Dragana Garic - Between Old Baroque Letters and Modern Graff

The relationship between an image and an inscription is not a new subject in art. However, the latest series of drawings and prints by Novi Sad painter and restaurateur Danilo Vuksanovic, entitled Facsimiles of the Mute, goes one step further – in so far as it starts with a letter which is no more just a language sign but also becomes an artistic entity telling a story in the realm of the visual.

It is important to note that Vuksanovic drew his inspiration not only from old books but also from contemporary wall graffiti. His fascination with "Baroque letters" started with Hristifor Žefarovic’s Stematography, one of the most important Serbian books of the 18th century. As a heraldic collection it was one of the first books in the comparatively recent Serbian history which paid equal attention to the 18th century prints of South Slavic saints and the beauty of calligraphy as an art form.

Calligraphy as a skill of artful writing is today largely neglected. Electronic communication made us forget that written correspondence was a major means of communication only a few decades ago. Vuksanovic understands that today information travels from one part of the world to the other in only a fraction of a second, but he also recognizes that this leads to our alienation from nature, from each other, and from ourselves. Vuksanovic places on his drawings post-it notes, similar to those we put on our refrigerators to remind us of our daily errands, and this is indeed a personal victory, even if a small one, over the digitalized, the binary, and the uniform. These notes are warm, personal and special in their assumptions, and they succeed in finding their way through the dense agglomerate of signs, ciphers, and bar codes.

Instead of the avant-garde nihilism, so common among many of his peers, Danilo Vuksanovic respects tradition and succeeds at combining modernity with achievements of previous centuries. Still, at no time does he lose sight of the fact that he remains rooted in his own era; therefore he does not hide the fact that graffiti influenced his work. Vuksanovic’s "visual inscriptions" make an exciting artistic performance liberated from pretentious ideas, messages, and slogans. Nevertheless, just as graffiti often convey messages of love, revolutionary ideas, or enthusiastic sport cheering, Vuksanovic’s drawings pose big questions for a small country in the Balkans. The artist is concerned with the fate of his country faced with the rules defined by European Union and with the "white plaque" lurking not only over his home country, but over the entire Old Continent. We can best see this in one of his drawings in a detail showing a medieval fresco featuring a monastery donor offering to Christ and Virgin Mary a stork instead of a monastery model that would be expected in such a composition.

In order to create a background for his "mute" inscriptions, Vuksanovic also studied the technology of paper production. Presented on an uneven surface of manually manufactured paper, the artist’s handwriting gains more powerful expression. On the one hand, the creased paper mostly resembles cracks in the walls with street graffiti, but on the other hand the artist chooses red and green colors to suggest an association with the medieval Byzantine manuscripts with initials painted in crimson red.

Vuksanovic seems to believe in the idea that the archetypal human being has not changed much since the dawn of mankind, but as an artist he is exhilarated by each and every encounter with the new, the accidental, and the uninvestigated. He succeeds in creating an expressive Crucifix composition by weaving an actual piece of rope through the holes on a book cover. By gluing together sand, post-it notes, newspaper clippings, pieces of crumpled paper from people’s pockets, and other rejected trinkets, he builds an exiting and almost abstract basis for his own code of language. Thus his "mute" letters become sometimes acrid like Montenegrin debris carrying the energy of the paintings of Petar Lubarda, and then at certain moments they become as gentle and tame as the sound of the harvest fields sensed in the paintings of Milan Konjovic.