Boris Demur: Listening

The Spiral Dialogue – ‘Listening to’ Caravaggio

Although this is his 46th one-man-show, Boris Demur approached it with the eagerness and enthusiasm significant for beginners. No wonder, because never before was it made possible for him to present his art pilgrimage – his spiral system – with such completeness and on such a format. With full awareness and articulation it started in 1983, but its origins go all the way to the early seventies. In Miroslav Kraljević Gallery he managed to present the majority of his spiral system, especially the three key objectives: the idea of the ‘Sistine’, the space where the spiral system could be best presented and self-explaining, the spiral cycle ‘Cezanne, St. Victoire’ and his study-replicas of the works of the artists ranging from the Baroque master Caravaggio to the Impressionists like Cezanne and Monet, that Demur takes as crucial historic avant-garde artists, explaining with their help the genealogy of his painting system. Extracts of all of those were already presented before, but never in such an integral way, and with so many pieces, we repeat, never.

This exhibition reconstructs a great deal of spiral ambience from his living space, to be more precise, from his living room. Even today it functions as a ‘Gallery of a Painter’. The ‘Gallery of a Painter, Preradović St. 37, Zagreb. All that is happening in this gallery from 15th September 1990 is a spiral performance’, Demur wrote on the first page of the book of impressions ‘The Gallery opens on personal calls. The spiral ambience is composed of five series with twenty oils on cardboard, under the title of “Cezanne – St. Victoire – Spiral – spiral painting of bio-geo-metrics”‘ This spiral space which will be returned to its original setting after the exhibition; functions as an atelier, a gallery, but also as Demur’s living space, what is extremely important to him: ‘De Facto I live in a painting’, says Demur. ‘Whenever I would be away from this space, because of any non-painting reasons – which automatically means that I was also away because of painting – when I would return home, I would be coming back into my painting. Consciously or unconsciously, I communicate with painting continuously. This is the source of my need for a spiral ambience in living space’.

In July 1992 Demur, according to the idea and organisation of his colleagues Dubravka Rakoci and Goran Petercol, realised a similar ambience in the Native Museum in Rovinj: with 88 painted cardboards 100×140 cm he covered the entire ceiling and all wall of that space, thus creating an extraordinary blue ‘Spiral Ambience of Istrian Churches’. ‘Evoking in a personal paraphrase a part of national artistic tradition’, Antun Maračić stated for that occasion, ‘a painter manages to mediate the connection between the artistic and – literally said – universal. The artist as a catalysing device in an encounter of dimensions, the one who reminds of their kinship, the enjoining mutual denominator of a proper sign. The essence which every artist has, Demur demonstrates by is own example in a paradigmatic way’. It is important to know one detail from Demur’s CV: as a student of Zagreb’s Art Academy, together with the colleagues Goran Petercol, Vlado Martek and Željko Jerman, Demur in autumn travelled across Istria on foot and learned about the majority of Istrian Churches, which are almost to the last square inch, painted in frescoes. This is where he was introduced to the nature of ambient painting for the first time, and since then he started to realise the expressionist ambience in his atelier. In the early seventies, he does expressionist assemblage, collage and decollage, creating his first experiences about possibilities of painting widening, its coming into space, and a few years after with his works-texts, he already set the first ambience. For example, there was a movie (unfortunately lost today) about his expressionist ambience: the paint splashed over the ceiling of the atelier, walls covered with sticking paintings, and the ground covered with a few square meters of soil brought from the neighbouring park. This was a ‘live’ painting, that even had grass growing.

Since 1976 Demur is an anticipator, the first promoter (in Croatia) as well as an active participator of the primary and analytical painting that analyses the gist of painting operation and this activity continues through actions in urban space. Moreover, at the time of his artistic practice, he does installations which are, as he says, ‘a short cut to ambience’. But, we can conclude that what he saw and relived in Istria twenty years ago, now becomes important and actuated. Based on what he saw as a student, in Istrian churches, his work are distinctive spiral ambience. Moreover, after the Rovinj experience, he enhanced the need for spiral ambience performed in suitable public spaces (mostly surface determined).

One of the ideas was brought to life on the very site – in Franciscan monastery in Rovinj, after the Demur’s ambience in Rovinj’s Native Museum. The Franciscans realised that they would like one of those spiral ambience. (‘According to Jung, says Demur, the spiral contains also a religious reference’.) Under the very prosaic circumstances this ambience was never completed , but such an idea brings more and more ‘pressure’ on Demur. Therefore , for the recently opened Zagreb’s Salon he exhibited a part of a sketch for the spiral ambience (fresco) under the title ‘The Spiral Sistine’, deliberately emphasising – both in numbers and letters – its ideal dimensions: 10.000 (ten thousand) square meters! Thus making it clear that he is capable of creating such an ambience. However he is still missing a concrete urban ambience, but by announcing those extremely impressive dimensions, he let the city and the state know that he can do it. ‘Whether or not this project will be realised is not my problem, but a problem of our entire cultural situation and the response for such a thing, says Demur’.

