In the early 90s of the last century, Zarko Baseski seriously imposed himself through his exhibitions in Macedonia and in the years that followed in Europe through his new explorative consideration in the field of plastic sculptural expression. His initial works in context of free geometrized abstract plastic form as offered at the exhibition Sculpture as clean plastic form (1994) is in the area of interest for the plastic phenomena and their spatial relations and presence in space. In his later sculptural attempts, his explorations of space and benefits of spatial installation are clear in the works of the cycles Temple (1998) and Domes (1999) as well as interest in art (sculptural) and spiritual (concept-related) content. The use of sculptural and non-sculptural materials represents unity; on the other hand, there is an evident need for the presence of man in these spatial installations, which is an integral part of the resurgence experienced by the work. Such interest of his in man and the human figure resulted in the exhibition Sculptures (Alexander) (2004); hence, Zarko Baseski for first time exhibited works with a human face (figures/portraits of Alexander II of Macedonia). Redefinition of the portrait in the classical sculptural expression and its materialization with modern technological and sculptural means such as polyester and technological procedures of the automotive industry, upgraded with mirror reflective surfaces, only speak of the need for the author to erase the boundary between the sculpture, the space and the viewer, thus contextualizing contemporariness with quotes from the past and present, on the reflection of modern society and its identification with the past, but even with today’s social/societal and cultural spheres of life. These aspects of interest in man and his action in the social/societal field/reality in the idea and concept of sculpture pursued by Zarko Baseski have been most clearly expressed at the exhibition Link (2004). This is when his cycles of works executed in hyperrealist art manner were initiated (perhaps one may also use other terms such as superrealism, disturbing realism or even frightening realism, etc. in the art production of Baseski), which is present today as well.
Since the very dawn of civilization, the human figure has inspired artists, starting from prehistory through classical Greek and Roman art, Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism, etc., all the way to the creation made by contemporary artists. In this period of many centuries, there had been changes in the forms of representation of man depending on the need for end-use, whether sacred or profane, but in any case everything was to serve the display of the power of a civilization by portraying the gods, kings or heroes, all the way to representation of the ordinary, small man, in a hyperrealist manner present in the works of modern artists.
Hyperrealism can trace its roots in the philosophy of “simulation of something that never existed” of Jean Baudrillard and as such has created a false reality, or a convincing illusion based on simulation of reality. Hyperrealism, although photographic in essence, often involves more complex and much more brutal view of the subject and focuses to present it as materialized living object that is the subject of treatment. Hence, one uses additional, often subtle visual elements to create the illusion of reality that actually does not exist, or cannot be seen with the naked eye. These objects and scenes in hyperrealist paintings and sculptures are precise and detailed in order to create the illusion of reality, to display what one cannot see in the real picture, but not to say that they are surreal illusion and convincing display of (simulated) reality. Included are emotional, social, cultural, and political thematic elements as an extension of optically convincing visual illusion of reality, often with a social, anthropological, or cultural context. Thematically, these artists controversially and aggressively opposed the decadent human conditions by means of narrative scenes as phenomenological medium. These (hyper)realistic paintings/sculptures/objects are historical commentary on the grotesque modern society of humanity. It is not by chance that I give a description of these logical tautological statements, as they are in deep correlation with actual sculptural works of Zarko Baseski.
Zarko Baseski does not ignore the aspects of the reality of human life and human existence in society; on the contrary, he strongly analyzes them and immediately and directly transmits his personal views and conclusions to the public through his work. In his quest for gnoseological and ontological answers for humanity, he introduces us to the autistic cavity of contemporary social/societal life, and even to the possibility of self-search, self-disclosure, self-upgrading, and so toward changing both the vision and the truth about oneself and human existence.
In the project Link by which Baseski begins the story about the ordinary man, his self-knowledge, his personal, but also social and existential struggle and self-surpassing, Baseski shows three characters: the ordinary man, the artist himself and an imaginary portrait. In fact, a man who appears from the earth is represented here, a parable of birth of man; this on the other hand places the artist (self-portrait) in a pose of deep reflection about life and humanity, human integration in modern society and the need for surpassing oneself. The scars in the imaginary portrait only speak of consequences on the human body and the human spirit along that uncertain road.
That road goes on with the project called Jump, which relates to the topic of “the drama of existence, the drama to be more than human, the drama of self-surpassing” (Emil Aleksiev). This installation comprises four sculptures of the same man who is in as many situations: a man in a position of jump; a man who carries himself; a man who jumps over himself; and a man who had grown a third leg in trying to surpass himself. In today’s age of globalization, is the myth of Übermensch or superhuman and glorification of the individual – the very one through which man will find himself? The duality of this issue lies in the theory of Übermensch (or the superhuman) as suggested by German philosopher Nietzsche; this theory exalts the will for power and dominance, so inherent in the exceptional people with a strong living will and power to create and make, to face and create the future, to reject the values and set own rules that the majority would follow. Or contrary to this theory, should we be part of the majority subjected by Übermensch, believing in the supernatural and spiritual? How this struggle for self-surpassing will make the man – A MAN? Probably the fluid of these two individuals is what will make a man become superhuman, but will again restore man back to mankind.
