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Art & Life with Snezana Petrovic.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Snezana Petrovic.

Snezana, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born in Yugoslavia and have lived in Spain, Libya, England and Germany, before I moved to USA. Since I can remember I was drawing, writing poetry and making things. While traveling I would find myself having dialogues and realizing that my art is my home. Since the early age my parents were preparing me for a different path, one of a doctors. My art was my safe place to go when I was lonely or facing a new environment.

Without support or approval of my parents I was secretly preparing during my senior year for the exam for the prestigious art school. Mid-semester there was my first group exhibition with my first oil painting, which had been produced during the prep-classes. During the opening reception this painting was stolen. The truth came out when the police report reached my house with the trail date and info related to painting (now found). I had to ask the teacher who is running the art prep classes came to talk to my parents, as they were very upset and disappointed in me for hiding my intent to apply to art school and change their anticipation of my future. After hours of conversations, my Dad concluded that he wishes that I have an easy life and not struggle as an artist. Upon the return of my stolen painting, my parents kept it in the living room to this day.

Once the truth was out my Dad helped me with matting my art works for portfolios, and bought me my first wooden easel as per my wish so that I could work as the Renaissance masters did. I was accepted to the Belgrade Fine Art University at the very top of the list after 5 days of different entrance exams. Since that day I was highly motivated to prove to my parents that I can live well by doing my art. I have started exhibiting and designing in my last years of the undergrad school. I was a free-lancer until I moved to US. To this day, I only do art, as an art professor and/or studio artist. Jokingly my parents would say now, how I could be a surgeon with this many degrees and years of school. But this is done not with regrets or as a critique, instead as a loving commentary and approval.

I just know that I had to do art and nobody could stop me from this path. Not even the war that destroyed Yugoslavia and the move to my new home in Los Angeles, where I had to start my life all over again. Few years ago, I have spent time in an ashram in India learning yoga Nidra meditation, when the Swami, my guru, decided to give me spiritual name that is both descriptor and a goal of one’s life purpose. Since then my middle name is Saraswati as Hindu Goddess of Knowledge and Art, whose creativity dispels darkness and is “river of consciousness that enlivens creation”. With that in mind, I got to’ step up my game 🙂

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
My art is a continuous practice where I explore different voices and aspects of my life’s journey as related to the diverse influences that I was exposed to. My exploration in arts always were connected to displacement and gender, the move to California marked a change in my direction as traditionally trained artist in painting and figuration. I turned to ephemeral aspects of performance and installation art as a reflection of the impermanence and life insecurities. This is both my inspiration and message.

Two themes are central to my studio art practice: the gardens as a convergence of outdoors/indoors spaces reflective of one’s habitat, and the museums as memory preservation sites. Being an immigrant, the displacement kept me in this search for an idyllic version of home that I have lost due to the war. My installations are immersive environments as lyrical expression of ephemeral, feminine, dislocation, memory and need for a connection. Lines are dominating both. The recycling and juxtaposition of materials from the natural to plastic in all my work, are the reflections of re-purposing of my own life and memories.

When I started the garden installation two series were developed as a juxtaposition of nostalgic voice from my past, built with monochromatic recycled newspaper into a yarn vs the futuristic, neon- bright colored “Bionic Garden” created from a re-purposed plastic, zip ties, and inspired by the vibrant energy of Los Angeles. With directional lights, shadows, suspension, tension and gravity I am creating interactive 3D drawings. The audience is invited to navigate and affect the environment with objects displacement, while moving through the spaces and following straight line or organic/curvolinear paths on a journey from one destination to another. The video component is another layer of interactivity that allows the fly over experience within 3D replica of each environment. Site-specificity alters placement in each incarnation. As the late work of Eva Hesse my installations changed each time that a new site is inhabited. I am working on right now on the immersive underwater installation with coral reefs, kelp and schools of fishes, all made with zip ties.

I am fascinated with the gardens as convergence spaces for pleasure botanical purpose or an extension of a habitat, but the museums are my newest focus, as I am trying to preserve my memories and dig into layers of my identity and its influences. From the abstract installations that I was focus in past decades, I went back to figuration while thinking about organized and architecturally defined spaces such as temples, where the history is buried under the dirt or mud and preserved for the centuries to come. I am inspired by Villa Romana in Sicily as an excavation site where both art and function are fused together, with series of narrative mosaic embedded in each room of this giant mansion. The new painting series that will be artifacts in imaginary temple is titled “Aaitars”. I am scratching the surface of one’s multitudes of previous lives and identities. Each painting is different emanation of women of all ages and ethnicity who are sharing the stories of female transformation powers and healing.

At the same time these are autobiographical stories related to my journeys. These are the Goddesses as well as ordinary women with extraordinary powers unknown to men. They are all about creativity and breathing life into the dead matter which defines the process and starting point of each painting. I stand in front of wood surface looking at shapes and patterns that has occurred from a tree surface. Shapes takes forms with the colors that are intuitively placed. The dialogue between me and painting continues with the visions of a specific women and the drawing starts emerging with the charcoal. Again, wood on wood. Dead tree is breathing life to an image of an Avitar. The research process brings into life many of the figures, but at the same time they are composites of memory, imagination and reality. I am drawn into these worlds and see possibilities of creating imaginary cultures and stories where all the women are brought together from present, past and future. I am just scratching the surface of a project that will entail the tools, jewelry, fashion and all the artifacts that speaks in any museum about specificity of cultures, and more than that, are the evidence of humanity and creativity.

The Title of Peter Frank’s Essay on my work summarizes the complexity of my studio art practice as: “ AMONG MEDIA, AMONG FORMS, AMONG WORLDS”. I have three careers that are inter-woven: as studio artists, academic and award-winning set/costume designer. My work was exhibited nationally and internationally in Amsterdam, Singapore, Tokyo, Prague, and Belgrade, in Los Angeles MOCA and Stedijilk Museum, Amsterdam.