Where did the idea about ‘The Croatian Sistine’ come from? Demur thinks that the base under the Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, in their structure, substance, essence; is also a spiral form, the spiral plait, in words – a system of spirals. All the figures on those frescoes, a hundred of them, which are in literature considered not only Renaissance, but also Mannerist painting, presented in shifting forceful dynamics. All of those movements have their direction. What kind? The structure of that movement is without doubt a spiral one. The entire sublime painting system, its gist in fact, what is behind and ‘beyond’ those scenes, beyond the figurative , in its substance, Demur thinks, the spiral form, which finds its reality in cosmogony – from micro to macro cosmogony. ‘Spiritually in the art of Michelangelo’s Sistine I analyse as a spiral plait, the spiral dynamics which reflects this spiritual substance. This is the reason why I persist on the “Spiral Sistine”. My spiral ambience is a genealogical continuum of Michelangelo’s Sistine’, claims Demur, ‘but it was completed abstractly, through clear painting devices – spiritual painting’.

When we talk about the crucial factors for articulation of his artistic attitude, demur regularly places primary and analytical painting , on the first place, the one which in Croatian art was performed in the second half of the seventies. Moreover, he still calls his spiral system paraprimary and paraanalytical spiral painting, persistently emphasising how the primary and analytical painting is not only a stylistic model or period (phase) in art history, but also a psychoanalytical method, a self-psychoanalytical method, with the help of spiral painting devices. ‘I self analyse myself too, and self psychoanalysis, of course, is only one of the elements in the entire cosmogony of movement’.

Therefore Cezanne is very important in Demur’s artistic genealogy. What is the reason for naming his ambience exactly like this? Cezanne claimed that nature is composed of cylinder, cone and a sphere. These three basic geometric shapes, claimed Cezanne, are the foundation of nature’s constitution, but also its relationship towards nature. He analysed and proved it, through painting – painting in a series St. Victoire, the motif of the mountain with the same name, which is, as it is well known, taken as an introduction to the abstract painting, cubism… However, in this series of works, the nature of relations between the three shapes is more important for Demur. Those primary shapes which Cezanne introduces into his painting are not static in their relation, but are in dynamic co-relation, but what kind? ‘I wondered what is the form of the dynamic co-relation of these shapes’, says Demur. ‘ I came to the natural painters’ conclusion – that these three basic forms in their dynamism are actually in a spiral system of movement. This recognition gave birth to my spiral St. Victoire. It is a materialisation of a their analysis of Cezanne’s St. Victoire, to be more precise, the analysis of what is happening inside of the motifs and the contents of this series of Cezanne’s paintings. I tried to visualise the invisible plans, the invisible constitution of Cezanne’s system of relations in St. Victoire. The dynamics of its shapes is performed spirally, in spiral turbulence, and that is their ancient origin of the inner functioning’.

Demur was also interested how the inside spiral plait of St. Victoire looks like, how the light falls on it, what is its chromatic identity. Dealing with those questions, he found the right answers. Through mental and spiritual plans of that kind of contemplation of St. Victoire, the most appropriate is blue – from basic blue to dark ultramarine, which , of course, contains also white and violet-purple systems. The most substantial of all the colours is white – the ideal the spiritual spectrum. ‘In my analysis of Cezanne’s St. Victoire’ says the painter, ‘of course, there are no earthly colours, because I do not paint the mountain motif, but the inner constitution , the inner substance of St. Victoire, which is neutral, cosmic and has such references. For some time I thought about not doing it anymore in all the colours, and paint only the clean monochrome white painting, but my painter’s passion would not allow me to. Occasionally in phases, however, I continuously return to the white monochromes. In my opinion the ‘clean’, finally consequent analysis of Cezanne’s St. Victoire is actually a light whitish spiral, the white monochrome. It deducts the final radical painting analysis of this series of Cezanne’s paintings, with all the consequences and meanings. In the last outcome it is – the white spiral. But life, various materialisation factors and other trivial things overflow me with flood of chromatics, which are, still dematerialised, because they are white, violet, white… This chromatics still is in a spectrum of colour dematerialization. The blue is on the wall, it is in its spectral analysis still more dematerialised than the materialised colour.’

For Demur’s art, like all those acquainted with it already know, Pollock’s action painting is also very important. The scatter of Pollock’s action painting actually meant a new search for the form, thinks Demur. The scatter without the form, in painting can last for some time, the same as pure energy, but that same energy came out of the scattered action painting, and still searches for its form. Thus, the fact which Demur regularly emphasises, before the end of his creating, Pollock again turned to symbolic painting of North-American Indians, which was partly the generator of his abstract manuscript. The pure energy which came out of spreading of action painting Pollock starts to sublimate in a shape, was derived from the symbols of Indian totems (apart from Monet’s ‘Water-lilies’ and ‘Willow Trees’). When Pollock’s rigorous analytic action is concerned, Demur was interested in form, in its originating.

Demur’s form, however, did not come out of symbolism, like that of the famous American abstract painter, for example, who unfortunately did not manage to develop it due to the ill-starred death; but his spirals are analogies of the natural forms of motion and action of the entire universe, the entire moving in the live world. To make the story about the universal presence of the spiral short : the experimental physics of today proved that the matter is self organised through auto waves. These natural processes are already recorded and when on with the help of strong electronic microscopes watches the film which registered those processes, we can see the live spiral area! These natural movements in universe – through the shape of the spiral – became the subject of his painting.

