Nearly 2 years ago, I set off on a ridiculous journey across the ocean. I assumed, from the planning and research that I had done, that I had sufficient funds to get me by and any possible accessory that would ensure my survival. Yet it was inarguably a bit on the ridiculous side of things. For the better portion of the first year, I managed to keep this blog semi-up-to-date and then I all but disappeared. I'm writing this to let you know that not only am I alive but somehow, in some freakish way, my life seems to be coming together in a rather splendid way.
Last June, I painted what was my first larger painting (roughly 5ft x 5ft circle (1.5m x 1.5m)). A mural, some might have dared to call it. Prior to that, I had painted a handful of canvases when I was living in the US, but my main mediums of choice had always been charcoal or ink and I had only just recently started dealing with paint. It was foreign to me and rather expensive, to say the least. So I largely avoided it until only shortly before leaving the States, and then continuously afterward for nearly a year. I only tried it out of curiosity and even then, only after some pressuring and only with minimal color and mainly greyscale. Anyways, I painted it and really enjoyed it. But I wasn't sure how to go about painting more largescale paintings and so, for several months, I didn't really do anything else (but a 0.75:1 scale comic book-style Punisher painting).
When I finally did start something new, it was large. Very large. A full-color collective portrait of many of the current and past world leaders in a setup that mimicked an old Norman Rockwell painting, it was to be my masterpiece. My Last Supper. Coming in at around 25ft long and 8ft tall, it was a hell of a jump from a 5ft circle. But it wasn't meant to be, after working on it for the better part of a month, it was vandalized and by then it was November and too cold outside to redo what I had been working on for much of September. A bit defeated, I didn't try anything else for several more months, only picking up a paintbrush again around February to do a cartoon-y mural in an old abandoned building. I didn't dare do color again as I had a rather difficult time when I was trying before and knew that I wasn't doing something quite right. So black and white it was. For now.
In February, I contacted a place in Montenegro about maybe painting something there and sent my portfolio. They were all for it and gave me whatever wall space I wanted. The first was to be another greyscale portrait with minimal color, and though I expected it to take several days, it was finished in hours. I still had paint, and they were eager for me to paint more, so I scrambled looking for inspiration. Finally deciding upon a dog that they had recently rescued, Klaus, I formed a scene where he was on an old couch in a rather dapper suit and with a pose that exuded confidence and surety. Moreover, I had spent the past 6 months going over my old color lessons and reading/watching whatever I could to figure out what I hadn't been doing correctly, and I was feeling rather confident that I would get it right this time. So, again, expecting around 3 days, I got to work and finished it in 2. A portrait that blew anything I had previously done out of the water, this was surely going to help me in the future and gave my confidence the boost that it so badly needed.
I got back to Belgrade, Serbia shortly after and started thinking about something a friend had told me about in October of 2017. That in Croatia, there are several art festivals during the summer and that I should apply. At the time, I blew it off as I had no portfolio. I had no real skills to speak of in terms of painting. I was an illustrator. A draftsman. Not a muralist or painter of any sort. A hobbyist at best. That was different now, now I had done what I felt were a handful of fairly decent paintings and I knew that by summertime, I could be something so much more. My work could be so. much. more. So I compiled a portfolio using what I remembered from my graphic design classes and applied to both of the suggested festivals. The first said no, that they already had their lineup. I had searched and not found any open call for artists, but I'm sure they already knew who they wanted at that point and a no-name with barely 5 paintings to show was not on that list. Not the slightest bit discouraged, I moved on. The second responded quickly and said that they would gladly have me and that we would discuss more in May. Sounded good to me. In the meantime, I contacted a place on the coast of Spain with hopes of finding more places to paint and they readily agreed.
March 18, 2018. I headed from Belgrade to Budapest to Malaga. It was an exhausting trip of first-class trains (don't be fooled by the title) and budget airline tickets. At least there weren't any layovers. But shortly after my plane arrived (late), I had to lie to the ridesharing group that was waiting for me for what was nearing a half an hour now, saying that I was nearby and traffic was just bad. And then after, to the other ride that would take me to my destination because the first car waiting made us late for the connecting ride. It was a hectic beginning to an amazing month and a half in a place that I absolutely loved. Finca Montemero. It was a property that had been bought and built by an old German artist around 30 (give or take) years ago and was a beautiful green paradise only a 5-minute walk from the sea and a 15-minute ride to the mountains. Best of all, the building that I was staying in was an art studio with several printing presses, an entire wooden workbench that had to be nearly 15ft long and a huge window that let in the best lighting every morning and displayed a breathtaking sunset every evening. Here, I spent the first two weeks archiving the late artist's work and studying the wood and linocut pieces that he had created over the course of his career. Shortly after, I taught myself how to use the tools of the trade and made a few prints of my own. I also painted a rather large wall on the top of one of the buildings and spent more than a few evenings just relaxing and reading on the beach with our dog, Mogli. I left Belgrade with the intention to only stay for around 3 weeks and ended up staying for a month and a half.