The sculptures or installation called Venus and Mars is an artwork that requires a multifaceted analysis in the interpretation of a work. Primary is the visual element – hyperrealist representation of woman and man with dwarfism in larger sizes than actual. Caring for photo-hyperrealist conveyance of details, while offering a pronounced interest in portraying the emotions of the characters, models the portrait of people from the margins of social life realism, as conveyed by their bodies and faces, silence, stillness and emotions, i.e., a reality containing their whole life story. The metaphysical exchange of view and perception for the human being with Laron’s syndrome, then our view of them and of ourselves, and their view of us, offer a window of opportunity to replace the positions and circumstances, as displayed by sculpted over-dimensioning of reality. By this, we address the secondary element in reading and interpretation of the work of Baseski: our view of the world through this group of people, their view of us, but essentially our view of ourselves. The tertiary observation of the work Venus and Mars involves a social/societal view of men towards one another or materialization of a psychological reality that is revealed by the mental presence of the sculpture, i.e., a socio-plastic criticism of the actual reality. Interpretation of the work of Baseski sets a new direction in the perception of the order of the conditionally primary, secondary, and tertiary element, whereby all elements become primary in the “inversion” of the role of man in contemporary society as such. Mars and Venus are metaphysical embodiment of love, beauty, marriage, vegetation, nature, and even of war and cheating your partner. Venus, goddess of love, beauty, and marriage, cheats on her husband Vulcan with his very brother Mars, the god with multiple roles – defender of field works and thus the god of fertility, and even the god of war – protector of warriors who get their fighting spirit from this god. In his hands, Mars holds intestines and other human internal organs, which talks about the struggle of man with himself, but also about the war of man against man.
war of man against man. The interest in scenes and characters from the Bible is also immanent in the artworks made by Baseski as seen in cycle called Behind the look and this is the paradigm of the historical themes that recur in the current social developments globally. The approach to the plastic molding retains the line of hyperrealism in creating the work, with a pronounced care in the representation of the emotions of the characters, an interest in photographic conveyance and precision in shaping the details. The three sculptures David, Hezekiah, and Thomas are meant to paraphrase the fate of man from the beginning of his existence until today. David is a parable about the power of man, but not about his strength, but the power to face the reality where the power of mind prevails over the brute irrational strength. The life of Hezekiah is the fate of man in his exile, and perseverance in the struggle to survive in what is believed, and his quartering by those with a different view of the world. The disbelief shown by Thomas, who wanted to be assured of the resurrection of Christ, is the need of man to personally touch things, and to believe in them. This speaks of the doubt, which is a prerequisite for trust, but also of doubt about ourselves. By touching reality, we become aware of it, but also of our own existence as such…
His works Self-knowledge and Facing per se are not part of the aforementioned cycles; nevertheless, they follow the line of the visual, and also conceptual rhetoric used by Baseski. Self-knowledge represents a double figure glued at the hips, like Siamese twins – one asleep, the other with open eyes; as such, they are reflection or gleam of the very recognition, knowledge, and awakening of man in this world. The three sculptures making up the installation Facing offer the author’s rendition of three figures in spasm, situated in the fetal position, and with their arms in self-defense; they only represent the realistic picture of the horror of this world, conveying man’s need to defend against natural disasters and against man-made disasters, and even the need to defend from himself.
His further works Hezekiah, Self-portrait, and Self-knowledge (replicas of previous works) differ from the remaining sculptures and cycles in the approach to their formation. Here Baseski makes use of polymer and silicone, while there is noticeable transition from classical realistic monochromatic (white) form to the hyperrealistic form. Sculptures suggest transformation of the dead material in seemingly live human body. This transformation actually speaks, in its own way, about the beginning of the awareness or the enlightenment of man.
The sculpture Crucifixion is perhaps only the end of a story of this chapter in the art legacy of Baseski. This scene depicts a man in a pose of crucifixion, but upside down, as the scene of the crucifixion of St. Peter. Following the life path of this saint, in hyperbolic manner Baseski conveys the human conditions of daily crucifixion in the name of truth, offering also elements of self-denial and self-sacrifice as a path to a fair reward because where is death, there is life (resurrection).
The body of work of Zarko Baseski has been exhibited in many galleries and museums, while at the same time this artist has also executed many sculptures in public spaces (such as those of Alexander the Great, Goce Delcev, Dame Gruev, Ss. Cyril and Methodius…); it should be also noted that he represented the Republic of Macedonia at the Macedonian pavilion as part of the 54th International Art Biennale in Venice in 2011. The interest displayed in his work focuses on man; hence, we can also notice his interest in the hyperrealistic approach in shaping the concept of the work, which in the notional projection also exceeds such hyperrealism and talks about life and reality in which we live.
Zarko Baseski is an artist open for experiments in context of searching for new plastic expression and personal signature. As provocation for both himself and for others, in his experimental ripples, he concisely insists to tell a life story in parts, to tell the story of the ordinary man, thus being able to achieve a new and finalized whole out of this. In such frame of circumstances, his works suggest to be read instead of to be observed.
Finally, the basic purpose in the art legacy of Baseski is to express the author’s freedom in conceptual translation of his personal experience about the world we live in and its visual aesthetic accomplishment as an act of self-awareness.
English translation: Darko Putilov