I am the recipient of numerous awards both in USA and Europe, such as “Golden Arena” for Production Design in feature movie “Harms Case” or “Ovation 2011, Los Angeles” for the costume design in Large Theatre category. I was awarded UC Regents Grant and National Endowment for the Arts. I hold MFA from University of California, Irvine and BFA from Belgrade University, Serbia. Currently I serve as LRC Gallery Director, Professional Development Coordinator, Chair of Fine Arts and Professor of Art at Crafton Hills College

Maybe the summary of all of the above is resonated in Peter Frank’s words in his essay “Snezana Petrovic: AMONG MEDIA, AMONG FORMS, AMONG WORLDS”: “This sense of wonderment and surprise suffuses throughout Petrovic’s oeuvre. It does come close to manifesting a sense of spectacle – the spectacle” of Guy Debord, that is, engulfing all other sensation and numbing and addicting its audience, a bread-and-circus distraction from social ills and imbalances. But, for all the sensuosity and glister of her assemblages, installations, and even paintings, Petrovic quite consciously, even demonstrably, stops short of providing entertaining diversion. Her social concerns lie at or just below the surface of her works – even the ones without apparent reference (some of her best work) critique the suppression of meaning in contemporary life: they propose that form itself is a valid, even potent, expression, and that no composition, no matter how abstract, is without meaning within itself or resonance in the larger discourse.

It is this commitment to meaning – that is, to the act of meaning, not to the articulation of a single idea nor to portentous self-referential gesture – rather than to any single thing or idea that permits, even prompts, Petrovic to wander far afield in artistic media and practices, from video to sculpture, from weaving to performing, from assemblage to poetry.””

What responsibility, if any, do you think artists have to use their art to help alleviate problems faced by others? Has your art been affected by issues you’ve concerned about?
The LA art scene is growing fast within the de-centralized sprawling city borders. It is not just artists that are moving in, but the commercial NY based galleries purchasing DTLA and Boyle Heights spaces. Smaller and local galleries are shutting down. This growth does not seem to reflect the actual demand. Art is still somewhat a luxury item and not the necessity. Imagine a world in which each person in LA will own at the least one original art piece? Making connections with the community is what LA Art Share is doing, and it might be a great model how to educate and create a need for the arts.

Fifteen years ago there was a feeling of excitement and camaraderie between studio artists and critics in LA. The growth of artist numbers and commercial galleries brought the change and created the divisions and grouping around perceived power. The rental fees for studios went up. The new studio spaces/complexes were built as prolific business for some, and not so supportive of the artists. As a result, in the past five years, I was moving from one studio to another and each time I had to reduce the size of the space that I am working in, that affected the scale of my work as well.

It would be helpful if some businesses would give free art studios rental in buildings scheduled for remodeling or demolition. It has happened in LA. Several years ago, when I was working on the installations for avant- garde opera in the Culver City in the abandoned car service center, free of charge (even the power and water were paid by the owner) for a period of 6 months or in DTLA old bank before its remodeling. However, those were one-time arrangements and not open to the larger art practitioners. Some state/government funded cities like Amsterdam has this as an ongoing opportunity. I am responding to the interview questions on Big Island, and getting ready for the professional workshop “Kiapipai” in Hawaiian “to be inspired” with 12 other artists and 8 art professionals: gallery/museum directors, art critics, artist and art life coaches. It was envisioned and lead by Andi Campognone, the Director of MOAH. It is an excellent example and support that provides exciting opportunity for artist to grow, expand the networking.

The artist role in the community is of a youngest child in a family that brings love and joy and costs lots of money. Practicing artists might not bring financial profit to the community but provide the “food for the soul” and make us be better humans[sp1]. However, there are known initiatives that shows how the art brings tourism to the cities. It is all about sharing and giving, between the community and artists, with the support of the state and city. LA Voyager is helping in spreading the word and images out. It really makes each of artist featured to feel relevant and to get inspired to strive for better self. These interviews bring the dialogues on the current issues and help us feel connected.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
One can always contact me for a studio visit at Hawthorne Arts Complex. It is wonderful and inspiring space with lots of great artists. We have open studio on 08/05 from 2::00pm -6:00pm. Please join us for fantastic art sales, music, drinks and food. We always have fun art parties! Beside group exhibitions I am working on my future solo exhibition. I am developing an immersive video installation for the MOAH Cedar solo exhibition scheduled for summer 2019. It is very slow process and progress while creating underwater environment with zip ties.

I will be performing at the Highways space on 18th street in Santa Monica on August 11th and September 15th from 6:00pm-8:00pm. Performance art is my voice without a voice as I perform silent. The performance art was the first art that I was practicing since my move to US. It feels that my whole being is engaged with the audience in that very moment of performance. Concurrently I am preparing a collaborative piece with installation artist Chenghung Chen for the group exhibition 50/50 that runs from 9/7/18 thru 10/27/18 in the Progress Gallery in Pomona. THE exhibition is curated by Conchi Sandford another wonderful installation artist.

I love collaboration as it always brings out some hidden aspects of oneself. Working with Chen is particularly enjoyable as we do not need to talk much- we have dialogue through art. It is like jamming with another musician. Love it! This month, the samples of my recent Avitar paintings are at the Riverside City College Gallery exhibited until 07/30 with the group traveling exhibition titled “Old Broads” featuring women artists. Visiting open studios and/or exhibitions and occasionally purchasing art pieces is great support for any artist. Contact me via email on my web site and arrange your time! Art can be also produced per demand.

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Image Credit:
Snezana Petrovic

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