in different philosophical-sociological aspirations and style movements in contemporary art: in Symbolism, in the figurative and “abstract” variants of Expressionism and even in Surrealism. Wasn’t one of the tendencies of figurative painting to cherish the deformed, to cynically and maybe almost blasphemously attack some “sin” of civilization? And so on until the impudent and unpredictable wanderings of Postmodernism…
But throughout all this time some great artists of this century dreamed, as if enchanted, of Mediterranean regions in which everything encouraged them through their personality to renew the roar of ancient legendary and mythical times, but also the spiritual beauty of the Byzantine art and of the East. We see it all in Čemerski’s painting, from his early work to his most recent paintings. He may occasionally impose on us a conflict with him, for he rarely fondles our eyes with the charm of the manuscript of his painting, in spite of his Dionysian oneness with life, in spite of the “élan vital” which streams through his hand, in spite even of the creative ardor to which he wholeheartedly yields. As if some note of doubt, intoned by the forces of destruction, constantly echoes here too…
The latest paintings of Čemerski are united in the logic of such an anxious search for the meaning of artistic expression, linked in terms of modernity, I believe, to the whole of the previous hundred years. But only in that. For he is a contemplator constantly testing his spirit, life, but the disappearance of death as well, which directs him not only to one epoch, but to all time of Art which is certainly much longer and definitely more open. This may be the root of his merciless and generous dispensing.
Way back in the early sixties at first Čemerski devoted himself to motifs in which everything was possible: the gracious shepherd, his goats and kids easily transformed into tame mythical suggestions, painted with light and delicate delight, with colors reminiscent of ancient experience. As if they were a distant echo of the frescoes of Crete or those from Pompeii. Soon the youthful euphoria was to transform into tensed, symbolic and allegorical compositions. Then came works close to the cynicism of the “art brut”, and with time they turned into the spectral somber reels of “Samračni ora” (Sombre Reels 1976) or into a chain of belligerent, hostile monsters, like in the great painting “Ballkanijada – ili Apologija na vojničkata ljubov” (Balkaniad – or An Apology for the Soldier’s Love).
#3 Since the eighties Čemerski has created a multitude of monumental fresco and mosaic murals. But this time the curved and swollen shapes, the Epicurean merged Mediterranean harmonies, changed into powerful and convulsively twisted compositions. The legend, the myth, ancient and recent history, national or spiritual freedom, the traditional reel or the hoary ritual dance equaled in the works of Čemerski with his visions of Prometheus, of the Great Mother or with some of the visions from the Apocalypse. Altamira and the whole of the Mediterranean world enter a dialogue with the work of Leger and Picasso here, but just as well with the dreams beautifully performed by the painters of the frescoes in the churches from the distant twelfth century, St. George in Kurbinovo and St. Pantelejmon in Nerezi. A compact syncretism of beliefs, styles and times was originated, a syncretism not deprived of narration or of philosophical and ethical thesis, nor of the cosmopolitan engagement with humanity. Thus had Čemerski spread his past obsessions with the spiritual and aesthetic horizons of Byzantine art in the colossal dimensions of his “Slikonostas” (Paris 1986), sharing the cognate deliriums of the Russian avant-garde in a manner particular to him.
#5 Čemerski built in this frighteningly complex program in his following paintings and drawings, tying himself to the stencil of the Byzantine painting idiom. He respects it but is also dramatically striving to transform it into a fact of the present. In the cycle “Patetični glavi” (Pathetic heads) the distortion even reaches the grotesque. A flood of works with images of “St. George and the Dragon” has poured out since 1990. At first Čemerski presented the skirmish of the saint with the beast through furious clashes between the painting elements. Then, drunken by his artistic power, the painter found a motive to pull out his delightfully painted calligraphy that was soaked in the even more generously colored destruction of the form. The cycle followed history as well: during the most recent Balkan slaughters, Čemerski expressed his distress through a conceptual change of the ancient legend. In almost cyclic compositions the author does not now categorically define the outcome of the battle between good and evil, between the saint and the beast. It is in the latest variants of this motif’s presentation that the artist has set a joyous, almost erotic component. This deviation from the established iconography of St. George is most visible in the series of “Apocrypha” where the strict Christian chastity is pushed out by some sort of special pagan enjoyment.
In love with the places where the Byzantine painting “miracle” was expressed too, Čemerski was constantly searching for new, but hidden places, like the monastery St. Joakim Osogovski, where in 1992 he gives birth not only to his dream visions of the monastery, but also to a great many night imaginations. Because the painter has upset the components which compose the church, it turns into something alive, and they are now in a dialogue with the space, an earthly or a heavenly one. The colors are gloomy, nocturne, and the holy place is not only peace, but excitement as well.
But hardly any other motif has obsessed Čemerski’s spirit like the famous “Lamentation of Christ” from Nerezi. It is certainly his most dramatic strife. In a variety of works produced between 1994 and 1997 the painter paraphrases the same motif through fine art, but with philosophical observation and through the instruments of the artists of this century. He transforms the Nerezi fresco’s ‘Expressionism-ahead-its-time’ using knowledge of all other ‘Expressionism’, and especially of those from this century. Čemerski transforms the elegant, the remarkably and boldly curved shapes in the “Lamentation” from Nerezi into broken, angle-shaped strokes and surfaces and stiffened body forms. The almost theatrical ritual of the fresco is altered into fiercely propelled compositions of mostly blue and ash-blue. It is as if the ‘aestheticism’ of the ancient description of Christ’s death has become inappropriate after all the dying that has befallen our times and it is exactly this that makes these Čemerski’s somber paraphrases different from those hedonistic and arbitrary paraphrases that Picasso had made of many great works from the past.
#4 Čemerski has included the entire variety and all the sensual reaches of his communication with the Mediterranean impulses during these last years not only in the cycle “Ohrigjanki” (Maids of Ohrid), in the scenes stunned by the light of Kavala and Tassos, but also in the series of pagan and mythological odes which he jocundly named “September”. The drawing choreography of Čemerski has transformed. The curved whirlwinds of the trembling tremolo lines, which in a dancing glade associate with the canvas, cover almost every inch of the painting. The knowledge of years of creative experience has turned into a maestros hedonistic exhibition. Every inch of the painting is carefully ‘nourished’ with colour, in order that every detail of this thick painting tissue should be an emanation of high spiritual and visual culture. And here everything suggests that in his sensual dreaming Čemerski has again united the epochs. So I feel his latest youthful evocations of the pastoral scenes, the attractions of Ohrid which he has paralleled with the Aegean vedutas, harmonized freely and with great imagination by his personal sensibility. He knows about Picasso and Matisse’s kindred fascination with the Mediterranean, but does not copy it. He shapes it into a special fact of the art of the end of this unfortunate century. He in fact confirms the wisdom and the belief of the classical fact of the end of this unfortunate century. He in fact confirms the wisdom and the belief of the classical thinkers, that Art is victory over Chaos and Death. This extraordinary, ‘neomodern’ beauty in the works of Čemerski is his passport to the next century, won through creativity.