On L. Ličenoski’s retrospective exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art, Skopje, October, 1998
#1 Lazar Ličenoski was born in March (28.03.1901) “on naked ground, by the fire, in ash, on a straw mat. I was growing on a bare stone and on a country muckheap located ten meters from our house”. His father, Philip, came from a respectable family of builders where, apart from icon-painting and carving, the third Galičnik trade – building, was transferred from father onto son, on entire generations, who built a large number of churches, part of them in Romania, like Matej – Mote Velov Ličenoski, who “constructed the largest church spire.” When his mother Magda “… slipped on ice, was deadly injured, and died young at the age of twenty two…” Lazar and his sister Stojana were raised and bred by his Aunt Rosa. #2 The construction work took Philip to the area of Prizren, whereas Lazar remained in Galičnik, to live the day-labour life, and with his small hands of a child to toil in the service of the herdsmen and to obey their commands, so as “… not to eat bread for nothing.” This primitive life of a day-labourer, not a little harder than the domestic life, at least warmed his soul with “that essential mountain silence, the limitless views from the peaks of Bistra, through the bases of Krčin and Stogovo, through all Albania, marvellous tinges and harmonies of blue and purple colours vanishing into the soft greyness of the Adriatic offing”. All this triggered the desire to immortalise on canvas this unremitting love of the mountain scenery.
#3 There is great affection in Ličenoski’s words that in Skopje, where he embarked on a different way of living in an urban surroundings: “… I felt for the first time what a real human life was, what hygiene, play, and study were…” But Tetovo, too, where he spent a significant period of his childhood, for Ličenoski meant establishing initial contacts with the organised life in “a provincial kasaba”, which in those pre-war times was not “… routine, monotonous, and tedious. There was always a certain specific cultural and entertainment life in this town. For instance, after World War I, in Tetovo there were more than a hundred mandolins, and tens of guitars and violins”.
His first encouragement for creation was engendered during the meetings with the last Miak icon-painters who taught him the trade, the mixture of colours and their magic potency that made him “for hours on, end with the eyes directed towards the spire, observe Dimitrija (Andonov Papradiški), an icon-painter, standing on the scaffolding and painting…”
When in 1918 his father, Philip, died, Lazar settled the home obligations: he married his sister Stojana, sold out the workshop tools, and resolute to realise his daydream left his home fireplace. Prior to this, in 1920, he painted this fireplace with its entire elementary and obsolete inventory, deeply engraved in his nostalgic memories. Then, in 1921, he departed for Belgrade in order to study.
#4 Leaping the years of patriarchal beginnings of fine arts development in the first and second decades, Ličenoski entered the life of fine arts in the thirties, when the ideal of the general vanquished the personal, reason replaced emotion, the eternal superseded the ephemeral; the constructive museum realism resurrected traditionalism. For its part, the avant-garde, which so vehemently opposed the tremulous impressionism and its laboratory system of optical breaking-down of colour, from cesanism, expressionism and cubism melted into traditional neoclassicism. The contact with the sources in Paris, where he was sent to study fresco techniques at Marceille Renoir’s, for Ličenoski meant a scrutinising study of those styles’ contents from which with an exquisite choice he would determine the complex arsenal of his painting. He cherished a particular preference for Utrilo, for Picasso’s classic phase as well as for the expressive exaltation of Delacroix’s vortex, Renoir’s melting of colour, etc. Ličenoski did not admire Marseille Lenoir as a painter because he could not fit his rustic and lively nature into Lenoir’s meticulous and disciplined scheme. Nevertheless, Lenoir introduced him into the secrets of fresco techniques and uncovered “the head and tail” of colour in the touch with the moist fresco base. On the other hand, the experience acquired in Andre Lott’s workshop directed him towards the old masters: what are the relations between fine arts elements needed for producing a painting in the artist’s laboratory? During this period spent in Paris Ličenoski mostly aspired to the plastic form and volume of Picasso. These shifts in Ličenoski’s works originated, on the one hand, from the satiety with the arsenal of the rigid academic scheme and the classicist colour “obstruction”, and on the other hand, from his unremitting dedication to the colour accord of the iconography of his South. These shifts were especially due to the instigating “air” of the Parish circle, where the focus was already switched from form to colour, from the metaphysical to the existential, from reason and the rational to feelings and the emotional, from the gigantic classics Poussin, Engre, Deren, to the new pictorial sensitivity of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Modigliani, Utrillo, Segonsak, Chagall, Kisling…