Ljubomir Vučinić, an artist whose work continually explores different media (drawing, painting, installations), challenges his creativity by testing his visual expression through a variety of artistic styles (abstract colourist expressionism, geometric abstraction). His current artistic interest is moving toward the research of Visual Music, a part of a relatively new theoretical field of visual culture. Ljubomir Vučinić believes in public engagement of art and frequently exhibits his artworks: “When I walk into an empty exhibiting space, I tend to reshape and reconfigure it; I provide it with a personal significance that also needs to be read from a different angle, in a new way; all of this needs to correspond with the time and space we are living in.”
The exhibition in the gallery Lucida is the fifth exhibition in the last two years in which the artist presents paintings from his latest cycle that rely on the atmosphere of space filled with jazz music and some of the principles of Baroque art. During the two of his previous exhibitions, musicians Attila Dora, Sutherland, Tijana Stanković and vocal-visual artist Mari Falčik did their performances inspired by Vučinić’s visual music. The starting point of the cycle is the artist’s abstract colour drawings, dating from the 80s of the 20th century. Being employed as a professor of drawing at the Academy of Fine Arts in Novi Sad, it is not surprising that Vučinić believes that drawing is a starting point for everything: “Drawing is a fundamental discipline. Paintings of large, representative formats arise from my little contact with the paper, from a little documentation of something that has no great pretensions, and then those small fluids gradually condense, turning into something that needs to be larger, more representative, as painting supposes to be”.
Within the exhibition named Jazz Baroque in Lucida gallery, Vučinić displays before the audiences six oil paintings of large dimensions, made in the style of Abstract Expressionism. Colour is the key element of composition – swirling masses of blue and red, black, yellow, purple, orange and green colour braid on Vučinić ‘s canvases. Painter Macdonald-Wright noted that “… as nature recedes from the eye it becomes blue-violet or violet, while as it advances, it becomes warmer or, in other words, more yellow or more orange.” Vučinić says that his paintings “have condensed dark blue colour which turns into black-purple, and then the red accents arise. That is my art story”. At his paintings, the coloured surfaces overtake each other, fighting for advantage on canvas. The texture of canvas that pierces through the thick layers of colour and visible broad strokes of paint brush tend to subdue the eruption of colours’ energy in the attempt to enchain them to a two-dimensional painting surface. However, the painting’s space is tight for these coloured entities – black collapses upon the abyss of the rear plan, red flies out the foreground as it wants to occupy the space around the spectator. Vučinić explores space and its expansion and contraction (pulsing) in time (“if my artworks have a motive at all, then it is a space“); pictures from this series can be viewed separately, as individual, distinct segments of composed spatial relations, but they can also be envisaged joined into diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs, picturing the illusion of infinite space symphony of different energies’ whirlpools.
Following the Footsteps of Abstract Expressionism
Why did Vučinić choose the legacy of Abstract Expressionism as a starting point of his recent cycle of paintings?
Figurative in art is mainly associated with something real, physical and the tradition of mimesis, while abstraction refers to freedom of expression, experimenting, spirituality, independence, an openness of mind and art itself. “Artists seem to favour abstraction over representation for the reason that the former gives them the freedom to express the mental world and be spiritual within their work,” remarked William Moritz, film historian and expert in the field of visual music. Throughout history, the rejection of figural representation had spiritual, ideological and aesthetic connotation; Vučinić uses abstraction as a form of spiritual expression to move the focus from the body to the spirit, from the material to the spiritual world.
Many artists of recent generations continue to create abstract expressionist works based on the experience of the artist who created this style and paved the way, without imitating them. A contemporary American artist Michelle Meister creates abstract expressionist paintings with prevailing blue and red colours, and that colour palette is very similar to Vučinić new paintings, but her compositions are much calmer and more peaceful.
George Hofmann believes that “Abstract Expressionism did not ‘die’, as many think – it withered, or more accurately, was strangled, by superficiality: a superabundance of empty and meaningless moves on canvas swamped the art consciousness of the time, the result of incomplete understanding, superficial interpretation and lack of feeling: the real, deep, crude and unmanageable overtaken by the banal.” Ljubomir Vučinić speaks in the same way about the situation in today’s world and art: “The popular has completely overpowered the smart”.
Jazz Baroque… BAROQUE?
The exhibition’s title is ‘Jazz Baroque’, so let us start from the second, visual part of this confusing term – what is Baroque in Ljubomir Vučinić’s paintings? The influence of Baroque on Vučinić’s artwork can be seen in two segments:
1) in the formal sense, as reflected in the rich, saturated colours and dramatic compositions, and
2) in the approach to thinking about art – Baroque has emerged in response to Mannerism, art of the elite; a person had to have a lot of knowledge and education in order to understand Mannerism art; Mannerism was the art style of choice for a small group of wealthy intellectuals – patrons, who were also the purchasers of this type of art, and only they and their close educated environment were able to understand it. Baroque art emerged partly in response to this elitist art programme. With its grandiose forms, strong gestures, dramatic corporeal rhetoric, pathos and emotional strength, Baroque artworks were “legible” to a simple, folk man to whom they were intended, now located in the naves of magnificent cathedrals and other public spaces, not hidden in private chambers and salons. Parallels can be drawn between Mannerism on one side and Modern and Postmodern art on the other, which deeper understanding also requires previous training and knowledge of the matter.
