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Seeing with New Eyes

July 15, 2015 6:00 am0 commentsViews: 127
Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse

by Rebecca M. Alvin       

Milenko Katic’s complexly layered paintings reveal both the artist’s deep connection to his proverbial “inner child,” and his dismay at the direction the world has taken. Depending on which series you are looking at from his 40-year-plus career as an artist, you may see evidence of either side of that spectrum. This week, Provincetown’s Kobalt Gallery will present a solo show of Katic’s more recent works.

“If you want to be happy, think and feel as a child,” says Katic’ from his home of 26 years in Virginia. Originally from Serbia, Katic’ didn’t start out as an artist. In fact, he studied medicine in Belgrade and was only a year shy of his medical degree when he announced to everyone that he was going to quit and become an artist.

“Dead bodies, chopping stuff out of people, I just couldn’t do it. I was sick, sick,” he explains. “I didn’t eat for like a week [after passing the exams]. I thought I would die.”

Katic’ says the only reason he wanted to become a doctor was because his high school buddies wanted to and they were all doing it together. When he quit, everyone told him he was crazy. “That’s how come I understood I am different, I am full of feelings…. One morning, I said, ‘why not? I’m going to be an artist,’ like overnight,” he recalls with marvel.

The figures in his paintings often feature families, with individuals of varying ages. The grown-ups offer up world-weary expressions, while the children reflect the innocence of those for whom the world is still new, open, and full of possibilities. Both children and adults in these works are often pictures with animals, something Katic’ feels closely connected with.

“My mother was a big lover of animals,” he says. “There’s all these flashbacks from my childhood. All these feelings are coming up—most are very happy.”

Not only does Katic’ paint children, he is also deeply inspired by them. In fact, he says he has a collection of children’s drawings that he looks to to “help me to understand what is important in art, the shapes and colors, and the line to put to the basics. As simple as you can do it is the most effective way.”

Katic’ is not alone in finding inspiration in childhood. Picasso famously sought to reconnect with his childhood instincts, as did the surrealists, whose first manifesto clearly identified childhood as the time of peak creativity. André Breton wrote in that piece, “Children set off each day without a worry in the world. Everything is near at hand, the worst material conditions are fine. The woods are white or black, one will never sleep.”

But at some point we lose that natural tendency to embrace creativity and imagination, life changes us, and social ills take their toll. Katic’ recognizes this change in his own work, looking at a piece called Trojan Horse, in which he says, “my thinking became a little mix of children and the adult world, and my adults became a little robotic. And when I work today and look at that picture of the Trojan horse, those are my feelings… Now I feel my feelings were hurt by what’s going on in the world. I really don’t like all these killings and wars everywhere, kids are suffering, etc., etc. I don’t see the right to be happy with children’s eyes… I see already flowing, robotic-looking people with many holes inside them.”

Katic’ had been working as an artist in the beautiful Croatian city of Dubrovnik when the breakup of Yugoslavia began. Although he laments leaving because the four or five years he spent there were the happiest in his life, he says, it was either stay and become a soldier, or get out. An American tourist who had seen his work invited him to the U.S., and in 1989, he came.

“It’s good to be here because I can express myself really the way I want,” he says.

For the artist, the process is the way in, the way to the truth of how you feel, beyond the mechanics of making art. Katic’s paintings, which also include landscapes that mix buildings and environments in unusual juxtapositions, blend drawings with paintings and make use of crayon layers, as well. At Kobalt he will also show mixed media sculptures.

Of his process, Katic’ says, “I always start where I have a vision; I know what I want to do and then I start and it basically pulls me inside and never happens as I imagined.” He then goes and changes things, sometimes painting over half the painting. “I like to leave the painting at some stage and forget it and work on another one. Later, when you see it with different eyes, immediately you see what you really feel about it.”

Milenko Katic’s work will be shown in a solo exhibition Family and Friends—Then and Now, at the Kobalt Gallery, 366 Commercial St., Provincetown, July 17 – 28. There will be an opening reception on Friday, July 17, 7 – 10 p.m. For more information call 508.487.1132 or visit kobaltgallery.com.