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Petar studied conservation and restoration at the Faculty of Applied Arts. He ventilated rooms at the art center Kvaka 22 and ran its gallery. He doesn’t like cables, plastic bags, years or titles. He exists somewhere between a painting and a song.

IG: Petar Aleksic

A few years ago – as a member of the Kvaka 22 collective, you participated in renovating a ruined building in the center of Belgrade and creating an alternative cultural center. How did this whole adventure start for you?

I heard about it while I was searching for a space where I could organise my first exhibition. It was fun to hang out there and talk to the people who started the whole story. I needed a new studio and there were empty rooms at the top floor of Kvaka. When I went up, I saw holes in the roof and extremely large mold stains on the walls. Everything was messed up. Eventually, I agreed with the crew and started tidying up the space and that’s how it all started. Their only condition was that I actively participate in the cellective. The gallery didn’t even exist back then; we opened it in February 2017.

The building used to be a workshop for the repair of musical instruments of the Yugoslav Army, but was left to decay for years. When you first went inside, you found all sorts of things, from parts of instruments, music records… You decided to paint those objects. Tell me more about that whole process. How did the objects themselves influence your work?

I think there is something hidden in the lifespan of an object, be it naïve and mass-produced such as the old found drum skins that I painted on.

That year I started my studies, I learned about art history, various techniques and facts. Kvaka 22 was a totally opposite thing in my mind – an amorphous idea, incompletely shaped. It was a space for play, exploration, free thought and an opportunity to really live my own work. Conceptually, the whole series Remains became a homage to the new beginning and everything it brings.

Each picture from that cycle has its own colour palette, completely different from the others. Why did you decide on such an approach?

The idea was for each image to have its own autonomy, to breathe with a different breath and tell a different story while there is an idea that connects everything. It was also interesting to me that the circle as a form enables viewing the work from any side, so individual paintings can be perceived in many different ways.

There was one old burnt drum skin that got burnt in some fire. I scrubbed that soot, painted it and it stood on the wall for a very long time. Somehow, when you see that picture, you know you are in Kvaka 22.

In addition to that painting, we were able to see works of various other artist – photographs, drawings and paintings hung up on the walls of Kvaka. It was interesting to me that a large number of people have the opportunity to see them outside of a classic exhibition in a gallery

Well, yes, the idea was to always have some exhibition set up in the space. I mean, it wasn’t a serious project, it’s just that – when we woke up, if the day was gloomy, we would choose and hang a picture on the wall that would change and lighten things up a bit.

How did the whole experience influence you?

I met a bunch of new people and made a couple of good friends – I believe we’ll be friends for the rest of my life. I’ve learnt that I can do many things at the same time; I can paint for half an hour, then carry cases of beer, then go to the faculty to hear the lectures and after that go back to clean up cigarette butts in Kvaka.
It’s good to learn how to think and solve everything on the go. The whole experience was really good because it made me mature a lot faster somehow.

After a couple of years of organizing exhibitions and other programs, you left the cultural center. 

In the next series called Remains of the day you made a significant visual turn. The colour palette is reduced and the scenes are very minimal. What motivated you for such a change?

At that time, I wanted to try something new in my work. I needed a new topic, a fresh look and something quite simple at first glance. I was in my fourth year of faculty then, and the lectures went into more detail about the story of Christian iconography and the elements of iconography painting. There is something timeless in that language that I wanted to use in my work.

It seems to me that the feeling of absence and the “greatness of the day” became the main motives. Could you talk more about how you came to explore that feeling?

I started thinking about the landscape as some kind of a puzzle, as a space without any limits that asks questions and the answers need to be simpler and more thoughtful. I wanted to create a feeling and an atmosphere, something more vast than the man himself, something brighter and more free.

Water, sky and hills were the visual motives I needed and used in the new set of paintings. I believe there is some emptiness in all of us that, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t like to explain, rather just show.

In the last few months, you have been making murals, tapestries… How important is it to explore new ways of expression? What did that research provide to you?

It provided room for play. I cannot do the same thing for ten years; I have to animate myself, change, try something new, use new materials – it’s all interesting to me. Somehow, it seems that the more I know, the easier it will be later on to determine what’s actually important to me. I would like to try and create thousands of different things and then find the right way for what I need. I don’t think an artist should stay in one field for too long.

It really is essential to be theoretically grounded, to start from the beginning, from the basics of painting. Something beautiful and naïve comes at the very beginning of experimentation. Research and new interests are important to me. They are something that nourishes the spirit.

Outside of painting, I found my place between poetry and trumpet melodies. Sometimes I really need to clear and divert my thoughts from the painting.

What will you focus on in your future work?

Fluidity of everything, free thought, space and time. Iconography, faith and a hint of a return to those things that are truly important..