Life, Novels

Looking up at the Mountaintops
Only the worst of the worst can negate their fathers and ancestors. Fake knowledge has always been more dangerous than ignorance. Montenegro is the libertarian Serbian Sparta. The union of three evils and two wicked ones cannot deny it in the long run, just like dwarfs cannot hide Njegoš and Lubarda. Saying that Kosovo is not Montenegrin fatherland, hey! There were artists in different epochs, who artificially increased their significance, but time, the masterly filter, erased all of them. Certain people, who are building and decorating Serbian churches today, including some bishops, have fallen into kitsch and have nothing in common with the aesthetical values of St. Sava. And the ”holy scale” is waiting for us where it has always been

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: Guest’s Archive

The eyes of stone are watching us from his paintings and sculptures. Mountains breathe with colors, distances are merging in us. Archetypes are living road signs, just like the voice of ancestors, awareness about our origin, the light of old shrines. His paths and his artistic adventure took him to Belgrade, Krakow, Siena, Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris. But all his circles begin and end in Upper Morača. There, in the hemisphere of his unusual studio, in his artistic shell, he still dreams the world every summer. And the world is recreated.
Predrag Dragović (Dragovića Polje, 1953), painter of Morača and Belgrade, in National Review.

Dragovića Polje. I was born in Dragovića Polje in Upper Morača, by the river Morača, not far from the Morača Monastery. All my ancestors were born there. The last name of Drago, the founder, was Dulović. The Dulovićs are descendants of Obrad Selaković, who moved to Gornja Morača, Trnovica, from Sedlari, Popovo Polje, at the time when the Herzegovinian Islamized aristocratic families persecuted those who hadn’t converted. Ten generations are between Drago and me. Some Drago’s descendants took the last name Dragović, while some kept the last name Dulović. Serdar Mijat Dulović was Drago’s descendant. The last name of his descendants is Mijatović. A letter from the convocation in Morača in 1608, requesting support from the Pope and Western rulers for fighting against the Turks and liberation, includes the signature of Duke Radojica Gavrilović Selaković among thirty-four signatures of Serbian representatives from Herzegovina, Brdo, Montenegro and the Coastal Area. The Serbian Mirror, fourth book of Vuk’s poems (Liberation of Montenegro and Serbia), Sima Milutinović Sarajlija’s Poetry of Montenegroand Herzegovina, include poems about people of Morača and my ancestors. They are Tomaš Dragović and his wife Plana, whom Njegoš gave the name Klorinda of Serbia in the Mirror. Adam Misckiewich wrote about her feat. Several poems mention prior of Morača Nikodim Dulović Dragović. Famous is his letter to gubernator Jovan Radonjić in 1789 and the text about the Dying of Rovci, Morača and Uskoci from 1795.
Priest Andrija Dragović is a hero and warrior who came together with the people from Morača to help Karađorđe, and participated in the battle in Sjenica and liberation of Belgrade. Verses from the poem Priest Dragović and Marko Taušan are often quoted.
There is an entry about priest Andrija in the Lexicon of Yugoslavian Writers (Matica Srpska, 1972) written by Vladan Nedić. It says that Sima Milutinović Sarajlija wrote down three poems told by Andrija and published them in the Poetry of Montenegro and Herzegovina, printed in 1837 in Leipzig.
Damljan Dulović, who told Vuk Karadžić the poem about Lazar Pecirep, was also from Morača, Trnovica. (...)

Since then. The Dragovićs separated in World War II. It was the first time in history for them to fight on different sides. There are a dozen heroes and one national hero among them. My grandfather Miloš finished the warfare in 1945 and left his bones in a mass grave in Slovenia, while my father was demobilized and returned from the Stone Bridge. They were on the defeated side. My father never repented it, but also never boasted about it. His memories from the war began with a story that there were evil people and scum on both sides. My parents met and fell in love at a work action. My mother was born in Sela, Lower Morača. Her father was the first victim of the fratricidal war in Prekobrđe. She saw the broken forehead of her father and blood flowing from wounds on his chest. Since then, she always fainted and felt sick when hearing a gunshot or seeing blood even from the smallest scar.

Morača. Morača is wonderful. It was even more beautiful with my parents and the people who lived there in the old times! My present experience of Morača is not just a memory of childhood, connection with the soil, clean air, nature, physical work, blessing and contemplation at Sunday services in the Monastery.
The history of Morača is full of sorrow, bitterness and sadness, as well as pride. Most of all that is forgotten and buried forever, and sons and daughters haven’t remembered it. It is the part of history which no one speaks of, and everyone wanted it to disappear from memory. Old crosses made of greasy pine, called looch, have rotten in cemeteries; time has erased letters in the names carved on stone crosses and tombstones. The dust returned and mixed with the soil.
Wherever I have traveled and lived, my thoughts and soul were always in Morača. Almost everything I have done up to know was imagined in Morača. That is why I made my studio in Morača, where I feel protected, as if in a perfect sanctuary, made for artistic deep contemplation.

