An interview by Nicla Sportelli for Hospes Magazine, published by Fondazione Hospice Seràgnoli, July, 2023.
- Let's start with a quote from Federico Fellini about your style. "I am fascinated by Danijel Žeželj's perspectives, the way he manages to express through his stories and characters the sense of melancholy, of something fatal looming." What is it and how does this sense of "something looming" come about?
“Something looming” is often present in my work; a feel of tension and drama mixed with melancholy and nostalgia. But I also strongly believe in resilience and hope and I want to think that the dark side of my work inspires a desire and need to create, a will to fight and survive and to strive towards light and joy. Everything has two sides, light and dark, they are inseparable, one does not exists without the other. One way to confront darkness is to use it as a motivation to do something good.
- Staying with the masters. You've explained several times how your art harkens back to the artists of the 1600s, starting with Caravaggio. What fascinates you about that style?
What fascinates me about Caravaggio is very much what I have mentioned above; the drama of light and shadow, chiarro-scurro, and not just in the style and technical approach, but in the way subject and theme are interpreted. Caravaggio, besides being a master of baroque technique and one of the greatest painters in history, was also a unique storyteller. Each one of his paintings contains multiple layers of narration, and as his style evolved, those stories and layers were getting more complex and nuanced, culminating at the hight of his forces in paintings like Martirio di San Matteo or Sette opere di misericordia. Each of those works could be perceived in various ways, as an assemblage of symbols and fragments of stories, all merged into one cohesive and powerful image.
- You participated in the charity project do ut do, donating your works in support of the Hospice Seràgnoli Foundation, that assists patients with incurable diseases through palliative care: is there any specific element that struck you - in its work and in this collaboration - that you wish to mention?
Sooner or later we all get to have family members and friends who are terminally ill or at the end of their journey. The close presence of inevitable brings a different prospective to life. The passage of time changes us, some things are impossible to understand until we get to certain age. At one point of our journey we realize, deeply, almost viscerally, that our time, here, in this life and space, is limited. And ideally, that should be accepted as a gift to celebrate and cherish. As much as we want to believe it, we are not masters of our destiny, nobody knows what tomorrow brings, nobody is prepared for it. But to have a possibility to travel through last stage of our journey with grace and dignity, is the greatest gift one could receive. Providing that kind of care and help is the most noble offering, a highest confirmation of civility and humanity.
- The use of black and white is your trademark. Palliative care operates on the line between black and white, between life and death. And it's when you get there that you discover that it's not all just black or white ... staying with the metaphor: How many colors does this apparent two-color scheme contain?
I hope a lot. Because what is not visible and obvious, becomes endless in possibilities and variations. I hope anyone looking at my drawings and reading my stories could find its own story within it, its own shades and colors. A good story is not a closed box, it's an open invitation, the creativity and imagination of a reader is as important as creativity of the writer or painter.
- In recent years there has been a strong resurgence in the popularity of comic book superheroes, with a new audience of the young and very young. Is it just entertainment or does the human being somehow always need to cultivate the myth of the superhuman hero?
Superheroes, as an idea and concept, are probably as old as our civilisation. There is nothing wrong with that idea, we need to believe in something above and beyond us, in an ideal world where good always wins over the evil. But it becomes rather exaggerated today, and a concept that belongs to realm of immature childish fantasy, becomes a popular interpretation of the real world. We should give reality more attention and respect, it is complex and rich, let’s not simplify it and deny it the dignity it deserves.
- Are you more attracted to the good guys or the bad guys in your stories? Is it more interesting and challenging for an artist to delve into the good or the mysteries of evil?
Unless they are metaphors, it's hard for me to believe in absolute evil, or absolute good (as in above mentioned realm of superheroes), and just like with black and white, there are many shades of gray in between. I don't think the evil deserves mystification – the banality of it is a true force to reckon with, and the power of banality should not be underestimated. One valid answer to “bad” is creativity and positive thinking.
- Do you believe that art is a form of cure for the ills - psychological, social, cultural... - that plague humanity?
Absolutely and unequivocally. The humanity will end at the moment we lose art and creativity. The problem is that art today often becomes an exclusive commodity, it's getting isolated within a fabricated balloon of “high art”. The art has to be ingrained in the raw texture of everyday life.