ALEKSANDAR RAFAJLOVIĆ

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A Personal View

ONE – THE TWELFTH

     I was formed as an artist in the late seventies and early eighties, when I was studying painting in Belgrade and Paris. The experience of modernism and post-modernism were very important for me. I felt that the times were approaching when individuality would be separated from artistic developments and a greater freedom permitted than the one offered by the rules and framework of a particular movement. That feeling prevents me even today from defining myself as an abstract artist, a conceptual artist, a photographer... I can be moved to work only by real obsession and by what I care about. I have carefully fostered the creative incentive while it lasted.

     I painted abstract paintings and like big formats. So big that we would be equal, the painted surface and myself, and for years we used to paint each other. Almost twenty years ago I began to use photography in my work. The transition from painting to another medium required answers to many questions. The procedures are different, the hand is excluded in a painterly sense and in the beginning I was suspicious, burdened by my long experience in painting. However, not many things have changed – the emotions remained the same. Excitement was present while I photographed and also in the studio during the processing of the material, either individual pictures or composite ones. At the beginning it was necessary to perceive the works visually. Many of them I organised and structured as pictures, but new spaces and new possibilities opened along the way. Although very skilled, I tried to use my skill only when it was really necessary. I rarely photographed something accidentally. I would know the location, choose the motif in advance and know how I wanted to photograph it. It was the matter of a personal measure of things and the use of the language, the connection between the idea and the chosen way of communicating it. Afterwards, other forms of expression also entered my world. I execute a work as I need it, in the medium in which it will be most precise.

     I felt a gourmet pleasure in the potentials of the medium of painting, photography or object... I was seeking the communication measure that could accompany the original idea. Depending on the problem I was solving, I changed the character of works. Sometimes they were quiet, sometimes unbearably talkative. Neither should have taken from them the many layers and many meanings they possessed. Precision must introduce the hierarchy of significance and must be suggested in such a way to leave space for personal perception. My duty is to offer the observer his deserved half.

     My main occupation was to perceive and understand the practical evidences of life and the manifestations on personal level of philosophy, ideology, religion, aesthetics and other learnings, and what remains of them in the end. I was interested in personal steps forward that can be made despite all the conventions. Of course, here and now.

     I mostly photographed in the south of Portugal, in place such as Quarteira and Loulé. I have never wanted to become a photographer and luckily I have not. I thought that my photographs can be done by anybody. I began by forming a visual identity card of a small place with different traces of the painterly language applied by ordinary people. I was interested in their need to draw, paint, or colour and looked for their incentive and need to decorate something or mark it. This is how I made the first pictures out of photographs. In the following years I continued to photograph the local bright graveyard without plants and with white grave decoration. The only coloured sensations were artificial flowers and tiny glazed niches on tombstones. And in the niches, there were flowers again and coloured plastic figurines of saints as the customary stage set of the first sight of the world beyond. Flowers are present in almost all representations of Paradise. In blown-up photographs the faces and arms of the Virgin and Christ show traces of hard labour. The figurines perform their duty and summon to action.

     I have made several autobiographical exhibitions, persistently endeavouring to use my own example and speak about the values, perception and meaning of my occupation. About endurance, presence, truth, frankness, conditions and possibilities. I believe that I could offer to others as energy or incentive the things I could do; I try to demystify my work as much as possible; I say publicly that I am a street portraitist and that I would like to be only an artist; that my presence is important but also important is the presence of others; that I have other needs as well except food and sleep.

     I spent a whole decade on the documentation of my ancestors, fresco and icon painters. Unbelievable story. A Brazilian-type telenovela. Endurance, repetition, destinies. Eleven painters from five generations in the longest living workshop of painters in Europe – from 1680 to the second half of the nineteenth century. They painted frescoes in several churches, painted several scores of iconostases and over six hundred individual icons have been preserved to the our days. They lived a hundred years in Risan and a hundred years in Gornji Grbalj, near Kotor, but they painted in the territories of the present day Montenegro, Herzegovina, Bosnia... they had a precise and clear, simple drawing and powerful colours. Masters, all of them. Sometimes I am sorry they could not have endured for one or two additional generations and entered modernism. They are strangely modern, nevertheless. I like the way they understood that icons spoke a painterly language. When the work on the large documentation with over thirteen thousand photographs was finished (it can be seen on www.bokokotorskaslikarskaskola.rs) I organised an exhibition, presented their work, invested much energy to enter their circle with my pictures and leave more information about my work, in accordance with the time in which I live. Still there is a slight difference between us. Data about them are very scarce. Even about their births and deaths. Except for the works they had left and rare signatures on them.

     One has to make a significant effort to concentrate here and now in order to do something, knowing that he will be ignored, that the communication will be broken wherever possible. He will know that the investments in the works must be significant if he cares about them and store them after the exhibition if he has a place for them. After so many years, whenever I begin something new I feel as if I have just left the kindergarten or Academy. By the way, a kindergarten did not exist in the place where I was born. It is always a new positioning, looking for a proper place, meaning and reason for working. Whatever I may have accomplished never helped me climb to the step that could facilitate an easier, better and perhaps more precise work, and this is the most important quality.

     As if we did not exist here. Such is the position of artists. And their works. As if some time has to pass, someone’s life. Life is a serious phenomenon, it should be lived seriously. I painted my ancestors the fresco painters as if they were painting in heaven while I painted and photographed them from the earth. Perhaps they are painting in some other world. However, there is no other world unless you finish your tasks in this one. To live here and now, to be free, sometimes happy... It is not easy to be free, I have been free in my life only for a few moments and I am proud for that. For a start, I had to be able not to make any calculations.

     I am a supreme contributor to national culture and I quote that in my biography for a very practical reason. This devaluation of the idea that national awards are given for supreme contributions – pensione nationale as popularly called – mostly deals with scandals and never with people who really deserve those awards. I think this status determination is all right. It simplifies things. I was first a member of the association, a free-lance artist, after twenty years I was a distinguished artist and was obliged to state in all my CVs where and when I exhibited, which awards I had received, what colonies had attended... The status of a supreme contributor to national culture permits me not to be involved ever again in those petty insufficiently useful details, just write – supreme contributor. Of course, I am a husband, the father of three children, great-great-grandson of the icon painter Ivo Rafailović. The rest goes without saying.

     We live in a world where we do not feel secure knowing that we are responsible for too many things. I am speaking about intimate moments, about solitude and the work we have to accomplish on our own, which no one else can do on our behalf. Many failed ideologies and those made meaningless present a large personal space that has to be filled. Rules, regulations recipes, laws ... are slipping by. It is difficult to align my personal position with the changes in the community. A big task for the little self.

     I would like my works to introduce someone into that task, to make it easier, shorter or less strenuous.