Inside the Studio

Relja Penezic

Favorite material to work with?
I’m an opportunist when it comes to materials and I don’t have favorites. I would use anything that can help build an image at hand: oil and watercolor paint, glue, digital tools, animation, film, video, etc. I am a painter and I treat them all as painting materials. Result could be an oil painting, video painting, mixed media painting, etc.

But it doesn’t mean I’m not taken by the sensual aspects and beauty of the materials I use – thick impasto, transparent glaze or dripping oil paint; watercolor paint melting into the water and paper; film grains and glows; video pixels and field artifacts; even the smell of turpentine.

What themes do you pursue?
What fascinates me most is continuity of landscape painting from the 12th century Zen “flung/broken ink” creations, to the 20th century earthworks, with all the Romanticisms, Barbizon and Hudson schools in-between.  How culture meets nature; how it frames and influences our perception; how what we know or believe affects what we see or don’t see.

In practice, this takes shape as a series of images and videos like, “California Road Chronicles,” “Sky/Ocean/Cargo,” “Extreme Loafing & Idling,” etc.  I believe that I don’t necessarily have to be a roadster, an environmentalist, or a beach bum to look at the world as if I was one.  In individual pieces, themes range from escapism to ambiguity, of beauty to mystery of time (especially in videos). But at the end, no meaning will make a picture good by itself, like with all artists, artistic instincts, imagination, emotion, inspiration, and craft will either get me there or not.

How many years as an artist?
45 years that I’m aware of.  But, the whole disaster started much earlier. One afternoon, when I was four years old, my mother got worried because the house was unusually quiet and I was nowhere to be found.  She finally found me in the basement with a large pair of scissors and her favorite lace embroidery white tablecloth cut into very small pieces based on its elaborate design and rearranged on the floor into a different composition. I guess I was a remix artist even then.

Where is your studio?
On Mt. Washington in Los Angeles. There is a Zen garden all around it – big difference from all the previous studios I have had.  We added some Mediterranean plants, too, so now I can enjoy the smells of lavender, rosemary, and turpentine all mixed together.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
One of my early teachers liked to say, “Don’t expect anybody to believe in your work if you don’t.” Right then and there I realized that my delusions of adequacy can, actually, make me a better artist.

Art school or self-taught?
Both. After I finished art school I had to teach myself how to do what I really wanted to do.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?
I prefer silence, but according to John Cage silence is music, too.

Where can we find you outside the studio?
On top of Mt. Washington walking with my wife, composer Victoria Jordanova, and our two dogs, Tumba and Django.

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you do?
I would try to make desserts, to be a pastry chef.

Day job? 
Making pictures.

What do you collect?
I wouldn’t call it collecting, but I pile up everything.  As you can see in the pictures of my studio, there are piles of stuff everywhere – shoeboxes with old snapshots, pages from magazines, books, papers, papers, papers – different colors, textures and weight… I rarely go through my “collections,” but I need their presence when I start a new project.

Favorite contemporary artist?
I don’t often get my inspiration from contemporary art, but I love the work by painters Wayne Thiebaud and Mark Innerst. I’ve also followed the work of Marina Abramović from the beginning, and I am consistently surprised and moved by it.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
The Monk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich.

Is painting dead?
How can painting die? That’s like asking: “Is singing dead?”

Favorite brush?
The oldest, messiest one. They say Antoine Watteau liked his palettes, brushes, paints, and painting mediums messy and sticky. And I think it’s very cool that at least in one thing I can compare myself to Watteau.

Monet or Manet?
Neither; Meissonier.