Interview with Mihailo Stanisavac, questions by Vladimir Palibrk, Paris 2022

Mihailo Stanisavac is an artist from Belgrade, living and working in Paris since many years. His primary education and activities are focused on graphic art and printing, though in this interview we will discover that he is also productive in fields of drawing, photography and mural art. Conversation that is following below was recorded during his work on a wall situated in the legendary, street-art-friendly thirteenth arrondisement of Paris. We visited him in various stages of this work – at the very beginning, and after the painting was finished. This was a great opportunity for us to approach the mural painting practice (and public art in general) from the perspective and mindset of a classically educated, graphic print focused artist. The success of his final product is evident also in the fact that this mural very soon appeared as one of the key locations in the latest production of famous French director Alex Lutz, which is at the moment in post-production phase. Part of the passage was painted by Mihailo’s colleague from Belgrade Matija Blagojevic, designer with long history of activity on the graffiti scene. Matija had to leave fast back to Belgrade so we did not manage to catch him and record his comments and thoughts, but we of course present here his work too. Thank you for your attention! /audio interview is in Serbian, below you can find written translation to English/

VP: Good afternoon, here we are in another episode of our little research podcast project Street Art Residencies. We are in the thirteenth arrondisement district of Paris, together with Mihailo Stanisavac, artist from Belgrade. Hello Mihailo!

MS: Hello!

VP: Can you briefly explain us what is happening here, why are we here?

MS: Well yes, I mean, we happen to be in the middle of implementation of one project in domain of street art as people like to say, though I prefer to call it painting on the wall. The spot is situated between the metro stations Chevaleret and Nationale, this area is famous by numerous murals and big walls painted by famous artists…this location where we are now is one passage between buildings, not really in the open street but more covered sort of, which is even better as I feel as if I am in an atelier…I never had such a big atelier in my life so far /laughs/. What is interesting about this project is that it was implemented with the support of the 13th district municipality administration. They asked if this could be a participative project, with participation of locals who live here, which of course was possible and very welcome. So I had many assistants, which brought in another element into the process that was heading from order to the chaos, from chaos to the order and so on..

VP: So actually you had an open atelier here for few weeks and you were painting…

MS: Yes that’s how it was, exactly.

VP: You were working and people were approaching you and..

MS: Yes that’s how I felt it, since this is a passage, people are passing, commeting all the time and looking at the process, and on the wall there were sketches of these murals and one announcement inviting people to join if they want to participate  and to help…

VP: Which profiles of people have gone through the process so far, which age groups and professional backgrounds?  

MS: They were either kids or old, retired people.

VP: That’s an interesting topic in general to discuss, specifics of work process in the public space..

MS: Yes. This is my first time, not the first time that I am exposed in public while working on something, but this type of public work I haven’t experienced so far…and all that’s a good experience and I must admit that I like it a lot. It’s true though that it can be a bit tiring..i did dedicate time for all this so that’s part of the planning.

VP : How long did it take in total, the implementation of the project ?

MS: Until this moment, around ten days has passed, and I will keep working till the end of next week. So it will be around fifteen days in total, lets say two weeks, as we skipped some days too and so on… My buddy Matija Blagojevic is working with me, he does not live here in Paris so he had to finish his work fast as he had to go back to Belgrade. Me, on the other hand, I planned two weeks for this.

VP: How do you feel, will you be making more murals after this?

 MS: Of course, that’s the only thing I am thinking about right now,to be honest..that’s all I am interested in right now, as it’s been a long time since I had the opportunity to work on such a big format too, I would like to explore that more. And I must add one more thing, due to certain circumstances of life I did a lot of painting jobs here in Paris as one has to make a living out of something, so I got already a hand for it, so to say. It’s not a same thing of course, I don’t want to call it art, but there is something in common, that action of covering big surfaces with color has became something quite known and close to me, as well as some technology things with materials and so on…and opening the space in general, that’s interesting to me, the space itself and transformation of space in ideological, architectonic, visual or any other sense…

VP: Okay, this is the second part of the conversation with Mihailo, the first part we recorded few weeks ago or more, maybe even a month…can you tell us a bit about the other disciplines you are active in? Here we meet you as someone who is painting the mural, but what else do you do exactly in life?

MS: Well, most of all so far I was active in printing graphic art in fact, I can say that’s what I consider my main focus. Though, next to the graphic there is always the drawing too, so that’s hard to separate from each other, for me. Graphics and drawing. When I say graphics, I mean classical methods of print, as graphics can be considered as quite wide term. Can be also digital graphic art, there are many ways to do it, me for example I use metal a lot, I make matrix and stencils, after I print that, as one matrix can be multiplied in many different ways..

VP: I know you’re also a bit of a street photographer…

MS: Well yes, though that’s really more of a hobby I would say…yes, I did street photography for some time, simply as you’re all the time in movement, you spend so much time in public transport so you have to make some breaks…so I travel one part of the journey, then I go out a bit and walk, and during this walk I try to spend time constructively so I take the camera and make photos. Meeting with photography is the meeting with the light, in fact.

VP: Famous Parisian light played  part in that, I’d say..

MS: Well you know that Parisian light is very good for photography. It’s cloudy quite often, which gives some kind of diffused light, and often when it’s humid that gives some reflections too..

VP: We discussed not so long ago how various fields of activity can influence each other..

MS: Yes, that’s also the spirit of the époque too, you can do graphic in various ways but it’s sort of a complicated discipline that usually requires some special space for it, though with the photography nowadays it’s enough to carry the camera with you and that’s it.

VP: Which are the key elements and traits that are important for the success of an artist, in your opinion?