House of Memories. It would be difficult now to determine the border of what I remember from my childhood and what I have later dreamed or imagined. My memories of home are not from the home where I spent my childhood with my brother and parents, but the house where my grandmother lived. It was about thirty steps from the first one and was the oldest house in Morača. It was built by great-great-grandfather Veljo and I considered it my own. It is a traditional local Balkan type house. One half of the house above the living room had an illuminated room with wooden floors. The chimney with a fireplace, sooty beams, attic full of smoke, was in the second half of the house. The house had two doors: a large door from the south-eastern side and a smaller door on the opposite side. My ancestors pulled the badnjak, carried by oxen, into the house through the large door. The room was entered through the chimney. Stairs for climbing to the attic with some rare, mysterious objects, forbidden for children and put away, were next to the room door. When I was certain no one could see me, I used to climb up there and explore.
The cult of the fireplace is most strongly experienced in that age and on the chimney. If we also add night shadows on the room walls from the lit petroleum lamp… Now all that is mixed in my memories with the warmth of the fireplace, scents of the prepared meals and landscapes of astounding beauty.

Return to the Nest. One of the long-gone tastes I remember is the taste of raw fruit. There was a large Italian plum tree in the remains of the walls of priest Andrija Dragović’s tower. Its fruit was large and we, children, liked them more than anything else. We never discovered the taste of ripe fruit from that tree, because we’d always eat them all before they ripened.
I used to imagine that I will bring all the good I saw in the world to Morača. I did bring some books, which I now miss more in Belgrade than I use them in Morača.
The sunrise and sunset in Morača initiate special thoughts and feelings. It is enough to close your eyes, as before, and wander, get lost in the wilderness filled with various beauties. And when you look up at the mountaintops! (Ivo Andrić: ”One cannot fill his eyes enough with the starry sky and human face.”) You have the feeling that you have arrived there from an empty space. With the murmur of two rivers, the Ratnja and the Morača, you suddenly remember to decipher and clearly sing the hymn to everything, as a password, so the homeland mountains, after hearing the melody, would embrace you again as a mother and forgive you all the betrayals and wanderings before returning to the nest!

Mourning for Genuine Belgrade. Not a single place in the Balkans can be compared with Belgrade. It is far more European than Zagreb and Sofia, it has much of what they don’t have. Dragan Lubarda was obsessed with explaining Belgrade in words, in a painter’s manner. I haven’t seen any drawing or painting of his on this subject. He used to tell his students didactic stories about Kalemegdan in his classes and tried to create the beginning of a collective artistic thought about it. His idea was to have students continue their studies drawing by themselves. I think that my ”painted heraldry” of Belgrade fits into that story of his: Belgrade is most picturesquely deciphered by perceiving the walls of the Kalemegdan fortress from Nebojša Tower to the Confluence. They have preserved traces from which history can be read like from manuscripts: the history of this damned city, which is eternally, in cycles, renewed from its own dust. I filled two or three blocks of drawings on that subject and created graphics in several techniques.
I am unhappy because Belgrade cannot show the beauties and advantages of its position today, since people who are deciding about its development and urbanism don’t have the sense, education or culture for it.

Parisian Etudes. Paris. An extensive story. A special city. A city of arts and museums, politics, commerce, architecture, monuments, history. One of the world centers where the entire century is predicted and the death of art summoned – which, luckily, still hasn’t happened. A place of unbelievable human fates.
I discovered certain important and practical truths in Paris, which professors at the Belgrade Academy hadn’t told their students. There, in that lavishing beauty, I felt and remembered the bitterness of foreign lands.
There is a phrase about Parisian light, which wasn’t invented by painters. Just like we speak about the Byzantine blue color. Both stories are born from amateur and trivial presentations about alleged specialness. During my studies, I painted on gloomy, winter days; I painted at night, under light bulbs. In Paris and Barcelona, I only painted at night, rarely during the day, only to correct what I had done the previous night. Painting is best on a sunny day and good light. The reflex from the snow on a sunny day gives the strongest and best light for painting. It’s a pity days are so short in winter. Salvador Dali was thinking of light when he claimed that there is no painting except the one created in the Mediterranean. Goethe says that ”colors are the agony of light.”
Anyone who wants to be an artist should live in Paris, at least for a while. From the present distance, Paris is museums and shops selling artistic material. That is what I lately miss most, those Parisian shops.

