Posted by: Harsha • Jan 24th, 2001
- Introduction, by Gloria Lee
- A Story from Dusan
- Painting — the Phoenix Way, by Dusan Pajin
- Conclusion and Acknowledgements
- Links to Dusan’s Website and paintings
One of the true joys of the internet is discovering and meeting some delightful person you would otherwise never know. Such is Dusan Pajin, an author, an artist, and a scholar of Buddhist and Eastern philosophy and art. One may see on his webpage 70 paintings from an exhibition in Taiwan in 1996, so only a couple of examples are shown here. Keeping culture alive in times of war shows us the best of the human spirit. Perhaps this is easily seen in art and music and intellectual pursuits. Though his exquisite vision is most evident through his artwork, may I share only one small story of his that serves as an introduction to Dusan Pajin’s inner seeing.
“Several days ago I entered a bookshop in the Belgrade city. Inside was a woman in conversation with the saleswoman. Her son – perhaps a boy of four- noticed me. He addressed me: See, I have got some sweets he said and showed me a little box with sweets (I believe it is the brand known as “M ‘n’ M’s”). I said: “Yes, I see.” Then he opened the little round tube, and said with simplicity (praised as the highest spiritual goal by Taoist, Zen, Sufi and Christian masters): “Do, have one”. I was caught by surprise, and said: “No, thanks, not today – perhaps, next time when I meet you”. Actually, I was confused, and overwhelmed with joy – as a Christian would be, on entering paradise, or a Taoist, when reaching the island of immortals. I thought – maybe this is it: maybe this is the good omen, for which I was craving since 1991 – when the Yugoslav fratricide bloodshed started – may be this is a sign that things are taking a different turn, since 1991… This joy was with me for several days.”
I have painted since 1958 – although with great gaps in between. During long periods I had to give up painting in favor of other obligations, or interests. Sometimes I would also stop when I needed a break, but most of the time these gaps in painting were compulsory, urged from outside. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that I resumed painting from time to time, during this period of forty years.
In “painting periods” I produced paintings, but after a while I did not know what to do with them, in terms of quantity. Also, I considered them as part of my schooling, and, therefore, disposable, like exercise notebooks from a previous school year. Therefore, I used to burn them, to produce heat, in those times when we still had fireplaces at home (during sixties). Usually, I ended a period of painting by burning to ashes most of the paintings I made – leaving only few. In one letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh commented on loneliness, saying that some people have a big fireplace in their souls, but people do not realize their warmth, and just pass by, only noticing some smoke above the chimney. Now, I used to make the point literal – turning my paintings virtually into heat, the fireplace of the soul was not a metaphor, but had word-for-word meaning.
On the other hand, new paintings came “out of the ashes” of former paintings. Therefore, my painting “come backs” were related to the phoenix symbol: to rise from your own ashes. I would start anew, with no burden – I remembered only my good paintings, and forgot unsuccessful ones. I stopped to burn my paintings in 1972, when I started to paint mandalas, inspired by Buddhist art.
I painted for two reasons: fascination, and communication. For example, I was fascinated by nights with full moon. For me, moonlight is always related with peace of mind, serenity, and beauty. However, in the European tradition, moon is related to madness, evil, witchcraft – to lunatics, vampires, and witches. I find this strange.
My fascination with natural beauty is – an exaltation, a feeling that I am gifted to share the beauty of night, and day. As a form of gratitude, I feel obliged to share with others this fascination. Although – as Juan Chi remarks – days and nights revolve as a nameless series, I find comfort in them, in two ways: in their beauty, and the chance to share it with others.
In this sense I follow the tradition of “landscape Buddhism,” which was developed by the lay disciples of the monastery headed by Hui-yüan, on Mount Lu, (5th cen. A.D.). This tradition considered aesthetic impressions as stimulation of meditation, analogous to devotional practice. Painting was considered as an art form in itself, but also, a means to an end – to achieve heightened awareness, and, eventually, enlightenment. Nevertheless, I believe that – aside from the Taoist, or Buddhist context – contemplation of the vastness of a landscape, can stimulate the spirit toward a state of purity and exaltation, which I experienced even before I resumed painting (in 1955), and much before I knew anything about Taoism and Buddhism (I wrote my first study on Taoism, in 1970, and I started to study Buddhism that same year). Although, at the time I was alone in these matters, I had a strong feeling of community – an urge to develop, and share these experiences with others. I understood art as good medium for this, and my ambition in writing, or painting, ends with this. The days will pass, but somewhere, someone, will be able to share these experiences the same way as I share the experiences of ancestors, to whom I pay homage with my paintings.
