Vladimir Veličković; Les versants du silence

Voila N. d’Ingres

(Finished 29th Jan 2012)

Musee des Abattoirs, Toulouse

I was very pleased to have seen this exhibition – not because I liked it, au contraire, but because it raises so many of the questions about the French/English art dichotomy.

Veličković does angst. Google him and his images  – the reproductions read well – and you will be in no doubt that angst is what he does.

Walking into the Abattoirs, a huge space, you are stuck by large, dark, human images. It is impressive. And within seconds, it isn’t. You know all of these images; he has copied Eadweard Muybridge photographs and twiddled them a bit, he has copied Francis Bacon and got it wrong, he has copied Leonardo, Grunwald, and probably Graham Sutherland (though he doesn’t admit to that one) and not done anything with them. It’s all surface. It’s all charcoal and fake blood.  It’s all synthetic and the draftsmanship isn’t very good.

Smudging it up doesn’t make it fine art. Dramatic contrast doesn’t make for dramatic emotions. Using Christian imagery doesn’t carry the weight of 2000 years of Christian art. Latching onto Dürer and Leonardo does not necessarily authenticate you.

Vladimir Veličković was born in Belgrade in 1935. He trained in architecture and jumped ship to join Krsto Hegedušić in his ‘master’s studio’. Hegedušić founded this studio in 1950, after being installed by the communist government as Professor at the Zagreb Academy( – he himself studied Breugal in Paris and his work most resembles a Christian version of Chagall faux naïf paintings.) Veličković was there from 1963 to 1966; in ’66 he moved to Paris. By 1983 he was Professor at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris until 2000. He holds the Commandeur dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

In short, the French love him. The English, however… there is no trace of him in British collections and he is not taught in the art schools (as far as I can ascertain)

In Britain we are taught, covertly or explicitly, to identify the masters that mean the most to us, to study them, to whittle them down to two or three and to use what you can from that process and those attachments. It’s one way of working. Veličković misses out a whole process and just copies, badly. Pastiche? Not even. It’s as if he’s trying to understand what makes people need to express pain, when he doesn’t know what pain is (and to say he doesn’t know what people are either is a bit harsh, but you get my drift) An architect learns technical drawing and those are the skills he took to a studio that dealt with unsophisticated folk art. It might make a happy marriage – in this instance it does not – but the French LOVE him!

While I was at the exhibition a DVD was playing of the painter talking about his work. It was being studiously followed by the audience who turned and glared and tutted at extraneous noise with the passion of the obsessed. I was idly thinking about suicide when a tuba started to play in the room under us, drowning out all possibility of hearing the words; joy, joy!  Turns out that the mayor was having a knees-up that night so we were being thrown out anyway. My will to live returned with a prayer of gratitude to the gods of surrealism.

By the time this gets published it’ll probably be too late to see this show. Count yourself lucky.




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