Serbia and Montenegro. Is there an area or place in Serbia where Montenegrins and Herzegovinians haven’t settled in different periods? Is there a single family in Serbia whose ancestors haven’t moved from other Serbian lands? It’s one nation. Many of my relatives moved to Zlatibor and villages around Užice, and later to Šilovo and the vicinity of Lebane.
Montenegro is the libertarian and heroic Serbian Sparta, although the present government is renouncing their heritage, canceling heroic events from history and wandering around thinking up a new identity. I assume that they are just stirring up the water with such incredible activities, in order to keep confused people far from their vassal jobs and gains, permitted by the occupier as a reward. I believe this will not last long, because the propagandists participating in it didn’t think of anything better than what was already offered by occupiers from the First and Second World War. Those inventions are based exclusively on turning Serbs against each other and negation of everything Serbian. Saying that Kosovo is not the Montenegrin fatherland! Only the worst of the worst can negate their fathers and ancestors. False knowledge has always been more dangerous than ignorance. The most important lessons were omitted from school books, in order to create generations uninterested in their history and culture.
There is an impression that they have great support of the government and certain people from Serbia for their dishonorable deed. Njegoš’s anniversary in 2013 was boycotted both in Serbia and Montenegro. The catalogue accompanying the big exhibition of Petar Lubarda’s works in 2007, jointly organized by the National Museum in Cetinje and Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, is missing his handwritten biography, with data about his place of birth and nationality. Lubarda printed that biography as a document in the catalogue accompanying his solo exhibition in the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1969.
The border between Montenegro and Serbia brought me big and unsolvable problems. I cannot legally take over the border what I create in my studio in Morača. I don’t have the ID card of Montenegro and without it I cannot get the ata carnet, the permission for transferring and exhibiting my works.

Artemisia Gentileschi. There were artists in different epochs, who artificially raised their significance. Time has deleted many of those who used to be popular and important, in different professions.
Sometimes I think that education and various knowledge are most important for creating, and at times that more important is the internal experience and the need to liberate myself from some images, which I later upgrade and alter in my imagination. Van Gogh said that some people have large fireplaces in their souls, but no one comes to warm up next to them.
History knows many artists, people with incredible fates, who created their works under the strangest conditions, suffering and in poverty.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653) from Rome is one of the most convincing examples showing that determination, internal charge and strong emotion are more important for a painter than education and other knowledge. Contemporaries described her as a beautiful and disheveled girl, who doesn’t wash herself and walks around in rags. Later, that girl, cruelly misused in her youth, became the first female painter elected as member of the Academy in Florence. Her paintings are very valuable today, although she could hardly write her name.

Rootlessness. Veronese’s painting The Wedding Feast at Cana, brought by Napoleon’s soldiers from Italy as a spoil of war,is exhibited in the Louvre. Opposite from it is Mona Lisa, which would pass unnoticed if it weren’t protected with glass. There is always a crowd of tourists in front of Mona Lisa, while there is hardly anyone in front of The Wedding Feast at Cana. The Wedding Feast at Cana is a large format work (66 square meters), with a complex composition, a myriad of figures. Cezanne always singled out that painting, often commented it and considered it the highest painting achievement, a masterpiece. Renoir’s last wish was to be brought to see the painting one more time before he dies.
Based on the remains and fragments of frescoes and plastics, we could imagine how our old monasteries from the Nemanjić times were painted and decorated. After installing modern illumination in Dečani and Gračanice, it is closer and much clearer. Every summer I ask the prior for blessing to watch the fresco Raven Feeding Prophet Elijah in the altar in Morača.
Whenever I’m in such places, I ask myself how come present day bishops (philosophers and experts) and people who decide on building and decorating churches enjoy and involve themselves in kitsch? How was the connection with esthetical values of St. Sava broken and extinguished in them, so they lost the continuity and don’t consider such values significant?

The Meaning of Criticism. I don’t like to talk about my paintings. It drains and exhausts me, and I also think that it is indecent for an artist to interpret his work. I find very unpleasant the questions of beautiful lady reporters, who come to the opening of my exhibitions and expect me to say what they should be saying. Why are they doing a job they don’t have the knowledge for?
The number of sensible critics and observers is decreasing. Contemporary artistic criticism is impersonal, while visual arts criticism is least represented. Critics who are just praising and approving are not critics. The most effective criticism is the one that indicates the shortcomings of a work before it leaves the studio. It’s the criticism of colleagues and friends I spend time with while I paint or draw.