In the same manner, Yves Klein with his antropometries, was also a great influence. With the experiences of primary and analytic painting, as well as Pollock’s and Klein’s experiences as ‘sign-posts’ – consciously or unconsciously – he articulated his ‘spiral action painting’ which is so effectively incorporated in this ambience. All that we have mentioned – action painting, dripping, antropometries … all is emphasised somewhere here, better to say unhidden, but at the same time articulated in an extremely individualised, highly personalised, unrepeatable manuscript – in a form analogous to the natural spiral movement. To be more conscientious, Demur does not paint his spirals with a brush, but with hands, feet, body prints; which connects him to Klein’s antropometries. His painting is actualised as a natural movement, natural action, what painting actually is, he always claimed. Painter’s natural movements – in liquid paint – turn into painting. Painting is a document, the materialisation of painter’s movement through the liquid of paint. Therefore, this summer on Lamparna ‘95 – Biennale for young authors, in Labin, on the top of the office building of an abandoned mine, he was spreading policolor as a sower, creating three gigantic spirals with his feet (10×6 m). It was some kind of a spiral dance with clear reminiscences of united civilisation steps: movement, dance, ritual and finally the prayer.

On the walls of this ambience there are replica-studies of art works created in a long period from Caravaggio to the Impressionists. They represent the painter’s dialogue with those authors. ‘I enter into the substance of painting of those authors, analysing their paintings, but since I am not an art historian, I do not use the linguistic instrumentary, but I begin the dialogue with painter’s gadgets – the brush and the paint. To put it that way, I walked along my painter’s instinct, but now with completely different experience and recognition from the one I had during my first encounter with them as a student of the Academy, through history of painting from Caravaggio to Cezanne, and from Cezanne till today, the story is inspired by primary and analytical painting, Pollock and Klein. After studying at the Academy, I am returning to that art – I am interested in the ‘spine’ of historic avant-garde, from Caravaggio to Cezanne and Monet. There are not many names. I start a dialogue with them, with exception that I am not interested in avant-garde painting. This is the reason why I started with Caravaggio who is an important painter because he was an avant-garde of his own time. After the Renaissance idealisation, he introduces realism and naturalism, actualised through strong contrasts… His oeuvre is crucial for Velasquez, Halls… These two, again, are important for Manet, etc.

The thing which is instinctively appealing to me, what penetrates into my ‘left brain hemisphere’, into the intuitive, the mental, is what really happens ‘beyond’ and ‘inside’ of their paintings. I ‘scan’ their paintings from the history of avant-garde and I disclose what is ‘beyond’ and ‘under’ the scenes they depict, beyond their emphasised iconography, figuration… It is their bioputer system in which information is ‘wound up’ The spiritual substance of these paintings and many other things, stand behind the presentable thing in them, on the other side of their reality, in what is irrational, spiritual in them, what emanates from them. With those paintings, which I favour in accordance with my artistic instinct, I re-establish a certain contact – through brush and paint – which extends to a dialogue. In that dialogue, however, I stand silent. I ‘talk’ in my spiral system, and here I actually keep ‘silent’ and I ‘listen’ what those painters from the history of avant-garde have to say about the painting, the time, the substance of painting… I ‘listen’ to them with my brush and paint, and the result of that ‘listening’ are these studies. They materialise that ‘listening’ of a painter about the painting. Ductus is mine, because there can be no other way, but during my ‘listening’ there are no interventions on the original. I never interfere with the speech of the authorities, I only ‘listen’ – in order to learn from them about the painting in general, but especially what is in painting. I an interested in my own identity – the identity of painting, but also a self-identity of my painting!

Let us return to the question from the beginning of the text. Why is this an important exhibition for Demur. He (once more) wants to warn about his painting genealogy. He never mystified it, never wanted to hide his painting traces, but moreover, as an artist he plays with his cards on the table and sincerely emphasises his sources and springs. Why does he do that and can do that? Because, despite of so many sources, he is deeply aware of origins – in the end – of his own cradle, his individual manuscript, the spiral system. Therefore, this whole ambience is an old story after all: about the question of ones own artistic identity. That story is an eternal motif of every artistic mission!

Ivica Župan

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Ambient in Miroslav Kraljević Gallery was assembled of 125 pictures of spirals performed in oil on cardboard technique, 50 x 70 cm large and 10 pictures performed in oil on canvas technique in various sizes, done after Caravaggio, Rubens, Halls, Manet and Cezanne. Paintings were performed from 1994 till 1995.

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Boris Demur was born in Zagreb, in 1951. He graduated from The Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb: painting in 1975 (class of Raul Goldoni) and graphic techniques in 1977 (class of Albert Kinert). From 1975 till 1977 Demur was assistant in Artisan Studio of painter Ljubo Ivančić. He works and lives in Zagreb, Preradovićeva 37, tel. 385 1 439717.