Old Masters

A Painting’s Internal Geometry
We’ll never completely decipher his work and we’ll never stop trying. This spring, the people of Valjevo remembered their famous townsman with a large exhibition in the ”Modern Gallery”, with some works seen for the first time in public, and accompanying promotion of the second edition of ”Ljuba” monograph

By: Svetlana Mićunović
Photo: ”Modern Gallery”, Valjevo

The ”Modern Gallery” in Valjevo can be proud of the number of exhibited works of the great Serbian and world painter Ljuba Popović, as well as their special significance in the painter’s opus. The unique exhibition honoring this painter was opened in the first half of April. Visitors were able to see about fifty Ljuba’s works, some of them shown for the first time in public, and some framed only now, two decades after their creation. One of the exhibited works is the Triptych to the Matter of Death or Honoring James George Frazer, a painting that couldn’t be exhibited in Belgrade due to its large format, for which Valjevo specially adapted its gallery.
Ljuba’s works from the 1970s and 80s were shown in the first room of the Gallery, works from the following several decades in the second, and the third room included paintings created after 2000. Smaller formats were exhibited in the Gallery library. The paintings are part of collections of the painter’s friends and numerous collectors, who bought them at Paris and Brussels auctions. From the 1968 Time of Androids, the oldest painting at this exhibition (owned by Živojin Pavlović’s family), to the works from 2015.
The exhibition will be open for two months.


On the day the exhibition was opened, April 8, the second edition of the Ljuba monograph was promoted in the Valjevo Gymnasium. It was published by the ”Modern Gallery” in cooperation with ”Parisian Circle”. Richly illustrated, the monograph shows a review of Popović’s art from 1953 to 2015, including the painter’s texts, as well as those of local and foreign authors, such as: Saran Aleksandrijan, Gustav Rene Hocke, Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues, Nikola Kusovac, Ljubomir Simović, Milan Komnenić, Sreto Bošnjak, Dejan Đorić.
The author personally worked on this monograph’s first edition, published two years ago. The second, amended edition was created with the great help of the deceased artist’s family, whose eldest daughter, Andrijana Popović, attended the promotion. Former minister of culture Bratislav Petković, alpha and omega of the ”Parisian Circle” Živojin Ivanišević and art historian Nataša Ristić, professor of the Valjevo Gymnasium, all spoke at the promotion.
”Mediala” undoubtedly made the basis for his work, but he ”upgraded his authentic worlds” later. Returning to the past and gazing towards the future, as well as figurality opposite to abstraction, is constantly present in Ljuba’s canvases. Also belonging to his early period is his kind of self-portrait, rarely exhibited, in which the observer can see the author’s great burden.
It’s not easy to fathom the art of Ljuba Popović, art in general. He clearly passed several phases of development, but ”his essence seems unfathomable”. Some described it as disintegration in death and eros.
We already said that many important international authors wrote about Ljuba and his art. He personally mostly appreciated the interpretation of Milan Komnenić, writer, now also deceased. He carefully followed the Serbian press and checked the reception of his work from Paris. Komnenić marked Ljuba as a kind of a password in the second half of the twentieth century painting:
”He came within reach of surrealism, but never followed its poetics; he appreciated the experiences of abstract art, but stood aside from it; he dived into the mysticism of the imaginary, but with caution and prudence; he persistently researched the spirit of tradition, especially achievements of renaissance and sometimes Byzantine masters; he disciplined imagination; basing the painting on ”internal geometry”, in the permeation of imagination and reason, he succeeded in maintaining harmony and measure, which marked his work as classical.”


According to Nataša Ristić, however, the influence of renaissance is visible in Ljuba’s art, but with admixtures of classicism, mannerism, even baroque. She indicates that Ljuba is an excellent drawer, that his Parisian canvases reveal rich coloring and even the influence of expressionism in color, while the final, ”Aegean phase”, includes Byzantine light.
Although marked as fantastic, only a deeper analysis reveals his painting in its entire complexity and ambiguity. The canvases are full of unreal beings, dwelling in unreal landscapes, made of plants, architecture, various objects. Accumulating forms is well organized, often around stable geometric structures. As Nataša Ristić noticed, the art magician is an engaged artist. His withdrawal from the perfect in beauty is characteristic for the modern age. We should remember Umberto Eco’s Aesthetics of the Ugly and see the relativization of beauty in the painting Cleopatra with an Apple. Besides mentioned works, other numerous pieces were also exhibited in Valjevo, the valuable and most valuable ones, including: Tamer of Souls, Sensuality Class, Ghost, Universe of Fear, Big Image of Evil, The City of the Dead, Wandering of a Shadow, White Light of Athos, Blue Monasteries, Blossoming of Passion, Lolita and Vampires (and Me)...
It seems that Ljuba’s art wouldn’t exist without Eros. Female figures are dominant in his paintings. Komnenić writes:
”Ljuba’s painting represents a constant evaluation of flesh, its vital possibilities, its plastic seductiveness... certain central, mostly female figures, with transparent and almost bodiless bodies, diagonally placed from right to left, look like the Milky Way in the sprinkling galaxies of Ljuba’s paintings.”
Memories from the earliest childhood breathed soul into his works, as well as his excellent knowledge of literature, film, philosophy, comics, eroticism, esotery and occult sciences, and technique helped him transfuse the finest pulses into paintings. He never knew in advance what he will put on the canvas. Popović was an absolute devotee to art, he lived for it and from it. In fact, he was happiest when people showed honor and admiration by addressing him ”Master”.
Aspiring towards eternity, he noted moments.
A great artist and man with a multitude of friends, although deceased, is remembered both for his work and appearance, which this unique exhibition confirms. His Valjevo thereby once again showed admiration and honor to their townsman. People of Valjevo say that Ljuba, with his spirit, wittiness and rebellion, reminded of their Aleksa Nenadović. Disobedient, as he described himself, he is a man from another time, intimately connected with tradition, not only in his work, but in general.


Ljubomir Ljuba Popović first studied art history and later painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, where he graduated in 1959. Already the following year, he exhibited with the ”Mediala” group in the ”Grafički Kolektiv” Gallery. He went to Paris in 1963 and lived and worked there until the end. He passed away in August 2016 and was buried in Valjevo. His birth city has announced building a memorial park to honor Ljuba.


Permanent Exhibition
Ljuba Popović went to elementary and middle school in Valjevo. His paintings were exhibited in many prestigious museums and galleries in the world. A permanent exhibition of his works was opened in 1985 within the Valjevo ”Modern Gallery”.


Two Important Figures
Some interpreters connected Ljuba’s painting with the occult and dark, as well as with two important figures from his childhood. The first is his early deceased firstborn brother, whose grave was in their family house yard in Bosnia, and the second, indicated by the painter himself, was his mother’s father, priest in a remote Bosnian village. There were stories that he exorcised demons from peasants and had an unusual habit to take walks through deep forests alone.

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