“… where to find this living Venus of the ancient people, the one who is many a time called for and is nowhere to be found? We merely may chance upon some of her attractions scattered all about … I would give up all my wealth for a moment … in order to see the divine and perfect nature, in brief, to see the ideal”.
Honoré de Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece
#1 Especially important to art historians is that vigilant keeping of tabs on artists’ statements for the mass-media. In the case of Dragan Petković I consider essential his interview “Towards oneself and backwards”, wherein the artist, in few sentences succeeds in sublimating his views on art: The perdurance of the delight in enjoying and absorbing the work of art, only very rarely happens to turn into a delight of the creation … The artist is consciously making concessions to the society in the attempt to transfer one’s own knowledge and culture to the upcoming creative forces or, in exerting himself to surpass the pioneering stages in one of the existing directions thus laying the foundations for the creation of a visual identity where there was none.”1F
#2 It is a fact that Petković had a conflicting relationship with his milieu. There was this mutual disagreement. Being born with a hedonist instinct, he created with an aspiration towards renovating the transcendental beautiful – an aspiration which was constantly disturbed by his dissatisfaction of the results attained. In his view, the mental picture did not had a counterpart in its subsequently acquired material guise, something which was to perpetually rip through his repose. The following text concentrates on the artist’s passionate pursue in devising his proper concept of the ideal beauty, a pursue that was constantly followed by resignation. It is uncertain how justifiable or how true his skepticism was. Maybe it was only his imagination which removed him from the vast field of reveries on the beauty which is immanent to both life and art.
Actually, we do not have knowledge on the nature and scope of his ideals. However, it appears that some traits of his personality were warranting the success of his endeavor: the unreserved love for arts, the strive to overcome that which is common, the striving for perfection, the well mannered deference for his teachers and paradigms in painting. The artistic genesis of Petković is enfolding along an incessant dialogue of the ever changing ebb and flow of doubts and gratifications.
In search of the beauty
#3 Among the most unrewarding tasks of art theoreticians is the one of defining the notion of beautiful or of that which is aesthetical. For, the attempt of ours at penetrating this secret, means embarking on an eternal voyage which is directed towards the uncertainty. In order to establish a more precise orientation through the search of Petković, I will call upon some views of the great philosophers. Thus, contrary to the great Plato who finds the beautiful in that which is most conspicuous and most attractive, Kant is championing the “disinterested pleasance” which is relieved from the notion of meaning and is indifferent towards that which is visible. Schiller speaks of a “freedom in the phenomenon”, while Hegel propounds a “hidden intimation of the beautiful within the natural – in the self-consciousness – or in the sensory glow of the idea”. Guy Michaud in interpreting Stephane Mallarmé, refers to “the emptiness containing all the possible currents of the beauty”.2F Gadamer relies upon “the aesthetic movement of affection without comprehension” thus wondering “how is one meant to benefit from the classical aesthetic means when confronted to the experimental usage of art in our times?”3F. He finds the answer to be the play, the symbol and the festivity. In this inconclusiveness or lack of finality “the beautiful is fulfilled within a certain self-determination and is breathing with the delight of self-representation”.4F For Donald Kuspit “Beauty is a kind of ‘egocentric’ defense against the body helplessness … Beauty is in fact an issue of the body.”5F To this brief “lexicon” of anticipations and reassessments of old interpretations one may include Winckelmann’s thoughts on the beauty as an “expression and action accompanied by grace and unity and simplicity.”6F
If we aim for a correct attitude, then we must not circumvent the eschatological version: the beauty as death, suffering or something similar, as the white night or a cup of poison.
