Dragan Bibin is a young Serbian illustrator whom I met for the first time a few years ago while working together with him and a few other illustrators on the book project named Banished Demons. As soon as I saw his work, I knew I had an exceptional talent in front of me, not only because of his already highly developed skills, but also because of the depth and seriousness of his approach to the conceptual aspect of illustration and his eagerness to try to transcend the established paths. Although I have been his mentor for a relatively short period of time, Bibin regularly managed to inspire me with his work, his thoughts and his approach to illustration.
Bibin has already won two prestigious awards at the 46th Golden Pen of Belgrade – 11 International Biennial of Illustration. – a Grand Prix and the Award of Politikin Zabavnik.
This year his painting “Vid the Vampire” was nominated for the Spectrum 19 Award in the Book category.
Well, let us see what this promising artist has to tell and show us this time.
AESTHETICS OF ABSENCE
by Dragan Bibin
First, I would like to express my gratitude and to let you know how honored I feel to be invited by Petar to be a guest blogger on Muddy Colors, and to share some ideas about image making and storytelling that I’ve been working on for a couple of last years.
My intention was namely to intensify the feeling of mystery in my illustrations and by way of aesthetics of absence to engage the spectator on a deeper emotional level. I’m particularly interested in techniques of increasing the impact of some illustration’s elements by just giving a hint of them, without showing them directly. Sometimes the suggested presence of elements communicates more strongly than the presence itself.
All of the shown illustrations are made for the series of books about the Serbian mythology.
Nobody knows how Omaya looks like; no one’s ever seen her actually. People have only seen her apparitions. She appears as a domestic or wild animal, or in a shape of a blind girl dressed in white, with long, loosen hair.
While working on this illustration, I was led by the wish to carry on with the mystery and magic of this elusive being, but still to offer an evanescent insight of her real shape. In that purpose, I used the optical illusion called „Negative Afterimage“. This visual phenomenon happens when the eye, after being overstimulated by one image, adapts on the given quantity of the light, having as a result that the image shortly stays marked in the retina in the form of negative. At the first glance, Omaya is not in the picture, but after following the „magic instruction“ for seeing this demonical being, we realize that she was there all the time, observing us furiously while gnashing her teeth.
Омаyа– Egg tempera on chalk gesso panel, 14×20″.
INSTRUCTION FOR SEEING OMAYA: Concentrate on the blood stain in the middle of the picture, on the handkerchief, for about 20 seconds. Take a look at a wall near you. Than start blinking your eyes and you will see a true Omaya emerging.
I started the work on the illustration with drawing the portrait of the real demon Omaya as a white outline on the black background, just like I wanted her to be seen as an afterimage, and then I transformed that picture into the negative.
Omaya’s portrait shown as it will appear before one’s eyes as a result of illusion.
Having finished the portrait in the negative, I started to paint the girl’s portrait, paying special attention to match the darker parts of the demonic portrait with the black hair and the flower. The dark silhouette was slightly differed during that process, because I wanted to hide the demonic face, not to let it be seen at the first sight. I had to simplify the tones of the picture, to add the medium tones to the light in order to make the stronger contrast. That’s why the background is very bright and the hair almost completely black.
This illustration by the use of optical illusion creates itself in the spectator’s eyes and makes the storytelling more interactive.
Finished illustration and the digital simulation of the optical illusion.
Preface illustration for the book “Rebels (Vampires and Witches)” – Oil on linen, 9×13″
This is the example of my efforts to try to engage the spectator to inhabit the dark with his own fear and to react on the absence, i.e. suggested presence, rather than having me to do the design all by myself and to show more monsters. Since this is the illustration for the book on vampires and witches, it’s pretty clear what could be hiding behind the door. The dog here is only a sign-post. One of the areas that interest me the most are the archetypal fears, the fears that we bear from the earliest days of the existence of our species. If our ancestors saw a frightened dog or any other animal looking at something, they would probably get frightened themselves too and look at the same direction expecting to see some kind of danger. That’s how the fear becomes contagious, and the fact that we don’t know what’s hiding behind the bush becomes scarier than every visible thing, because our evolution brought us to always expect the worse.
