Radomir Damnjanović Damnjan
Radomir Damnjanović Damnjan
(Mostar, 10 December 1935)
Radomir Damnjanović Damnjan graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade in 1957, and he completed a special education course in 1959. He exhibited for the first time in 1957, and had his first solo exhibition in the Graphic Arts Collective Gallery in 1958. In 1962, he staged a solo exhibition in Zagreb, in Studio G, following an invitation of artists gathered in the Gorgon Group. During 1960s, he had a series of solo exhibitions in Belgrade (for one of them, in the Kolarac People’s University Gallery in 1964, he received the October Award). He had a number of noted performances abroad, as a representative of Yugoslavia at the Sao Paolo Art Biennial in 1963 (where he got the Wanda Svevo Award), in Venice in 1966, in Tokyo in 1967, and as an individual at the documenta IV (4. documenta) exhibition in Kassel in 1964. In 1958, Damnjan began his Sandy Shores and Cabin on Sandy Shores serieses which continue until 1963 (one painting from this cycle dated 1961 was purchased from the Contemporary Yugoslav Art exhibition for the collection of the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art). At the Belgrade art scene, the period of the late 1950s and early 1960s passed, among other things, under the sign of phenomena of the Mediala Group and Art Informel, with regard to which Damnjan kept himself aside, standing apart at a completely separate and thus a clearly recognizable individual position. Such a position of his was confirmed by the fact that Damnjan took part at a joint exhibition together with Svetozar Samurović as a member of the Mediala and Branislav Protić as a protagonist of Belgrade Art Informel in the Salon of Modern Gallery in 1962. By the series of thematic and language characteristic, his paintings of the Sandy Shores cycle belong to the genre of “abstract landscape“ which, because of spacious and smoothly placed surfaces of pure color as well as signs of urban signalistics could fit into the atmosphere of “post-Art Informel“ in the then domestic and international art situation. Damnjan’s Sandy Shores may also be understood as a projection of “an ideal landscape“ in which nature is experienced and represented like some silent and gentle oasis outside turbulences and chaos of contemporary technological civilization. However, some signs in paintings from this cycle emanate from contemporary urban surroundings, so that they woult then, soon afterwards, be set apart in a close up, and herald Damnjan’s entrance into the next stage of his painting oeuvre during the 1960s and early 1970s.
In Damnjan’s oeuvre, according to hitherto available information, there are four paintings entitled My White Morning. The first one by the date of creation is oil on canvas, 200 cm × 140 cm dated 1965, ownership of Radivoje Dražović (exhibited and reproduced in the catalogue of a retrospective exhibition in the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1986). A painting with the same title from the Noveski collection follows, while the remaining two, of which the first one entitled My White Morning II (1967), oil on canvas 190 cm x 126 cm, is to be found in the National Museum’s Dragoslav Damnjanović Collection, while the other, My White Morning III (1967), oil on canvas, 200 cm x 126 cm, is in the Museum of Contemporary Art (information taken from the monograph published by the Vujičić collection (Belgrade, 2010), in which both paintings were reproduced in color on pages 168 and 169). The My White Morning painting (without the “III“ specification) was exhibited, and it took two awards at the 3rd Triennale of Visual Arts in Belgrade (1967), and it was reproduced in the catalogue under No. 281 when it was purchased for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade.
Enigmatic titles of this series of paintings – My White Morning – according to its poetic subtext of meaning suggest an intimate and utterly subjective origin of the artist’s inspiration. By a compositional principle, these paintings possess a complex organization of “frames“ and “sequences“ in line with the double-meaning effect of “an image within an image“, with a three-dimensional illusion of space, instead of a plain two-dimensional treatment of space as it is the case in the three completely regular abstract circular forms in the Red Circle, Blue Circle, and Grey Circle paintings, all dated 1965. At the same time Damnjan, therefore – between Sandy Shores from his beginnings and his first minimalist paintings from the late 1960s – parallelly worked on paintings of complex compositional structure and compressed geometric form, deliberately avoiding to orient himself towards a single codex of style. While the paintings with Circles motif use a tautological approach of a late modernist self-referential painting, in the My White Morning painting series he dealt with variants and versions of the same motif, anticipating a postmodernist method of “reiteration with differences“. Thus, in both of these series, he brought to a conclusion his approach to painting as an intuitive and uncertain performance method, and founded an understanding of painting as a specific artistic metalanguage.