A similar motive inspired my writing – whether poetry, or studies. I wanted to communicate to others valuable thoughts, or feelings, that I discovered in the history of art, religion, or philosophy, or the grand “book of nature.” As I was fascinated with nights of full moon, or days full of snow, with spring, or summer glow, so I was fascinated with works of other thinkers, poets, or artists. I wanted to bring them to the attention of other people. Therefore, I wrote about religious and philosophical tradition. I made paintings relating them to former painters and their work, as a kind of homage.
From 1972 until now, beside mandalas, I painted four other types of paintings, related to Buddhist art. First are abstract paintings inspired by Ch’an painting, with energetic strokes. Examples are: The Green Dragon of Spring (1996), Bodhidharma in China (1984), Wondrous Power of Kuan-yin (1993), The Secret of the Golden Flower (1984). Second are paintings made as a homage, or reminders (in postmodern spirit), related to famous Ch’an (or Zen) painters, some Western or Yugoslav painters.
Examples are: Day (Homage to Odilon Redon, 1840-1916), Enlightenment Gate (homage to Sava Sumanovic, 1896-1942), Pond with the Weeping Willow (Homage to Claude Monet, 1840-1926), Landscape in Fog (Homage to Mi Fei), Rivers and Mountains (Homage to Hsia Kuei), Village in Fog (Homage to Yu-chien, 13th c.) etc. The third type of paintings are landscapes, mostly related to moon and lotus. Examples are: Blue Cliff Record (1990), Lotuses in the Pond (1991), Lotus in the Night (1994), Moon Whisper (1992), Moon over Mount Lu (1995), etc. The fourth group are paintings adapted to modern perception (used to road signs, and trade marks). Examples are Meditation (1990), and Enlightenment (1990). Aside from this context, my paintings are witnesses of fascination and respect toward the environment, or the glow of sun and moon reflected in the grass, water, snow, and skies, which Wordsworth and other poets mention as the joy (or correspondance of the inner glow) of our soul.
These paintings express the the fullness I feel at those moments in my eyes and heart. This does not mean that I do not empathize with the suffering of other people, or that I do not have my own sorrows. In some evenings I take my sorrows to the park and walk them round like other people walk their dogs. My sorrows run around and snuff corners of my memory: pissing here, barking there, they unearth some old memory, or bury a new one. When they tire of running arround, they gather arround me as if saying – now, take us home. Long time ago I realized that to sympathize with someone’s sorrows, it is better to offer people some joy, rather then mirror their sadness.
The 1991-1995 civil war in ex-Yugoslavia had much evil influence on lives, thoughts, and emotions even of people living in neighbourhood teritories. In those circumstances – when everything seemed “lost” and “without meaning” – I became extremely aware that positive thoughts, emotions, and attitudes are important like water in the desert – they help you to survive, and not to save hope, love and humaness, faced with desperation. Some of the paintings at this exhibition were made during the period of civil war, or just after that time, and I dedicate this exhibition to values and hopes of peace, in times of war.
I am deeply grateful to sponsors and friends from Taipei, who made this exhibition possible and supported me with their enthusiasm and unlimited good will.
In Chinese art there is a long tradition of relating poems to paintings, or paintings to poems. I find this tradition valuable and stimulating, and sometimes relate poems to paintings – either poems already written by poets, or poems that I write myself. I thank friends-poets – Ms. Chang Shiang-hua (from Taipei), Ms. Sonja Servomaa (from Helsinki), and Mr. Vid Vukasovic (from Belgrade) – for permitting me to quote their poems in relation to my paintings. I am twice as happy to find this concordance in spirit between various people, and between painting and poetry.
Here are two of Dusan’s paintings with accompanying poems:
Dusan’s web site: http://dekart.f.bg.ac.yu/~dpajin/
(Be sure to visit his Painting exhibition at http://afrodita.rcub.bg.ac.yu/~dpajin/exhibit/index.html)