Dreamlike by Boris Hodak (2000-2012) - Summary


Dreamlike by Boris Hodak (2000-2012) EXHIBITION - UGBiH

Dreamlike by Boris Hodak (2000-2012)

Surrealism, so common elsewhere in the world, is rare in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it is more of an occasional outburst. It had no proponents at the time it first emerged and grew in Zagreb or Belgrade. We therefore have no tradition or legacy of surrealism, though there have been a few artists in Sarajevo, such as Fehim Feđa Avdić, Franjo Likar and Ibrahim Ljubović (who was extremely successful with magical realism in the 1960s and 70s), who are the most important representatives of neo-surrealism and fantasy in the art of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the artists of the mid generation now involved in surrealism is Boris Hodak, whose work corresponds more to the world as a whole than to his own milieu. This exhibition is a retrospective view of his oeuvre of the past twelve years. 

His works inherit the entire tradition of surrealism in theory, content and form, to the extent that it is identifiable and shaped in post surrealism. Certain elements from the metaphysics of the great Giorgio de Chirico were adopted at the very outset. One of Hodak’s first paintings is Solitude (Homage to Pittura Metafisica) (1999), where the classic features of surrealism that would appear in all his paintings up to 2004 may be seen: the three elements of sea, land and sky, where Freud sees the sea (water) as the symbol of the uncertain and earth, with its stability, as symbolizing the opposite – consciousness, rationality. A key accent in these paintings is the beach, as the place or point at which the sea (water) and land (the earth), the conscious and the unconscious, touch. There are other details too, such as the robin, as the herald, the door (portal) as the passageway to another world, that of the unconscious, but is in fact the architecture, which is merely a stage set, which conjures up a specific atmosphere that leads us into the world of metaphysics, of metaphysical painting.

In the case of Hodak’s collages, they are primarily an illustrative example of what theoreticians have called “satirical superrealism.” One need only look at Max Ernst’s Fruit of a Long Experience, or Hannah Höch’s The Bride, both dating from 1919, to recognize the same principle as that followed by Hodak.

All Hodak’s paintings feature female figures, for woman denotes inspiration, the object of longing, the desire for intimacy, sexual fantasy. Male figures sometimes appear in the disguise of a huge African mask in a hunting scene; the relationship between male and female, which Hodak is attentive to, is experienced as the eternal interplay of the sexes, as the hunt, a game between hunter and hunted in which both fall into various traps (Dialogue on the Raft/Ungratified Desire). Animals have the quite specific, universal symbolic meaning acquired over the centuries, though there are exceptions: the dog is the symbol of fidelity, the bee of honey and, by association, of lechery, seashells symbolize the female sexual organs but also prosperity and regeneration, as a lunar symbol. Ships, or the models of small boats in the hands of figures, are the vessels that will carry us on an unusual voyage – the voyage into the unknown, the uncertain – while the lion, the king of beasts, acquires a personal significance here, personifying the artist himself, whose star sign is Leo. Symbolism is also implicit in certain other elements, such as lighthouses in the distance which, when one looks closely, prove in fact to be phalluses, while clouds are in the shape of the female body. The woman lost in reverie has no eyeballs: her eyes are the sea, a window onto the uncertain. The subject may sometimes be fear, such as hydrophobia, the fear of water, shown in juxtaposition with a sewing machine and an umbrella.

Hodak is also inspired by the works of the great Salvador Dali, as becomes clear from his works produced between 2000 and 2007. The most striking example of this is his Birth of Venus – Homage to Salvador Dali, in which Dali is portrayed as a concentrated substance of which the artist is transferring small doses from a dropper into a test-tube; the band wound around a female swimmer or gymnast on the beach symbolizes the double helix of DNA. All this is an explicit critique of the ever more widespread phenomenon of copying others as well as of genetic engineering and current efforts to create a human clone. Hodak’s admiration for Dali as an artist, with his many epigons in the USA and Europe, is primarily for his technical virtuosity, but also, in equal measure, for his literary talent, for Dali’s intellect. The supposed rivalry, or collaboration, between two geniuses, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, is the subject of another painting (The Secret of Mona Lisa Smile). Hodak drew quite extensively on Dali’s work at first, but gradually developed his own post-surrealist expression.