The solo exhibition on the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1970, in Damnjan’s artistic biography represented a border point of a huge change in a problem-oriented paradigm. Namely, after the three sporadic and totally abstract Circles from 1965, he now with all exhibits of his Belgrade exhibition finally and fully moved into the area of pure abstraction of minimalistic language and formal identifiers. Acquainted with traditions of contemporary “post-painterly abstraction“, “color field painting“, “systemic painting“, “hard-edge painting“, but implementing all this experience while adapting it to his own sensibility and in accord with his already expressed inclination towards the reduced and strict structure of basic graphic elements of a painting, instead of an arbitrary composition. By leaving representation of landscapes, Damnjan nevertheless kept in his minimalistic paintings from the previous period and the Sandy Shores phase, some other and even more important attributes such as luminal delicacy of color and multiple layeredness of its applications, giving away that despite mental aprioriness of the final look of the painting, he retained sensuality of enjoyment especially precious to him in the very process of painting. The Painting (1969) was exhibited in the artist’s retrospective in the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1986, and it was reproduced in the 2010 monograph on page 195, and is one of the supreme examples of the artist’s radical minimalistic phase. The very title – Painting – confirms its full non-referential tautological essence: “a painting is a painting“, “painting = painting“. To survive as a painting (Painting), it is sufficient to be a pure “empty“ but in no way mechanically applied colored field, from the right vertical and bottom horizontal margin framed by stripes of color in gradations, ranging from red to blue (or vice versa, depending on the way one views it). Despite its utter formal conciseness, Painting possesses a nearly metaphysical visual radiation so characteristic for Damnjan.
Starting from the Circles series (1965) to the Painting cycle from the late 1960s (which also includes Painting, 1969), Damnjan carried out, being the first and the only one in the tendencies of postwar Serbian painting, a deliberate and resolute transition from several-decades long rule of thematic and visually “rich“ painting of, so to speak on condition, “Parisian“ provenience, in typology of abstract landscape and associative abstraction, towards an, again speaking on condition, “American“ concept of visually “meagre“, pure and fully abstract minimalist “painting as a painting“.
The beginning of the 1980s, among other symptoms, was in modern art marked by a “return to painting“ (which is not identical to a “return to the painting“) in an atmposphere in which, on the global scene, and therefore in the then Damnjan’s art, noticeable changes occur. That, in his case, this was not exclusively about a “return to the painting“ but precisely about a “return to painting“, we have as a testimony the artist’s renewed interest in classic themes of self-portrait and still life, as well as oil on canvas painting created through the method of peculiar divisionism: by painting numerous/countless spots using color upon one’s face, upon real bottles as adapted found items, and, finally, upon surfaces of canvas of various dimensions and formats. For the first time in Belgrade, Damnjan would show this change of his operative methods at a solo exhibition in the Sebastian Gallery in 1982, and then in the Student Cultural Center Gallery in 1984 when he exhibited works done in pastel on paper. Finally, at a retrospective in the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1986, he showed ten photographs in the color of his own face covered with spots dated 1979, installations on the floor and on the gallery walls made of bottles covered by strokes of color dated 1981, and a series of paintings with the whole surface of the canvas solved with identical colored applications dated 1981-1982. All of these works were created in Milan (where Damnjan stayed since 1974), and he was supported by critic Tommaso Trini, and a publisher and gallerist, Gino Di Maggio, in whose Mudima Foundation space (Fondazione Mudima) he staged his most important exhibition in Italy entitled Macules and Monotones (Macule e monotoni) in 1996. In the catalogue of this exhibition, Trini wrote an introduction whose version, translated into Serbian, was published in the catalogue for Damnjan’s exhibition in the Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion in 1997, from which, because it directly pertained to his then painting, it is worth quoting the following passages: “To paint always with equal strokes, and yet in the way in which they are always fresh, as if made for the first time, by mixing color without order, without figures, without gestures, there is his discipline.“ And, in another place: “The paintings look identical, although they are infinitely different, each and every one of them differs from all the rest, and they are always complex, they demand an effort, despite an ease of moves by brush. Because their pointillism is spiritual rather than optical, their multicolored surfaces are like light breezes in meditation on art.“
Radomir Damnjanović Damnjan
Sandy shore (1962)
oil on canvas,
140 cm x 199,5 cm
Radomir Damnjanović Damnjan
oil on canvas,
199 cm x 239,5 cm