Interview with Endi Poskovic
What inspired or influenced you to work in the art field?
As a child growing up in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in the 1970s, I first discovered the world around me through mark-making. My obsession with drawing led to the decision to enroll in a local high school for applied arts when I was 13. At the time, Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia had an official policy of bratstvo i jedinstvo or “brotherhood and unity” that promoted interrelations between all Yugoslav nationalities. President Josip Broz Tito encouraged the formation of artistic societies and schools in which youth would interact and everyone contributed. I played music and drew.
The grammar textbook used in primary school at the time, a Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian language book, prominently featured reproductions of works by modernist painters such as Rothko, Pollock, Klee, Kandinsky, and others. In retrospect, forty years later, it stands out that a textbook used in a communist country would feature works of artists from the West. This early exposure to art from outside the curtain, among other things, triggered an interest in me in studying art and becoming an artist whose applied skills could be used beyond painting signage, banners, and slogans.
During a week-long entrance exam to the Sarajevo School of Applied Arts, I overheard a fellow graphic arts student talking about, by those standards, alternative ways of making many images at once using matrix plates and printing presses. Shortly after I enrolled, I switched from painting to printmaking. I quickly became drawn to the ubiquitous nature of the printed image and mesmerized by the potential of the medium to respond to changing technologies, while allowing for the reinvention of otherwise outdated processes. Awed by graphic-arts traditions and printmakers such as Käthe Kollwitz, James Ensor, Goya, and others, I began to view myself as an image-maker, an artist, who by conscious choice makes prints, multiple images designed to be more easily disseminated than unique objects of art.
My choice of woodblock printing was the result of serendipity as much as anything else. In 1995, I moved to Muncie, Indiana, to teach at Ball State University. While in Indiana, I had no access to a print studio and found myself frustrated by my inability to operate outside the established norms of the medium, which relies on printmaking equipment. Despite many years of formal training, I suddenly realized I didn’t know how to make prints without adequate printing equipment. On the recommendation of an artist friend who suggested simple hand-cut and hand-printed relief, I began to make woodblock prints. By the time I moved to Los Angeles two years later, I was completely immersed in reinventing this populist print medium in the context of my work. As someone who had previously produced large, photo-based intaglio prints for in-situ presentations as well as wall-size plate-lithography combines, this was a radical shift. The idea that prints could be made without a press, or even a studio, was invigorating and the knowledge that block printing could be as “cutting edge” as any new technology-supported print media was enormously stimulating. The medium of block printing, frequently dismissed as archaic and irrelevant in the contemporary context, provided an epiphany of unlimited possibilities. Once I realized I could make prints without a press, I decided to make them as big as the largest single sheet of paper available on the market, Okawara washi, 39 by 72 inches, would allow. Over the course of years, I began to employ classic woodcut traditions with visual strategies of European travel and political propaganda posters.
What is a typical week like for you, and how do you fit studio time into that?
I work every day, weekdays and weekends, in my classroom and my studio. Printmaking is inherently a collaborative process. My interactions with many printmakers, artists, and other creative people have frequently acted as the catalyst for creative exchange and collaboration. Multiple points of engagement encourage an ongoing exchange of ideas. This form of direct interaction with creative communities provides me with a rich perspective not available in the solitary environment of my own studio and can be an important influence on my creative practice.
What professional development opportunities have helped you support your practice?
For nearly three decades, I have intentionally and actively stretched the traditional boundaries of the print. Early in my career, I combined multiple printmaking techniques in a single image, explored photo-based processes, and created wall-sized print installations. My series of lithographic plate combines, “Sarajevo Haggadah,” was first exhibited publicly in 1993 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery as part of the Western New York Biennial, a major survey of contemporary art curated by Michael Auping, chief curator at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth and Cheryl Brutvan, Beal Curator at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. The works created a sensation because of their large scale (88” x 180” – extremely uncommon for prints), and for their use of geometric repetitions of Islamic, Judaic and Orthodox Christian motifs from Bosnia, which I presented as minimalist iconography.
Later, with the support of foundations such as Art Matters, the New York Council on the Arts, the Flemish Ministry of Culture, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and others, I continued to explore combinations of analog and digital realms through my Europa Series, whose "primitive" print techniques and appropriated images evoked pop culture.
In 2010, I began work on Crossing project at the Bellagio Center, Italy under the auspices of a Rockefeller Fellowship, and in April, 2011, I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue developing the concept.
Two current groups of works, the multimedia Crossing Series, animated films with lithographs, and Dream Series, laser-engraved color woodblock prints, have grown organically and in close proximity to one another, often times in tandem. While Crossing refers to a trip to my family ancestral birthplace in Southeastern Herzegovina, Dream penetrates deeper into the idea of reconstructive and reflective ‘nostalgia’ by dissecting the themes of exile, diaspora, cultural memory and national identity. Both projects hover between a dream and an unnamed reality, resisting classification. Eloquently disquieting, they bring the viewer to orbits of displacement and recollection, conveying a sense of the habitual, everyday experience within an unfamiliar world. Both cycles were collaborative efforts: the Crossing Series with Tamarind Institute's master printer Jill Graham; the Dream Series with Chris Woodcock of WORKSHOP Laser & Fab in Krakow, Poland, and, most recently, at Mokuhanga Innovation Lab in Tokyo and Mokuhanga Studio Laboratory in Fujikawaguchiko, Japan.
If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be? (This can be about art or other subjects, if you choose).
Overcome the fear of being wrong, then follow your bliss.
Find things you love and stay with them for some time until they open up and take you into another world. Then stay with them longer, and see where they takes you.
There is great joy in solitude. Some of the best ideas can be mined when you are alone.
There is great value in having faith in doubt. Some miracles are indeed possible with art-making.
Talent is everywhere. Work hard and set yourself apart!
Do you take time to make art for yourself, in-between art for clients or galleries?
I go to my studio every day and try to make the very best of each and every opportunity. As a maker, I stay with work for long periods of time, until a moment arrives when the cloud of the arbitrary vanishes and all the right parts begin to fall into the places that feel destined.
Do you listen to music or podcasts while you work on your art? If so, what kind?
I love good music and conversation. When it comes to my work and studio time, I tried to switch off sounds coming from elsewhere to grapple with only those coming from within my own head.