by Nataša Šegota Lah
The scope of Dandarov as a painter gives an answer to one of the most important questions of communication and interactive connection of an artist's I with the World, problematizing primarily the weak foundations of subjective and private human experience in the context of essentially unattainable (although readily advertised) global "objectivity" of public human interest. His introvert activism reaches for the archetypal values, mythical templates and antique, Mediterranean controversies with the tradition of modern, primarily European world, pointing constantly to the conflicts between a rational philosophical tradition and overly emotional vision of the place of an artist in the world.
To use a mythologem term, as a modern artist Dandarov remember the basic triad of heroic figures of Old Age, putting them in wondrous interactions. On their proverbial shoulders have our heroes for centuries carried the three basic pre-myths: realistic hero carried the weight of facing the world (like Oedipus or Antigone), romantic hero carried the weight of being a victim (such as Prometheus or Christ), while the worldly hero enjoyed his life, watched and mimicked it (Dionysus). This is the source of Dandarov’s archaic symbolic drama. But, he is also our contemporary and also modern, as he uses the aforementioned mental images to help his (and therefore ours) focus of interest glide from perceptive formula used by artists coming from a long, mostly European tradition, towards the recipient. By telling a story about the observer, the artist opens a debate about the intrinsic values of the epoch we live in.
In the work of the new generation of painters, including Dandarov, a deeply neglected Otherness (about which many books have been written, and only the technical, politically correct solutions are used to save it), is saved with compassion and a painful consent that the Other is (like) Me. A popular comedy (The Gods Must Be Crazy, 1980) showed us the interactive conversation with the other, semantically remodeled from a conversation of 'Me with the Other' into a conversation of 'Me with I'. Therefore experience, not re-thinking of the other is an existentialist aspect of the work of Robert Dandarov, based on a constant gathering, building, destroying and an attempt on understanding the work of art as a living life of an entity filled with a common memory of the world.
Still, this is not about a romantic Everworld, it is more about a kind of an iconographic base to the memory, about archetypes and symbolism. If we create a line of development of visual arts since the 19th Century, Dandarov is connected to the fin de siècle tradition with his negation of reality of an instrumentalized civil society. He is a symbolist because, on an individual, subjective, exotic and spiritual foundation, he seeks a touch with reality that is not fictional as is the reality we live in (then and there, as here and now). His mystical fantasy is decadently suitable for utilitarian norms, although after „the death of God” there are many layers of responsibility and systematizing embracing our mind.
Symbolism is an important place for Dandarov as there is neither a special concern for preserving tradition, nor a future thought of as a project. Dandarov drinks from the well of modernity, but he is by no means interested in modernism as an alienated projection. This symbolism, as the French critic Georges-Albert Aurier (1891) put it, blends together the conceptual, symbolic, synthetic and subjective, but (let's add) it is based on an intuition of direct insight, as well as on intuition of real and fictional worlds. And this brings us to the opposite point that can be reached by a pendulum of a painter’s foundation in the tradition of art history, when discussing the work of Robert Dandarov.
It brings us to the poetics of the 70s and 80s, partly in the discourse of New Image, partly in Transavantgarde, and partly in anachronism. In a word, the aforementioned pendulum marks the line of momentous crises and transitions which questions the faith in reality. It must be said that Dandarov's connection with the Renaissance (and the Antique) ideals are just technical, and his view of the world, emanating from his dark and heavy paintings, is closer to a time of crisis than to an ascent of faith (in a world that is as it seems). If there is a fascination with optical illusions, the painter has the skills of an old master, but does not share the aspects of the artistic fate and testimony of the world. Simply, although Dandarov is obviously enchanted by the mastery of Vermeer, his work is more rooted in experiences of Odilon Redon.
Dandarov is an anachronist, a painter of memory. It is a pseudo-classicist ideal established in the 70s and 80s, to deal with subjective simulation through painter's interpretation of iconographic and semiotic solutions of the modern classics. Dandarov studies, and liberates from the historic memory, the abundant manifestations of mythological imagination. He confronts his subjective memories with historical knowledge, which results in an enchanting tick-tocking of an inner time. This shows the artist's important connection to the Transavantgarde in the contents of his paintings, and in the simulation and quotes of similar themes. But, Dandarov is surely closer to the anachronists, as his work does not have expressionist inconsistencies of transavantgarde artists. Quite contrary, there is a constant striving to become closer to the ideals of classic mimetic painting skills.
We must see the deeply emphatic frame of the artist's visual text, in order to understand why his paintings instantly capture our attention despite being dark, and heavy, and dreamily frozen in a metamorphic movement (it is happening, but it seems that it won't happen). Only after being attracted by these forces, can we deal with the task of interpreting, just the opposite of the process to which we are lured by the conceptual art which we receive intellectually and then make our way through the stages of accepting it internally. On the other hand, instantly attracted by the paintings of Robert Dandarov, we look in vain for a reason to reject the hallucinogenic nervousness (as in Hieronymus Bosch) of the artist's own dramatic, subjective historiography.
