Osijek - Dimitrije Popović, Franz Kafka
15. december 2009. - 10. january 2010. Reading the story of "Metamorphosis"


After a great success in Studio Josip Račić MG, exhibition Dimitrije Popović, Franz Kafka - reading the story of "Metamorphosis" is now been hosted in Gallery of Fine Arts in Osijek.

Not only many works of the fine arts, but also some works of literature have been of great importance for the nature of my artistic sensibility and the formation of my creative expression.   Lautreamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror  were the oneiric gospel of my youth, jus as Rimbaud’s Season in Hell and Kafka’s Metamorphosis were the discoveries of  a ravishing world of the imagination.   Some of the compositions of my early pieces were inspired by the subjects of these works.

The drawing entitled Kafka that I did in 1967, during my high-school days, was the result of an impression that the reading of Metamorphosis had made on me. (I wrote of this impression in the book Stories from Arcadia, Ex Libris, Zagreb 2005).   I was particularly interested in the bizarre embodiment of the mystery of metamorphosis when one morning Gregor Samsa woke up as an insect.  Accordingly, the drawing presents a vast bug  passing at night along a street by some great closed garden doors.  The insect has become a fantastic reality, a kind of symbolic portrait of the author of Metamorphosis. Unlike many readers,  this Kakfa tale of a man who turned into an insect while he slept did not arouse any kind of repulsion in me.  On the contrary, in the story I saw some bizarre beauty of surrealist poetry.   The possible reason for this is that I was already at that time familiar with those hybrid beings of Hieronymus  Bosch that populated the fantastic settings of his paintings, which I admired so much.  The insects also represented some kind of live toys with which we played in childhood. Now too I remember when I felt under my fingers the smoothness of their dark membranes and the stickiness of the feelers at the tips of their little legs.  I watched them lying helplessly on their backs, just like Gregor Samsa, who was bothered by the same problem of how to turn in his bed and stand upright on the thin little legs of his new body in insect form.

In the 1960s and 1970s I did many compositions inspired by insects. At that time, I was particularly interested in transformations, the forms of human and animal bodies that were the typifying characteristic of my surrealist procedure. In several recent works, the diptych of the metamorphosis motif is shown through a stylised human figure reduced to the silhouette of an imaginary profile while the painted body of the insect suggests the realistic form of the dark green insect. Fantasy becomes a reality more concrete than the reality from which it stems. The possibility of Gregor Samsa turning into an insect is more significant than the fact that he did become an insect.  This transformation makes him aware of his isolation and his alienation.  Through this metamorphosis he becomes aware as R. Garaudy says: “of the basic lies of his subsistence that had only the illusory appearance of a human existence”. And so the subject of Kafka’s Metamorphosis  is not just a mere fantasy, but a disturbing reality, the image of the tragic awareness of the human being.

It was not just Kafka’s Metamorphosis that was inspiring for transposition to visual media. Interesting almost to the same extent was the figure of the writer, and I used those two as prototypes, models for the series of paintings of this cycle. It seems paradoxical that the photograph, qua document on which Kafka’s likeness is fixed, suggests more the subjectivity of the person than it objectively records his physical character. It is this impression of subjectivity that spurs what we have read off about the writer through his works.  Objective reality precisely documented, initiates its own reverse, the immense area of the imaginary.  In this somewhat unclear grey and black photo (colour is a possible symbolic equivalent to Kakfa’s literary world), I did not feel of the writer just as an official, a conscientious and responsible member of society, but as the artist F.K., he who once wrote “the first sign of some beginning of knowledge is the desire for death.    This life it seems is unbearable, some other is unfathomable ...”

The intriguing figure of the writer in these photos create in us the image of a man who is concerned, introverted, a melancholic man who belongs to a world in which he feels a stranger and in a certain sense is a stranger to himself, for of course Kafka’s character cannot be observed separately from the inextricable meaning, of those anxious impressions that the writers works leave on us, and in his uncommon physiognomy is mirrored precisely what makes the typical determinants of his poetics; the existential drabness, the alienation, fear, exile, love, sickness, despair, hopelessness., the split personality, the absurd, impotence, the imaginary and death.

In this sense the character of model was determined by the character of his visual shaping, some kind of visual austerity, asceticism, an expression with simplified compositions precisely formed and reduced to formal and chromatic minimalism. On the other hand, this minimalism heightens or expresses a multitude of what refers to the phenomenon known as Kafka.  Many of the writers thoughts incised into my consciousness of those youthful days have in time as source of inspiration been metamorphosed into pictures of surrealist-psychological portraits of a writer, that is, that a controversial author who with all his ordinariness and simplicity has become a complicated and ultimately unfathomable mystery.  

Dimitrije Popović

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