DAMNJAN: THE PAINTING OF BLOTS, EMPTINESS AND ABUNDANCE
This exhibition in the Rima Gallery, small by the number of paintings Radomir Damnjanović Damnjan has recently made, is understandably quite insufficient to present his large opus of many decades, and it has been necessary to prepare for this occasion at least a short review of the road this artist has travelled, because without that insight this latest phase in his work could hardly be adequately appreciated and understood. In fact, Damnjan has come a long way both timewise and with regard to his diverse production: from his early cycle of Sand Beaches and Sunken Cities from the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, the new art of the seventies with pure abstract minimalist painting and the application of photography, film, video, performance, works in the spirit of conceptual art, in order to reach the primary art that presumes conceptual experience. Then, in the early 1980s he was engaged in genre painting of still-lifes and self-portraits, but in novel interpretations – he painted over his own face and the faces of others and introduced the discipline of body painting. Afterwards he turned to the painting of unified painted surfaces which the Italian critic Tommaso Trini called „Blots, emptiness and abundance“ (Macule, il vuoto e il pieno), and Damnjan’s most recent works follow in the wake of this painting. In other words, we are talking about an opus of immense linguistic and media diversity, even the artist himself would say - heterogeneity, but still one has to recognize and accept the reasons why such changes in his opus Damnjan always felt to be necessary, honest, true, frequently even very risky for his already attained artistic and social status. All these changes were not only intimately justified, but have been noticed and appreciated as current and authentic in the surrounding artistic circles of the two cultural ambiences: the Serbian, where he had begun and where he has been continuously present, and also Italian, where he has resided, in Milan, since the early seventies and acquired an impressive artistic reputation.
Damnjan’s painting of „blots, emptiness and abundance“, first shown in his solo exhibition in the Art Gallery in Milan in 1982, appeared in the atmosphere of a „return to painting“ in the turbulent epoch of postmodernist pluralism grown into a leading international artistic arena in Italy itself owing to influential movements such as the painting of transavanguardia, new image (nuova imagine), learned painting (picture colt), anachronists or memory painters (anacronisti o pitturi della memoria). Damnjan had both the strength and ability not only to stay outside this kind of mainstream, but to resist intimately and indirectly, in his own way of a solitary individual, this powerful expansion of the painting of scenes and figuration strongly supported by the majority of art critics and the restored market. This kind of attitude earned him the friendship of Gino Di Maggio and Tommaso Trini, the former, one of the leading world collectors of fluxus and gallery owner, who organized for Damnjan in his Foundation Mudima in Milan (1996) a large monographic exhibition and the latter, one of the first critics of arte povera (impoverished art), but both true admirers of radical modernism and neoavant-garde at the time when it seemed that such an ideological minority would never find a proper place on the current art scene. But slogans about legitimate linguistic pluralism, used to defend the right to extreme diversity in the epoch of postmodernism, helped Damnjan as „a modern artist in postmodern age“ to stay in that arena full of intensive artistic happenings, particularly since he was able to justify his presence with his specificity and the value of his painterly production.
Damnjan’s paintings of „blots, emptiness and abundance“ – for which Trini would say that they were simultaneously „full” because filled with numerous blots from left to right and from the upper to the lower side of the painted field, but also „empty“ because blots were everything they contained – make up, in fact, a visually rich, sensitive, refined, top quality and problematically complex painting. This kind of painting is in fact a conceptual discussion about the language and medium of painting as an autonomous and specific artistic discipline, introduced into and performed within the practice of painting. On the occasion of Damnjan’s latest solo exhibition in the Gallery Federico Bianchi Contemporary Art in Milan (May-June 2012) the concept of „the painting of painting“ was chosen as its title (Pitturare la pittura while the subtitle was Posizione del corpo-occhio-mano e pennello-respiro-movimento), implying that the basic meaning of these paintings lies in the process of their making, the making of „paintings as paintings“ in their primary stage. The quoted subtitle suggests that during the process of painting the artist takes into account, consciously or instinctively, the position of his own body, the height or the distance of his eyes from the painted field, the activity of his hand and the paint brush it holds, even of the rhythm of breathing during the action of painting. It has been said long ago that a modern/modernist painting is first of all „a flat surface, covered with paint in a certain disposition“, and only after this obligatory primary stage the painting could, but need not, contain an object form, subject matter, a scene or a representation. Damnjan engages in this kind of painting inspired by some fundamental questions about the nature of the language of the artistic discipline he has been practicing almost all his professional life, but when he approaches concrete practical solutions of the painterly procedure he indulges in the handling of matière, in the irresistible „satisfaction of painting“ as a total fulfilment of his own existence. To be an artist for more than half a century in contemporary world, in the world as it has been all the time, means to be free as a man to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, when he decides to make another painting, this artist always sets himself anew the task of getting to know from inside the essence of art, in this case the discipline of painting in its elementary stage.