Biography as a Spiritual Travelogue

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Biography as a Spiritual Travelogue

III. Shepherds and the Golden Age

#10 In 1962 he finished an oil painting with the unusual name of Umec – Burnt Area. As can be supposed, Umec is a place name. What happens when an artist decides to call his work after a point on the map that is not a well-known city and cannot immediately awake pleasant memories of streets people have walked in themselves, or at least streets that people in a novel have walked through instead of them? It is a risky matter to decide on such a title even though an unknown, exotic phonetic combination is enough to attract attention. It immediately lets the viewer into a secret, invites him to make a mental effort comparable with boyhood enjoyment of an adventure that makes the skin tingle. For the painter Petlevski, Umec was the place name of memory, the evocation of childhood spent in his grandfather’s house. It renewed memories of Pelagonia, a large Macedonian plane, and of the rugged mountains above the village in which he sought salvation from his native town in his childhood, sought rest and salvation from illness in his youth. Stories of a dragon that could burn acres of land with a single breath, combined with peasant superstition and a boyhood imagination, excited and frightened the boy who very early felt the attraction of spiritual adventure, but also fear of crossing the line between the world of bare reality and the landscape of the imagination. I always forgot to ask my father what happened when he walked across Umec. I think that he first encountered the concept of a homeland on the other side. Of course, it was an ideal homeland that he wanted to create by himself or to re-create, by selecting from its Classical tradition. But first he had to trick the dragon or #12Cerberus, never mind which, a kind of terrible border guard that separated the poverty-stricken scorched area of twentieth-century Macedonia from the spiritual kingdom of the eternal Golden Age. Grandfather and grandmother saved me, for the I don’t know which time, from a great physical and mental crisis. Especially at a time when I myself thought that my position was hopeless. It was not until three months later that I felt the need to draw, and in ten days I made dozens of sketches and studies of everything that moved in the village farmyard. In this fragment my father describes his convalescence after an illness resulting from his hard life during the first year of studying painting, when he had to sleep under the open sky and in a barn on the outskirts of Zagreb. It made me remember his description of the bliss on the faces of shepherds and peasants who stopped to look at him working as a painter with a kind of dumb awe and comic seriousness. How not to remember here that famous scene with herders somewhere at the beginning of the first book of Cervantes’s novel? Don Quixote, offered acorns by goatherds, felt the need to lecture them about the Golden Age. He used Ovid’s description of the archaic age with an ideal human community devoid of egoism, even of the very concept of property, as a foundation for a speech that even the speaker thought superfluous for the people who were listening to him. Nevertheless, he continued to deliver his wonderful monologue. The herders sat in silence, honouring the beauty of the useless, the mysterious beauty of what cannot be understood. Many people of the pen often listened to my father in the same way, holding their breath, but his idea of pride in his homeland, his fiery defense of the artist’s right to freely choose the spiritual tradition that suits him best, was sometimes better understood by the shepherds.

He believed in the measure of his own talent that was no less nor more than what it was, and that is why he serenely handed his pictures over to the fate of historical justice. But here, in my attempt to chronologically reconstruct my father’s life, it is more important to emphasize the other side of the same problem. However strongly he believed in the destiny of art, he just as strongly defended his right to free choice of elements that are otherwise considered firm points, unchangeable and given in human life. He believed that he had the right to choose the history, heritage and tradition he needed to create his homeland as his spiritual environment. If Macedonia was his homeland by Alexander, Croatia was his homeland by Jullje Klovic and Marko Marulic. Mentioning these two European names of Croatian painting and literature in his notebook, Petlevski explained that he had chosen Zagreb as a link to the western art tradition of the Renaissance. His patriotism would seem like cosmopolitanism if he had not also been very suspicious of all attempts to superficially equate differences, if he had not seen a threat of some new form of cultural colonization in unify of the average. He was proud of the country of his roots. The real nature of this pride can only be explained by considering the world of ideas that has for centuries engrossed artists, including my father: starting from the idea of the Golden Age to the evocation of childhood, the eternal theme in the relationship between art and memory. Whoever is interested in more than this will have to step out of the chronology column and into the wider column, to the chapter entitled Shepherds and the Golden Age. #11After 1942 the idyll of his childhood ended and the time of war, hunger and solitude in the occupied town began – without his mother who died exhausted by illness and the general disappointment of her soul. This was a time when he was unprotected, a time of hardship without his father Jon who was passing through his own martyrdom first in a Bulgarian prison camp, then in flight, walking across the mountains from Bulgaria to Macedonia.

AuthorSibila Petlevski
2018-08-21T17:23:53+00:00 June 1st, 2000|Categories: Reviews, Gallery, Blesok no. 15|0 Comments