He also reveals his respect for the founder of psychoanalysis (who, as it happens, was not a great admirer of surrealism) directly in his portrait of Freud as an elderly man, and in scenes from an ordinary childhood, such as riding his first bicycle or playing with his first toys, where there are also scenes of people contorted with cramp or sleeping in the foetal position, and of the uterus as the place for which even adults foster an infantile longing throughout their life, for only in the womb were we safely protected from the outside world, from injustice and evil. This is paradise, an intra-uterine paradise. Birth itself is a horrific shock, a trauma.

Stairs in the painting have the same purely sexual symbolism as in dreams, but may also symbolize an ascent, as steps leading to paradise/intra-uterine paradise (Stairway to Lost Paradise, Nude Climbing a Staircase – Secret Quest for an Intra-uterine Paradise). Tennis, too, which for psychoanalysis also has a subconscious sexual connotation – the tennis balls as female breasts, the racket as the phallus – is often present in the paintings. The tennis court thus becomes the locus of various sexual fantasies. The paintings become gradually more complex as the number of figures and the diversity of their interpersonal relations increases, and things are even more complicated in the style of Hieronymus Bosch; the painting becomes a chaotic place, a place of the madness of postmodern society where people devour food and each other, in scenes of cannibalism, sexual longings and provocation.

Other than the first painting of 1999 which is the only one to be wholly surrealist, all the other works may be classified as the derivative or subspecies of post-surrealism known as pop surrealism. Hodak is inspired in particular by the golden age of Hollywood films, and scenes from such famous films as Casablanca, Vertigo and Gone with the Wind can be recognized, along with those from the radio drama War of the Worlds and the figures of Charlie Chaplain, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Dali’s beloved wife and manager Gala, whose previous husband was Paul Eluard, the Spanish singer and sex symbol Julio Iglesias, the singer Michael Jackson, the model Laetitia Casta, tand others symbolizing power, success, who are sometimes irrationally so over-ratedhed (like starlet Anna Nicole Smith, footballers) as to become figures not only of national but of mass, almost hysterical fan-worship – walking divinities. The same has happened to cartoon figures such as Bugs Bunny or Lara Croft, the fictional British heroine of the computer game and film Tomb Raider.

Hodak also indirectly addresses subjects of commitment, routinely criticizing the politics of the USA as the global policeman, as a country that imposes its values and way of life, the famous “American dream,” on the rest of the world; he also criticizes the ruling elite as a whole, not only that of America. In his collages and paintings, America is usually represented by the US flag as a detail/symbol, or in the most direct manner possible, through the figures of the Republican president George Bush and his mother Barbara, thus turning the Bush family into the Bush dynasty. Others that often figure are Prince Charles the Prince of Wales, his wife Duchess Camilla, and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) and Elizabeth II, who is portrayed in one collage as an Amazon, but also represented by a small red fox, the symbol of cunning. US supremacy and its impact on others is most clearly illustrated by the works featuring Japan, a Far Eastern country that in its own distinctive way adopted the American culture and lifestyle and made it its own after World War II.

Even religion is not spared, more corectly scandals in the Church. In Hodak’s Last Supper, the disciples are sheep (for the shearing), naive figures to manipulate with, while Jesus Christ, like Big Brother, merely watches.

During this past 12 years author made a number of series of collages: Delirious art (2001), The world of pedophiliac (2001, 2003, 2004), The Stories About Lingam & Yoni (2001), Graces Lesbian (2004), Female Sport Fan (2004), Surrealistic Beach (2004), Irrational Restaurant (2004), The World of Perverted Fairytales (2004). Cycle of collages which explore fetishism (so popular in surrealism) is titled Female body parts fetishism (2001), while those who explore exaggerated human sexuality (which kill all the erotic aspect of it) are entitled Baywatch (2003), SILLYcon Valley (2003), so it is clear what they are dealing with.