Upon return to Belgrade, I went back to a local brewery, Dogma, that I had asked about painting on the walls of before I left. We discussed my sketch a bit, they showed me the wall, and I got to work. They liked the work, we talked a bit about a second painting, and I got to work on that one. My skills were progressing before my eyes and with every painting, my confidence in trying new techniques heightened. I contacted another festival, this time in Belgrade, called Dev9t. It's a 9-day festival (hence, Dev9t, which is just a way of writing "devet": the word for the number 9 in Serbian). It took a bit of going back and forth with various members of the organization to get the go-ahead, but they finally said yes.
In the meantime, I went to Turkey for around a month and spent 3 weeks hitchhiking and camping along the coast from Antalya back to Istanbul, where I was to paint another mural. My girlfriend, Zeren, and I caught more than 20 rides and camped on beaches, in mountains, near ancient ruins, and on islands. We met countless people, were welcomed into their homes, and I was opened up to the beautiful landscapes that Turkey has to offer. Before going back to Belgrade for Dev9t, I spent a day in an abandoned building in Istanbul painting with some friends. What better way to end a trip than to leave my artwork in an otherwise derelict part of the city?
Back in Belgrade, I immediately started on my project in Dev9t. The weather was suitable for a day, but they didn't have my paint nor the scaffolding that I needed to really get started. I tried to start anyways and after sketching outlines and starting to block in details, a torrential downpour came and washed most of my semi-dried work off the wall. The rest of the week was a bit better, and to be sure that it wouldn't happen again, I created a tarpaulin out of some old plastic that I had and the aqueduct that ran through the industrial complex where the festival takes place. After working nonstop for nearly 5 days, I had to wait for someone else to take a photo of the finished work as I had to take the first bus to Mostar, Bosnia so I could catch my ride to Opuzen, the town in Croatia where my next festival would take place.
In Opuzen, I had chosen an old building with rotted out windows and an aged concrete facade. The design I wanted to paint was of a child with dreams. A child with nothing but an old teddy bear, a cardboard box, and a plastic bottle, yet with bit dreams of space and the world that lies beyond the imagination. It was to be my largest painting yet and moreover, I only had 3 days to do it. So I got to work again, mixed my paint, and created more playlists ranging from classic rap and hip-hop to classic rock and hours of Led Zeppelin. The final outcome was better than I could have imagined and the festival connected me with a large group of other professional muralists. Other young artists who paint for a living and get the chance to travel and do what they love. The thought, "Am I becoming a professional artist?!" constantly rang through my mind. I knew that I had the determination to become something, but these people thought that I had been doing this for a longer period of time than a few simple months. My worked seemed more mature, more sure. I took this as a good sign, thanked Opuzen for its hospitality, and headed to Sarajevo to meet up with Zeren and hopefully paint a bit more.
There, I met up with a friend from Opuzen, Muha. He has a gallery there with some friends and offered me a space on their gallery wall to paint, provided that I bought my own paint. While working on the sketch, my laptop charger wires, which had frayed over the past 2 weeks of traveling, finally disconnected and I was left trying to find a soldering iron, a store that sold one or someone who would be able to help me. He directed me to a nearby place, owned by a friend of his. A guy named Sulejman, who he guaranteed could help me. Turns out Sulejman is a coppersmith and doesn't have a soldering iron. Or possibly electrical tape. What he did have was a lighter that allowed us to at least get the plastic coating out of the way so we could repair the connection uninhibitedly. After we reconnected the wires, tested the charger, and then unplugged it because the wires were still uncovered and the risk of a 240v shock hovering ominously overhead seemed unnecessary, we talked for a bit and he told me that the coffee shop across the street has a wall that's perfect for a mural. We went to talk to the owner of the place, Reshad, and he gave me a very firm, "No". That he didn't need a painting there and that I should just paint on Sulejman's shop. Or somewhere else. I showed him my portfolio and swayed him slightly, but could tell that he was unsure. So I said I would be back the next day and went home to come up with some design. The following day, Zeren and I were at the cafe again. Armed with computers and determination. Long story short, he said yes to one, loved it, and agreed to another. Being on a busy street in Sarajevo's tourist and historical district, my name was now etched in what was essentially two billboards.
Currently, I'm back in Belgrade again. I just finished a painting on a wall of a private residence that's 8ft tall and 9ft wide. It's a pug in the form of the Dalai Lama. The dog is named Dali and the pun of it seemed a bit more than mildly funny to both me and the owner. I'm planning on working on a smaller illustration job this month, with a painting here and there and possibly one on canvas for a change, participating in a short event at the beginning of next month with some other local artists, and then heading to Turkey again for a month or so. I don't know what exactly the future holds in store for me. I don't know what to expect or what to promise. I just know that lately, life has been simply amazing. Things that I only dreamt of doing have been realized. My name has rolled off of more tongues than I ever expected, especially since most of them have never met me, yet know my name. My work has gained some recognition, which I couldn't be any more grateful for. I know that it's a rather simple thing, binding pigment to a surface with a brush or blunt instrument, but the effect that painting has had has been so much more than simple. This has been a pretty long post, so for those who not only wait for it but read through it, I thank you for the unwavering support.
Furthermore, I'll be doing some more linocuts in the next month or so, so if you think you may want to buy a print, keep your eyes peeled. If not, and you still want to support me in some way, donations are always greatly appreciated. The Balkans are a rather cheap place to live, so a little bit goes a long way here. At any rate, I thank you and till next time, keep your stick on the ice (my mom will understand that reference, as may some others out there).