If I were to compare his work with music forms, I would easily choose opera. Not in the colloquial usage of the term, based on the artist's ethnicity, like the "opera" of Balkans baroque ("composed" with great success by a different artist, Marina Abramović). No, what I mean by opera is the type of artistic complexity of the artist's expression, the analogy with the performance arts in which the main actor carries the biggest burden, and is deeply involved in both the scenic (ambiance) and mimicry (mimetic) elements of the desired general impression. I think these are the key elements making this artist a well-known and recognizable author, after his artistic nomadism of thirty years. His nomadism is not geographic; it means that he is constantly avoiding being put in hierarchy codes of thinking, working and acting. Or, as Michel Foucault nicely put it describing the real world as a constant wandering of the subject, not in the world of illusion, but in the series of compensating forms of reality. Such wandering, as we know it, must deal with archaeology, an archaeology of paradigms that have ruled over the whole history of art. Dandarov's expression is just that: he is an artist and an archaeologist, a witness of a lost time preserved in the foundation of our lost memories.
So far, the artist has successfully managed to avoid a firm stylistic frame of traditional vocabulary; he has consistently presented/represented an art more figurable than figurative. In other words, his figures are not metaphorical concepts, as he does not compose a painting by the rules of figurative art – they are rhetorical figures, a form of creating an intermediary, verbal meaning of a body, an object, or the world. In the work of Robert Dandarov, one can say that everything is figurable: thought, representation, and judgment, as well as understanding and fictionalization.
What both confuses and attracts us at first contact with his art, is his fleeing from an imperative definition, because he himself seems to think of it as degrading to artistic freedom. Working in a broad range of painting and drawing media, from intimist to extremely large formats, from exploring the techniques of old masters to industrial materials, from figurative to abstract, the author has promoted the poetic, metaphysic, symbolic, and with them the contextual aspects of the painting. With such an emphasized content, Dandarov represents the senseless, psychic, archetypal and invisible in things, formed by the logic of what is visible. In all of his works, whatever the subject, technique or format, there is an inclination to language, but an escape from the text, an inclination to speech, but an escape from the writing. Such a deep, but non-binding eloquence is unique in its visual communication with the world, through signs of primordial hermeneutics, veiled with the darkness of historical and personal experience, and with the grief of living in a world of language-based manipulations.
Therefore, in his language of primordial signs, the archetypes and basic notions are created, stemming from either a psychoanalytical cultural topic of the collective unconscious, or from the aforementioned archaeology of human knowledge. Formally valuable (pittura colta: classic, or "learned" painting – as Italians would put it) and eloquently mysterious painting of Robert Dandarov are worth looking at and reading, because the historically memorable part of our common (human) culture is worth communicating.
"The 10" catalog
by Sara Hermann
Transcending prescribed categories, Robert Dandarov blurs the conventional boundaries between history and metaphor through his heightened and sophisticated use of cultural references. In his pictorial work the artist has consistently expressed an interest and affinity for the lost language of symbolism. The paintings are populated by symbols of forgotten content, images with lost meanings that are reinvented by Dandarov acute perception of contemporary life. His complex vision nurtured by a past that is constantly present is translated in a ritualistic, cyclic metaphor for transformation and evolving that is never an idyllic one. These images become meditative as they evolve on themselves returning always to the original need to enunciate, to declare the present of a past.
About Dandarov's Work
by Jiri Kocica
The works of Robert Dandarov, Macedonian by birth, arise from a painting experience which in western civilization has a long tradition. His realism, leaning on the classical solid mastering of the drawing, traverses into the realms of the visionary confronting numerous artistic aspects: from the ancient Greek and Roman perceptual worlds, through Renaissance curiosity and post-Renaissance beauty, and on the edges of his painted world he touches on the modern and post-modern leftovers, which are still floating upon the ocean of the 21st century. But, the moment when he departs the field of modernism and the post-modernism, is the exact moment, which at first glance feels like a connection with those practices: it is his mild irony and, especially interesting, almost illustrationally salient certain themes, in which at least he is somewhat cynically making fun of the post modernist naïveté in the self-assured “breaking up” of the western traditions, “exiting” from nature and leaving behind all the things which make up the embodiment of the painting experience… Because Dandarov knows, that you cannot transform civilization by letting conceptual simplification of the philosophical and artistically conceptual landscape.