Roads, Cities. I like to travel. In the past, I spent all my money on traveling. I fell in love with some cities and dreamed of living in them. Krakow was the first city I was enchanted with. I wanted to enroll at their Academy of Visual Arts, but it was impossible due to the lack of interstate agreements between Poland and Yugoslavia. After Krakow – Sienna, the city where I had great inspirations. I traveled throughout Yugoslavia. There is almost not a single place in the previous state I hadn’t visited. I remember: when I spoke about Krka and Krupa to my colleagues, Academy students, they were surprised. They checked whether I was lying there were Serbs and Orthodox monasteries there. After the Academy, I had exhibitions in many Yugoslavian cities. I traveled with my ”Citroen 2CV” to Lisbon over Austria, Switzerland, France and Spain. That journey was a great adventure and lasted from June to October.

Workshop. Painting includes continuous learning. There are more thrown away works than those I have kept. I’m not satisfied with myself. While working, I often feel like a child trying to learn to walk. Dissatisfaction is present while I’m painting and even more when I’m not painting.
It’s not just a state of mine, believing in and doubting what I’m doing at the same time. A painting, sculpture and drawing need to be thought through and worked on for days and days. I remember good advices and thoughts: ”A paper shouldn’t be strangled. A stroke should be fresh. Wide, free, fresh” (Pavle Vasić). ”Sailing to Corinth is not for everyone” (Ancient Greek proverb). ”An artist shouldn’t wait for inspiration, it will come during his work” (Ivan Meštrović).
There is a power, mysterious and invisible, which has a crucial influence on creating a work of art, as well as its interpretation. I’m almost convinced that there is no good work of art without pain and suffering. I wouldn’t have created some of the works important for me if I hadn’t been in great hardships while making them up and working on them.
Especially astonishing is the energy invested in a work and how it affects the observer. Several times, when encountering El Greco’s paintings in Toledo and Prada, I experienced a state similar to the one when you touch electricity. It often happens that someone who is not an expert in painting, someone without knowledge about painting, chooses and takes away the best painting from the studio.


Predrag Dragović (Dragovića Polje, Kolašin, 1953). He went to school in Dragovića Polje, Kolašin, Čajnič, Nikšić. He graduated from the Faculty of Visual Arts in Belgrade, Painting Department, in 1979. He has been member of the Association of Visual Artists of Serbia and free artist since 1980. He is known for his thematic units ”Saints and Sebri”, ”St. Sava”, ”Peaks”, ”Kostići”, ”Visual Artistic Reading of ‘Mountain Wreath’”, ”Portraits of Serbian Poets”. He made series of drawings accompanying poems written by Desanka Maksimović, Matija Bećković, Rajko Petrov Nogo, Dragan Lakićević… He exhibited in cities of Yugoslavia, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Greece. He lives in Belgrade and Dragovića Polje.


The Mystery of Dawn
Unusual truths and illusion mix in the Morača dawns. Unfathomable and uncatchable is the moment when day and night separate. I want to record that great mystery in aquarelle as faithfully as possible, but haven’t succeeded up to now. Experience from theories, science and literature is of little help. I have to wait for new mornings, to try again, to organize myself better and prepare colors and paper, to say the prayer fluently and more convincingly, in order to be able to succeed. I got up early many times and went to the mountain to wait for dawn, hoping that the closer I am to the sky, it will be clearer to me what the starting color of the specter when day is separating from night in Morača is. That mysterious beauty remains and repeatedly presents itself every morning. The answer can be anticipated – but the solution is missing. You strain your senses and the result is similar to the one when you put a shell on your ear: you think you’re listening to the murmur of a faraway sea, but in fact you are hearing your own blood.


The Circle of Circles
Someone once wrote that I’m a painter whose work is classified in several cycles, which I occasionally return to. That is correct. The state and feeling I have while creating decided about my becoming an artist. The process of creation has always been more important to me than the final outcome – whether the work will succeed. Everything I have lived and tried to create and say is weaving around that attitude. I think my cycles are parts of a single cycle, which someone could complete after I put a point, cross my hands and close my eyes.


Lost and Found
I like attending services, but I also like being alone in church. When I’m sad and when things are not going as I wish, the Church is my most hidden place. There is another shrine, a space where I feel my humility and inspiration as if in the holiest temple. I have stayed only about twenty times for several days there. Everyone knows where it is. It is the ”holy scale” of Serbia (according to Bishop Nikolaj), where we have constantly shed blood with the devil. Where inextinguishable embers are still smoldering under the ashes.
It often seems that what has been lost is more valuable than what you have found in life!


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