#4 Standing on such a slippery terrain as is the concept of the beautiful, the work of Petković appears susceptible to those previously restated definitions of beauty which are having affinity with the metaphysical. Yet, there is also a susceptibility to the classical signifiers: symmetry, proportion, order, coherence, perfectionism, sublime goal … In a situation like this, one’s desire to reconcile academe and modern conceptual aesthetic of the beauty is becoming manifest, as in the attempt of restoring the androgynous (male-female) qualities of that same aesthetic. The very redefinition of the notions Petković is reducing to the question of what else in the twentieth century the beauty may stand for, provided that the mystery is not relegated to a banality and the esoteric is not demoted to a cheap trick. Thus, he finds his answer pre-formulated in the freshness of the representations which are emancipated from a referentiality, a narrative or an association. Hence, Petković is to embrace the abstraction – that which is faceless and formless – as he is to give in to the feelings of accomplishment and gratification which are imperceivably present in the shiver, the clouds, the smoke, the dust, the vapor, the movement.7F One may recognize in his canvases, as early as 1976/77, that refined semiotic of phenomenological encodings delivered as a cohesive wholeness wherein the airiness of the impression is shimmering, as well as the sound and tone of the color, the intensity and character of the lines. He is interpreting the beauty as a substitute for the imperfection of the world we live in, as a compensation for the negativity, disasters and frustrations, as an egocentric defense against the high tide of that which is unwanted. More to the point, Petković is erecting an emotion of assuredness and happiness, he is restoring the psychical status of the individual (the cycles Joy of Life 1985, In Search of the Enduring Beauty 1987, According to Monet 1997/2004). In order to achieve the abstract ideal of the beautiful, he applies a drastic dematerialization to the reality of his representation, jumping over all conformism and landing onto something different from that which is familiar. By that, he is transforming the factual into something which is timeless and spaceless. The real flowers are thus becoming ideal vibrations while the dance of the figures becomes a choreography of independent lines. Everything needs to be transcended at the level of emotions (about a thing), and everything needs to loose the aura of that which is concrete and which is to be turned into an idea. In order to achieve a definite shape, the true conception of this author calls for a migration in the spheres of certain gallant unnaturalness, of certain artificiality akin to the anonymous ornament, and away, as much as possible, from the familiar images. At this point precisely occurs the clash between his ambitious preconceived ideas and the cruel universe of the painting he is producing. Aiming to accomplish his conception with utter exactness he is filling up portfolios with loads of sketches and drawings, repainting huge canvases and destroying finished works8F.#5 The pleasure of painting is hardened by the suffering: “It’s been a month since I am in the purest glaciers of the Aesthetics. From the moment I discovered nothingness (le néant), I have found the beautiful” – writes Mallarmé to his friend.9F With a firm determination to attain the absolute, to experience a higher/truer self and to pick the marvelous flower of the conceived, Petković is not shunning from the hard work demanded by the research, even when the asking price is his own health. His entire somatic, psychic, spiritual energy stands united in a single nucleus of cohesion. However, his correct and well mannered comportment, his carefully trimmed appearance, the aristocracy in his views and tastes maintain a continuous communication with his (self)critical frame of mind. The beauty, in order to exist and to be all around him, must be an integral beauty. Marinnetti as a founding father of the futurist movement, prefers the racing car’s aesthetics over that of Nike of Samothrace. On the other hand, for Petković there are no preferences: the effect of contentedness by pleasures of the eye and soul lays in the dispersion, in things that are always and everywhere around him: in his impeccable road cycle, in the Lennon’s trademark granny spectacles he wore, in his Burberry double breasted trench coat, in the music (Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Philip Glass), in the mountain air, to the same extent as in his artistic output. The perfection he sought to attain in the knowledge of techniques, media, styles, art disciplines is identical to the one he aimed to display in his well mannered conduct and tarten demeanor.
1. Драган Петковиќ, in: Софија Ѓуровска, До себе си и назад (interview), Нова Македонија, Скопје, 8.3.1995;
2. Ги Мишо, Маларме, КПЗ, Штип, 1966, p. 82; (Michaud, Guy. Mallarmé: L’Homme et l’œuvre. Paris: Hatier, 1953)
3. Ханс Георг Гадамер, Актуелноста на убавото, Магор, Скопје, 2005, p. 46;
5. Donald Kuspit, Idiosyncratic Identities, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 169;
6. Idem, p.51
7. These are the phenomena that he explicitly approaches in his term paper at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana: Permutations on the Problems of Illusion of Space in my Paintings (Permutacije rešitve iluzije prostora v mojih slikah), 1976/77(?)
8. Claude Monet was known to having destroyed some of his canvases: he would cut them with knife or set them on fire. Henri Matisse who was too rather self-critical, would take photographs of every stage his work were to pass through. Ad Reinhardt would constantly emphasize: “To paint and repaint incessantly the one and the same thing, to rectify and to make more accurate one and single motif. Vigour, consciousness, perfection in art may be attained only after a painstaking, tiresome work and preparation”. In: Ad Reinhardt, Art-as-Art, Environments I, FI, Autumn 1962, p. 81;
9. Op. cit. No. 2 (Guy Michaud, Mallarmé …), p. 67.