(On the occasion of Ilija Penušliski’s art exhibition in gallery “Oko” in Skopje on 19.09.2011)
#1 I learned some of the greatest life lessons in the art studio of Ilija Penušliski. And I still learn a lot from him while he is telling local neighborhood’s anecdotes, while I am tasting his famous pancakes, while I am looking at Bogart and Sinatra on his walls, while I am kibitzing him playing chess, and most of all, while I am sneaking some quick looks over his shoulders at his easel while he is painting. That is how I know that framing his canvases is not exactly his most favorite activity, just as I find it quite difficult to frame my thoughts related to his painting, as I have always reflected on art as an emotion rather than a rational judgment of the piece of art in front of me.
#2 Perhaps that is also the reason why I skipped the opportunity to deal professionally with art history long ago, and turned to literature instead, which probably refers to the same vision of the world, but has completely different ways of expression, as Ernesto Sabato used to say. I did not know back than that painting is healthier than writing, as this eminent Latin American writer and painter concluded from his own experience, for the reason that “the painter’s way of expression is passionate, and salvational, and happy.”
#3 And that is precisely the analogy why these words reminded me of Ilija Penušliski so much, the same passion that Penušliski feels about his painting, the same overwhelming urge to draw a line with his brush every single day, the same joy of creation not as something done for the final result or for the viewers, but as an essential artistic need to create, and whilst creating to keep saving himself and the world over and over again. The pleasure of the audience is just a bonus.
#4 Penušliski’s passion and dedication, together with his rare combination of extraordinary intellect, quick-witted mind, precise eye and upscale gift, make his art world so special. And if we add his Encyclopedia erudition and his rich life and working experience to this list, and we need to do so having in mind that in this occasion we are celebrating his 40th anniversary from his first art exhibition, we end up with expression that inclines towards perfection as an imperative and a quality that raises the standards of the contemporary art today.
#5 Let us not forget that this exhibition is an exceptional pleasure for the reason that apart from one show in 2008 (that happened after 16 years long break and that was estimated by the critics as the most significant art event in the year), the world had much more opportunities to admire Penušliski’s work. I can tell you first hand about his presentation in the prestigious Palazzo Barberini in Rome, where his paintings were exhibited in the gallery where the permanent exhibition includes Titian, Tintoretto and Caravaggio, and where the sophisticated and rather picky audience greeted our Maestro with standing ovations. In that context, I believe we are all aware that tonight we are showing our appreciation to a great artist and a significant painting ouvre, although fine manners and good taste do not allow him celebration with pomp. In fact, as he uses to say himself, he is in his best years, and there is still a lot of time ahead for retrospective exhibitions.
#6 What I find most fascinating in Penušliski’s paintings that are presented here today for the first time is their urban character. Following the line of his previous achievements and already recognizable motifs, it is obvious that if it is not some detail from Skopje in stake, than the inspiration is probably Paris, Rome or some other metropolis where Penušliski feels at home as much as in his resident town. Thereby, much more than an attempt to portrait one city, in these paintings he makes an effort to understand the spirit of that place and all its personal performances, almost as his urban landscape represent an attempt to write the city’s public history.
#7 When I talk about urban landscapes, I do not necessarily mean the first Google result on this term – some advices for perfect green garden, although you will also come across grass, meadows, trees, waters… In continuity, Penušliski is much more interested in buildings, little houses, churches, cathedrals, citadels, city regions, bridges, roofs, windows; that seemingly common architecture and simple structure of the objects; those actual physical images, either clearly defined or blurred, either shining gold or dark grey, either real or imaginary, either painted in details, from a broader perspective or most usually both with equal attention, either they are here beside us or somewhere over there, floating under the clouds…
#8 I have always had the feeling that he is trying to present the power of the space he chooses to focus on, so that he can later capture all the emotions that space can imply and at the end, it results in a specific metaphysical atmosphere that arises above reality, above the experiences; atmosphere that erases the borders of times and worlds and leads us towards ontological categories. As if Penušliski is trying to breathe life into space, but also to space-ify life and use space logic in its cognition.
#9 Before I leave you to uncover your own logic or your own emotion related to the newest production of Penušliski, and before I wish him not to wait too long for the next presentation of his work, you will apologize me for using an allusion to a personal joke between the two of us for the end of this text. Namely, as a child I kept asking him “Where can I find someone like you to marry him?” Although in the meantime my childhood infatuation turned into permanent fascination with his painting, there is one thing that has not changed ever since – I still believe that Ilija Penušliski is one of a kind!