Ljubomir Vučinić gives back the art to the ordinary people by speaking the visual language of emotions that everyone can understand, without depriving art of its contemplative component. Similar feeling occurs while listening to jazz music.
All That Jazz
As Wassily Kandinsky who, in his famous essay Concerning The Spiritual In Art, explains the ‘inner resonance’ of colours (i.e. he associates certain colours with particular instruments: yellow – the sound of the trumpet, red – tuba or kettle drum, blue – cello, contrabass or organ), Vučinić believes that a new visual art can develop from the formal abstract structure of music.
Since the last decades of the 19th and early 20th century, music has been playing a critical role in the stylistic development of the visual arts. As an inspiration for artists who wish to create a clean and transcendental art form, music has influenced experimenting with the unconventional techniques in the approach to the creation of a work of art. Clement Greenberg says that, ‘no art seems to us to have less reference to something outside itself than music” and thus music represents the ‘purest’ medium of all.
All types of music (Classical, Blues, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Folk, Ambient, Techno …) are based on the same 12 notes. However, the notes always serve only as a starting point. What distinguishes music styles is the way these notes are grouped and interpreted – with jazz, this way is reflected in the rhythm of swing, syncopation, halftones and improvisations – this combination gives jazz its specific sound. Translated to visual language, improvisation is one of the basic qualities of great artists. In order to successfully improvise, a jazz musician has to be a true connoisseur of melody and harmony’s elements, as a painter must possess knowledge of the theory of colour and form. Neither the great jazz nor the superb painting exists by themselves; they are the result of excellent artistic improvisations.
Painting has a predominant element (colour or form) that turns “chaos” in the picture into order, like the swing rhythm of jazz holds together apparently the most incoherent musical “excursions” of vocal or instrumental improvisations that characterise jazz compositions. Furthermore, visual elements, such as intervals and colour rhythm, could be analogous to Jazz. Ljubomir Vučinić thoughtfully approaches to creating an artwork, visually presenting the metaphor of jazz atmosphere by defining the space, not just music.
Visual Music and the Concept of Synaesthesia
Does the connection of visual and auditory experience exist? And, if so, how and whether this relationship can contribute to the visual expression?
The assumption of “visual music” is based on the possible connection between sound and image. For a long time, mankind has been playing with the borderline between visual and audible. Even the Pythagoreans stated that “eyes were created for astronomy, ears for harmony, and astronomy and harmony were the twin sisters of science”. At the end of the 19th and in early 20th century, people tended towards the new, synthetic artistic experience in which the differences between words, images and sound would evolve into a unified spiritual experience. In the beginning of the 21st century, Jack Ox and Cindy Keefer defined four formal visual structures that can be called Visual Music, one of which is “a visual composition that is not done in a linear, time-based manner, but rather something more static, like 7′ x 8′ canvas”, where “the movement of painted elements can and have achieved a kind of Visual Music, serving as an artist visual interpretation of specific music”.
Under the influence of music, the abstract artists try to create an image that cannot be compared to the external, but the internal, spiritual world. Therefore, it can be said that music greatly contributed to the birth of abstract painting. Artists’ attention and a vast number of new artworks contribute to the rapid expansion of the field of Visual Music, bringing it to a higher level of aesthetic and cultural significance.
The concept of synaesthesia describes the link between the visual and audible as a fusion or a simultaneous existence of sensory experience. This idea, which dates from the late 19th century, indicates the existence of phenomena in which the perception of one sense manifests through the experience of the other. There are numerous examples of synaesthesia within the music world: Rimsky-Korsakov heard the sounds as colours, and Scriabin attributed not only colours to the chords, but the psychological meaning as well (C major – red – the human will; G major – orange – creative play…). However, synaesthesia presents only one aspect of Visual Music, certainly not its fundamental concept, because an artist does not have to posses the gift of synaesthesia to create visual music or combine different media into his work. Richard Cytowic, the leading modern authority on synaesthesia, stated that the simultaneous experience of sound and colour are an extremely rare phenomenon.
Ljubomir Vučinić’s artworks, displayed at the exhibition Jazz Baroque, reflect his attitude towards Jazz music and his belief that fine art, as well as music, is created from the depths of artist’s inner being and the purest way to express that is by nonfigurative forms. Vučinić’s paintings do not evoke a sound or a melody; they reach out to the visual form based on the principles of abstraction derived from music, in order to achieve unique artwork within the limits of painting as the primary medium. Ljubomir Vučinić “retakes” space from 3D to 2D, searching for the purity of Jazz atmosphere expression through an authentic artistic expression. As a visual syntax, colours grouped in his paintings oscillate together, creating visual chords and harmonies. Vučinić works are not the mere illustrations, but the metaphor of Jazz music, quest for freedom and enlightenment. Through the metaphorical use of colour and depiction of transformative forms, the artist seeks to release his spirit and his art.
Synaesthesia represents a characteristic of people, not artworks. In Ljubomir Vučinić’s paintings, one can recognise Aram Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, or Killing Me Softly by Roberta Flack, while someone else will hear Rammstein. In any case, one thing is certain – it will be charged with energy and filled with emotions.