MS: Well that’s sort of a complicated question, I thought a lot about it since I’m observing a lot these artists who have lots of success…in general, you shall be in possession of many items that are all the same. That’s what you can see recently at the exhibitions, one and the same thing many times. And it should look like some kind of ready-made, or something similar that does not require too much work invested in it, or it’s even better if you can pay someone to do it for you, so then when you have many times that one same thing, you can easily occupy some big space, which gives you possibility that your work seems like being monumental. Then, second thing that’s quite present when successful artists are in question are so called statements. That suggests that nothing else is needed to be drawn nor painted, it’s enough to write something and hang it on the wall and that’s very useful for gaining some success, especially if it’s politically engaged, so to say. Anything that has no connection with politics is very hard to gain success, as well the projects where connection with politics is less visible, and is not so direct..

VP: What do you think, how important is the pedagogical work, for development of an artist?

MS: Pedagogical, in which sense?

VP: I mean artist in the role of a mentor or pedagogue…

MS: I think that’s something very important. I believe, in fact, that everything is an exchange,your ability to be a good pedagogue is depending on your ability to receive fromothers, to be receptive towards the same ones that you are in position to teach. It has to be a constant exchange, otherwise it’s a dead end, I would say.

VP: Okay, thank you…tell us something about Paris?

MS: What can I say about Paris, I don’t know what to say…maybe I can tell you the things I told to people in Belgrade who asked me about it, since I visited that city not so long ago after many years…one does not know even how to answer that queston, so I said to one friend well it’s great, I like it, it’s super. He got a bit surprised, and said “hm listen I heard it’s a hard place for living, I don’t know…” Then I said well yes, that’s true, Paris is one very heavy city that runs over you just like that, but it also has it’s ways to give you back that energy afterwards. When I just remember all kinds of things that happened to me here, I surprise myself each time. How many flats and living spaces I changed since I’m here, when I see all the people I met here at one place I also get surprised, when I also remember how many people from Belgrade I met in Paris, which could not happen over there because of this or that reason..

VP: Thank you for this sincere answer…whose work you appreciate, what inspires you from the cultural legacy of the world?

MS: In my case that changes quite often. For example, it’s been ages since I did something similar to these murals, and now this experience is reconnecting me with painting practices. While searching for solutions, I payed more attention to the process, I started rewinding the films in my head, some exhibitions that I saw before, and am still wondering how to connect all that in a whole. For example I saw an exhibition of Roy Liechtenstein, and all of a sudden I had impression that some part of my painting looks too much like his work, which became annoying to me… Then I said to myself hm maybe I can put something of Bacon in there…you have mentioned photography a moment ago, in the last period I got interested in it a lot, I didn’t use to know too much about it, that’s sort of a new field for me, so lately I follow that a lot. There was one exhibition recently, maybe it’s still on – Vivien Meier at Musee de Luxembourg, her retrospective exhibition. She was completely anonymous, and then when she died they found enormous amounts of her negatives, she mainly photographed the streets…while in her professional life she was a maid or something like that…

VP: I have three more short questions – is there any highlight or anecdote from this painting action that you can share with us?

MS: Hm, I am trying to remember something specific…it’s a highlight for me non stop, so many people passing by all the time, asking questions and getting interested about the work, so you have to speak to them, they thank you, they have also suggestions and criticisms, that happens too… That’s also quite disturbing, because when you are at the street you are exposed all the time, that can slow you down but definitely it gives completely another dimension to your work…that’s maybe exactly what can be identified as main characteristic of so called street art, that exposure of the author…let’s say that’s the main highlight for me.

VP: Okay so all in all this is an interesting new experience for you, all this…can you please briefly represent your colleague who painted the other part of this hallway?

MS: Sure, that’s Matija Blagojevic, my buddy…he is a designer. He is a graphic designer, also active in fields of drawing and graphic prints. Maybe I recognized in his work some common points with my work, though there are also many points where we are completely different from each other, so I find it very interesting because of that. We are part of different generations, with totally different approach…still, it seems to me that it goes well together, what do you think?

VP: it fits quite well together I would say, maybe also because it’s within the same architectural frame, which gave the continuity to your styles on some level..

MS: That’s right, the space itself with the arcades, the architecture of the place itself, this wall with three holes was already attractive to me and that’s why I proposed to paint exactly here – as it looked like a graphic matrix. Graphics and architecture have many common points. I just read somewhere, it was Rudolph Arnheim I think, “Dynamic of form in architecture”, unfortunately I forgot the names of all the chapters, but each chapter is a world for itself in that book. So one of the chapters was entitled “Solid bodies and the cavities”- that’s exactly like these two walls, solid body and the cavity, and we have it also in the printing process and in the stencils, there is always this cavity that lets the paint go through, some kind of positive and some kind of negative space…

VP: I find it quite intriguing here that thanks to these holes, visitor has ability to see both walls in the same time, in fact.

MS: That’s right, that was a big challenge for me, to create a solution that suggests the space, geometrically fits into it, while at the same time communicating with the street.

VP: Thank you, for the end – you can choose a question you want to answer, between these two: First one is to tell us one older dream, from few years ago, that you still remember. Second one – which is your favourite dish?

MS: My favorite dish?

Well that one is much easier to answer. I think I have even dreamed of that dish once…it’s a dish that needs to be rolled, and rolled /laughs/ quite a rolled dish indeed…yes I can tell you one dream in fact, the dish itself is sarma…and the dream, it was quite interesting. You know that feeling when you are in train and everything moves, actually the train is moving and you have illusion that world moves around you…so I dreamt as if I have to catch some train, but there was some wall in front of it that I had to jump over, I was in extreme hurry to catch the train but as I didn’t manage to overcome the obstacles and walls the train has already started moving – but it turned out actually that the space around it, with me in that space, are moving, while the train stayed still somewhere there behind…so that’s the dream I often remember.

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