By the courtesy of Mr. Ilišević, the author of this review had an insight into his sketchbook and thus the opportunity to monitor the very beginning of the realization of the creative process (the real beginning, of course, is in the „inner eye“ of the artist, invisible to us). These rudimentary sketches and drawings, at its inception, carry those characteristics that have been brought to its full meaning in his final works by different techniques, implying both „content“ and the basic composition and semantic layers. Some of these drawings and sketches already carry „dignity“ of the final work and the right to be represented independently and to become from so-called preparatory painting disciplines a complete artistic statement.
Images derived from these, tentatively called the first phase of the creative process, become now the subject of Ilišević’s „wrestling“ with the template. I have chosen such a strange term to approximately describe the effort and the endeavor of the artist to harmonize the idea at the semantic level – a template and a finished picture. Clearly visible layers of color, rich and successively inflicted, causing a living flesh on the skeleton of preparatory drawings or sketches – are the evidence of a long-term operation. By doing so Ilišević chose “the road less taken”, not succumbing to the promised speed of acrylic colors for instance. His heavy impasto, as if showing blisters on the picture – is the proof of hard work and uncompromised dedication, but also the proof of the lightness and joy of creation. This almost haptic layer is such as if it is „applied to reality“ (an der Wirklichkeit angelegt) (Wittgenstein) and thus as if it comes out of the picture and „sticks out“ like some scratches and scars on the young and perfectly smooth surface of an «ideal» painting. The painting thus shows the fullness and everything that marked it: experience and wisdom, temptations and challenges, doubts and uncertainties, trial and error – the final work becomes „The Picture of Dorian Gray“.
These pictures are unique in that they apply the principle „the frame within the frame“. Ilišević avoids to cover the proper frame of his works by painting material, leaving part of the space between, unpainted. This „distance“ means at least two things:
- the seeming „lack of discipline“ as he represents the painted space as an „intimate“ space, separating it from the „public“ space of classical painting frame;
- the need for this distinction shows the artist’s intimate credo, based on deeply felt, personal experience.
Thus, the „formatting“ is actually „formalization“, because using the format he determines the formal position of the artist in relation to the meaning of the final painting, his relationship to private and public, to the intimate format in comparison to what the artist is willing to make formally public.
One of the dichotomies, the one that opposes the figuration and abstraction, is designed, among other things, to facilitate the work to „interpreters“, and which is used to classify and “arrange” paintings and painters, is not applicable here.
The reason is not only because Ilišević’s work is not arbitrarily reducible to one of these categories, but more importantly, he is, to paraphrase Nietzsche, on the „other side of figuration and abstraction.“ We do not recognize objects and things due to the effort of artists to make them look like template, but rather due to their associative and recognized contours, so it is difficult to speak of „figuration“, as it is simplified and reduced almost to a sign, but still recognized and identified. Due to the „lack of“ reduction and recognizability of objects and things, it is difficult to speak of „abstraction“. Overcoming these divisions „complicates“ any classification, but also „facilitate“ a direct and open approach to understanding of Ilišević’s work.
In that imaginary „desk“ of an art critic, where each drawer is marked with various inscriptions and labels for easy classification, Velimir Ilišević must be in a secret compartment.
Here is a painter, whether he likes it or not, a participant in the „dispute“ between MIMESIS – imitation of a reality, and POIESIS – producing of a reality. This is, of course, the occasional simplification, but shows how Ilišević’s approach, his way of creation, and in particular the result belong to the practice of POIESIS. He takes only objects and things from “reality”, that in the semantic tentative center of the picture are used only as an „incitement“ to organize images and semantically and performatively he increasingly moves away from the need for mimetic, the faithful imitation of the real objects or things, and the visual language, POIESIS, „produces“ a „new reality“. In this reality, fish and sledge, stumps and axes, trees and horseshoes, windows and irons, stand for as provisional parts of pictures, where their color, line, rhythm and composition are treated as memorabilia, fragments of the painter’s memory and experience and are now „kidnapped“ from the past and presented in a new present moment of the picture.
This oneiric present moment is there based on past evoked symbols and signs, and so „processed“ past, prepared to be re-use by the artist, becomes a space in which objects and things serve as a „temporal and semantic differential.“ The artist’s past becomes the present or the future, while the present and the future face the past: TO TI EN EINAI – what it was to be, as Aristotle labels it.
In the pictures by Velimir Ilišević there are no human figures, no portraits. Instead of a human figure, there are sleighs, or chairs, as in a picture of Van Gogh’s room in Arles. They speak of spiritual and mental state of the artist. The outline of the window pane with a geometric, square and circular pattern as in Vermeer’s paintings, fish like those by Paul Klee, the ax as in Ferdinand Hodler’s painting, and so on. All of these objects and things are in the service of Ilišević’s introspection and they are „his“ objects and things, while they just remind us of the above authors.
Self-examination and reconsideration, is eventually „inverted“, and questions about himself become questions about the world that surrounds us. Environmental issues are inevitable as well, thinking about nature, because Velimir Ilišević lives in Switzerland on the bank of the Rheine, and it seems as if questions emerge from the Rheine’s gurgling while it is still a wild mountain river, they can be heard from the slopes of forests, where an ax threatening a tree echoes. One of the questions is the question of the tree, with its root in the soil, while a ruthless ax severs it and above the cut-off part floats the rest of the tree. Another question in another painting is the question of a black fish in a nest made of leaves – in which clear stream will it swim, and who painted black its silvery sheen scales? The pictures also consist memories from childhood – a sledge and a black coal iron, a water pump, which is filled in from the top: these are all, in visual language set, questions about the world and questions about oneself, asked promiscuously, so that it is impossible to distinguish one from another.
That is the real reason for the absence of the human figure in these pictures – it is a „grandiose self-portrait“ of the artist.
The “lack” of presence – becomes a comprehensive presence.
The „Biography“ of objects and things becomes an „autobiography“ of the artist.
„The big“ questions about the end of philosophy, about the end of civilization, the death of God, etc.., and among them that of the end of art, these grand intellectual constructions aim to determine the hopelessness of our position in the universe, to deprive us of hope, to make us „soft“, to manipulate us and, ultimately, deprive of humanity, dehumanize, subordinate and enslave us.
This enslavement happens through the omnipotence of technology and its derivatives, through the value system which is deeply dehumanized, financially measurable, through savage positivism, functionalism, and countless other „-isms“, contexts and relationships.
Nobody understood the essence of art and what it brings as Martin Heidegger, man from the slopes of the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), author of „Holzwege“ (The forest paths), turning towards the deepest possible understanding, exclusively through questionable opinion.
On its own way, comparable to Heidegger to a certain extent, Velimir Ilišević sets, by his visual language and creation, some questions that none of us have the answers to. However, these questions are not meant to be answered. These questions are a reflection of his genuine wonder and inspiration, and through art and the artist’s inspiration, we recognize them as our questions and our amazement. This skill of artists Heidegger calls „Das künstlerisch-dichtende zoom scheinen-und-ins Bild-Bringen” (The question of technique).
These pictures do really shine.