Vid the Vampire – Oil on linen, size 12×16″
Vampire is a mythological being that originates from the Slavic cultural area, Balkans’ folklore in particular. The first “officially” recorded cases of vampirism were reported to happen in Serbia. The word “vampire” (vampir in Serbian) is the only word from the Serbian language that is accepted in all other languages. In above mentioned book on Serbian mythology, we treated the subject of the genuine and authentic vampires, and that original concept is pretty much different from the Western stereotype.
Vampire Vid Visiting his Home – Oil on linen, 9×13″ (+ digital)
A picture representing vampire Vid drifting in front of the window is inspired by one childhood memory.
Once when I was five years old, or maybe younger, in the middle of the night a passer-by leaned against the window of my house with his hand, for just a few seconds. I was the only one who noticed that. As my rational thinking and understanding was not developed at that age, the bright white palm on the glass surrounded by the deepest darkness, got a new dimension, so frightening and so mysterious.
Plague – Egg tempera on panel, 20×27″.
This picture represents the demon of illness, Plague, which came to take the boy. A swarm of ladybugs is descending from its palm.
In my work procedure it is not all as cerebral as it may seem in this commentary. I never try to calculate nor I plan too much ahead how to provoke certain emotion; I let myself be led by intuition towards the solution, that later on I give shape to.
These are just some of my examples of dealing with the directness and indirectness in illustration, and thoughts about the importance of not revealing too much, but rather opting for communication with public, by animating spectators to use their own imagination.
Petar Meseldžija was born in Novi Sad, Serbia, in 1965. He began his career in 1981, publishing the comic strip "Krampi" in the Stripoteka, one of the best known comic magazines in the country. This was followed by a series of short comics and his work on the licensed comic book Tarzan. He graduated from the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad, in the Painting Department. During his studies he continued to work on comics, but also more often working on illustrations. In 1991 he illustrated his first book Peter Enkorak, published by Mladinska knjiga from Slovenia.
At the end of 1991 he moved to the Netherlands. Soon after, he stopped working on comics and dedicated himself to illustration and painting.
During the 1990s he painted about 120 posters and greeting cards, mostly for Verkerke Reproduktie from Holland. For Grimm Press, a publisher from Taiwan, he did 33 illustrations for the book King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He held his first solo exhibition of illustrations and paintings in 1998 in the Tjalf Sparnaay Gallery in Amsterdam.
He has participated in many group exhibitions in Yugoslavia, the Netherlands and the USA.
His work has been published in a variety of periodicals and books all over the world.
Among many awards which he received for his work are:
“Plaque The International Golden pen of Belgrade, 1994”, Yugoslavia;
The “Art Show Judges Choice Award” – 59th World Science Fiction Convention, Philadelphia, 2001, US.;
Two Silver Awards from “Spectrum 4 and Spectrum 10 – The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art”, U.S.;
Gold Award “Spectrum 16 – The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art”, U.S.
From the beginning of 2000 he has dedicated himself to gallery art. Of the exhibitions where he has participated, the most worthy of mention is the Exhibition of Independent Realists. This exhibition, organized annually at the Mohlmann Museum from the Netherlands, offers clear insight into the creative achievements of contemporary Dutch artists in the domain of realist and figurative art. In addition to painting, he continues to do illustrations.
Two other significant projects should be mentioned. He painted 10 book covers for books of children's fantasy literature for the American publisher Scholastic Inc. Likewise, he illustrated the Serbian folk take “Prava se muka ne da sakriti”(“Real Trouble Cannot Be Hidden") for Bazar Tales, a publisher from Norway. In his work on the book, The Legend of Steel Bashaw, he has invested enormous time and effort. This project, for him of the greatest importance, was started in 1993. Including shorter and longer breaks, the longest of which lasted 7 years, he has been working on the book for 15 years, finally finishing it in August of 2008.
His original work is to be found in the private collections in Serbia, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.S.