The visionary apparitions coupled with the arsenal of objects and human forms enter his painted space in a way which allows us to see the present moment like a short moment in the long period of intelligent ideas and paintings which formed our civilization. Even if that moment is painted, almost as caricature, it is possible to feel in the strokes and the details that old inheritance in which Dandarov was immersed since his childhood. The inheritance which is formed from the contact between eastern and west-European civilizations.
Namely, although from his painting we can not obviously discover direct influence of icons or some other fragments from the Macedonian traditional art, his painted world conjures elements which can bring us afterward to those same connections: painted words remind us that icons without sacred words or names are nonexistent. The faces which gaze upon us from the canvas awaken memories of iconostasis with saints, which stare immobile into the spaces of monasteries, while guarding the most sacred. Some of his paintings give the impression that we are amongst a battle between good and evil. But at first glance the clear division of good and evil in a reading of Robert’s paintings can so much shift and change, that the clear consciousness is forced to admit its helplessness in comprehending the whole: here the tradition (in which the feelings are “channeled” through the established laws of religious dogma, habits or even intuition) has an advantage.
But again, blind religious faith has been tested through many generations and today does not have the same meaning as in the times of schism and iconoclasm. There are glimpses shining at times through his paintings of modernist convictions which Dandarov puts in a context that illustrates the irony of religious fate. This ironic tone can be recognized from figures that are sometimes seen as false, as masks with no souls, while others are felt as primordial and primary. Our fine ability to read facial expressions quickly reveals Robert’s attitude towards the Christian or Malevich’s “Black Cross,” his attitude toward the magic of fear in socialist dictators, as seen in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita. We can also see his attitude toward Lenin’s hammer and sickle and his attitude toward eavesdropping (everyday practice by the police in a socialist society), which is also tested in his intimate, artistic world as well, so we can see eavesdropping of the painter’s canvas… In such eavesdropping of a painting even we, the critics, recognize ourselves: especially when we want to turn into words what is essentially inexpressible, which can never be a theme for a confession but… that same inexpressible in his paintings has in an artistic sense a direct link with our inner beliefs.
These images in Robert’s paintings as visions of beauty, fear, doubts and some inscrutability of the world, have their genesis in the mystic tales from the East with roots reaching back to the times of old Greek-Roman civilization in an almost straight line across eastern Europe (Byzantium). The relationship between the rigidity of an almost inexplicable horror faces off divine beauty and with this contact this relationship “feeds” on our astonishment and sensitivity. In spite of the fact that Byzantium persisted in Greco-Roman civilization far into the late Gothic period and during the Ottoman invasion moved more to the north, once again Robert Dandarov’s remarkable feeling for drawing does not exclusively rely on the region it came from but his painting ability leans to the west of Europe. His female figures are reminiscent as much of Venus as of Vermeer, Caravaggio, his strokes on the skin sometimes are smoothed down as we admire in Ingres, and sometimes dark tones extend across the canvas in a rough relief that resembles Rembrandt and his Old Testament stories, while the quick strokes might be a distant echo of Rubens… Dandarov’s perspective in his many various, well painted scenes reflects above all else his astonishment at all the Masters he carries with him from earlier places and times.
We can not be sure if this is the influence of his incredible personal decision as a 17-year-old boy to leave the socialist, then underdeveloped, country of Yugoslavia and move to the States, or if it is the result of encountering the New World, where everything was so different and modern? But this other visual American world is nowhere to be seen in either an anesthetic or iconographic sense. Therefore it is hard for me to see Dandarov as an American painter… yet on the other hand, due to his completely unbiased transition across various iconographic motifs and because these motifs converge into one common point, the artist’s own artistic and imaginative life, it is also hard for me to see him as a European or Macedonian painter. He seems to remain somewhere in between in the midst of the ocean of man's imagination, a universal thinker, whose universe will never truly become whole, somehow captured in his paintings, but as much as I want to, I have no proof of this…
In one of Robert’s smaller paintings from his Hundred Drawings series, titled “At The End Of The World,” which I have seen in his studio, an indigenous man in a primitive row-boat has come to a big wall in the middle of the sea and floats in front of it…
This scene, which may admittedly remind us of the people from Africa who float in their small boats toward the shores of Europe, shows us a maybe less political but much more intimate story of an individual. This individual, a man from the old world, may have decided to travel the vastness of the ocean for no particular reason besides his curiosity. And far away in the midst of the ocean, uprooted from his environment, he encounters a total inability to enter the world on the other side. This painting suggest an elementary iconographical direction of Dandarov’s vision: his inner world in relation to the world of reality, his art on one side and the contemporary art trends on the other side of the wall… While they may be on the opposite sides of the wall, they both exist in the same ocean of endless possibilities, related through history and depths which impose like destiny our rowing into the future…
And Dandarov, perhaps more than many other contemporary artists, really knows this.