Hodak also devotes a significant place to one of the modern world’s particular plagues, with which every society is afflicted – paedophilia. The most striking examples of this are the collages, The Savouriness of Early Fruits, Hansel and Gretel in the House of the Wicked Witch. Some of these scenes are extremely uncomfortable to look at; the perpetrator, or the relationship between perpetrator and victim, is often disguised, so that paedophilia is not recognized at first, making it even more dangerous. It is depicted here in a horrifyingly disturbing manner, almost to the point where the observer feels physical pain.

Sexuality is also present in the series of collages Graces Lesbian 01-07, consisting of cut-outs of models from advertisements for ladies’ underwear dating from the 1970s and the early 90s, with the occasional couple from European and Japanese erotic lesbian films. However, these collages do not treat female homosexuality seriously; it all remains at the level of a typical male fantasy. The last in the series of collages, Graces Lesbian 07 (Les Demoiselles d’ Boston) also touches vaguely on the subject of the emancipation of women, depicting the Boston Athenæum, one of America’s oldest cultural institutions, cultivating the affection toward books and art, a place where study groups and lively discussions among intellectuals are held. Hodak contrasts these serious, scholarly women, established and influential in their own society, members of the Athenæum, with the licentious atmosphere of the Munich Oktoberfest and its laughing, cheerful waitresses, heightening the wittiness of the collage.

The grotesque also features, in the form of posturing, affected figures sneering like characters from horror films – the first female vampire, Lilith, for example, or a grotesque version of Marlene Dietrich as a common detail in the paintings. It is as if time has stood still; all this can be seen on Richard Hamilton’s iconic collage of 1956, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, and everything that defined the middle class in the West in the 1950s: fun, sexuality, the cult of the body, technology, bodybuilding – the subject of Boris Hodak’s collages and paintings of today. In collages such as Tasty 70’s (2004) we encounter a critique of the dysfunctional family of today, exaggerated commerciality and the obsession with shopping, food, over-eating and the cult of the body beautiful, crossing over into artificiality and caricature. As an artist of the generation that reached puberty and grew up during the good old days of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, at a time when the best punk, rock music and new wave were still being listened to, and the new primitivism of the mid 1980s was well advanced, he had as his models the older generations, who had a more critical view of the world than today and acted in subversive way. This explains the marked presence in the works of punk subculture, anarchy, humour and irony in the Monty Python style, of a critique of society and social phenomena, globalization and deviant morality, challenging the phenomenon of human stupidity, as an inexhaustible source of inspiration extensively drawn upon by Hodak. The young people of today in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the world generally speaking, are largely characterized by their utter passivity, conformism, inertia and lack of interest in what is going on both at home and in the world as a whole. Humour is very important characteristic of Hodak’s art, with large span/range of different types from brutal, sarcastic, ironic to moderate and harmless. He is using the buffoonery method (fr. bouffon) in his art to tell the truth trough the humour like it was in medieval age.

Hodak’s paintings do not examine artistry and artistic elements, they tell a story: the narrative is of prime importance. Surrealist paintings recognize neither perspective nor composition as do other art trends; they concentrate more on content and juxtaposition, on subjects, details and things that are inherently mutually contradictory and illogical, which could never be related or set in the same context. Integral to each of Hodak’s paintings and collages are their English titles, which are long and comprehensive, yet do not reveal everything. The observer is called upon to read the painting or collage to the full, taking in its abundance of detail and, in many instances, the many different yet simultaneous stories it is telling. Though photo realism, as a way of painting a picture, may often attract and capture the observer at first sight, the artist gives pride of place to the understanding and reading of the painting, its message.

In the paintings created since 2005, the azure blue of the sky and sea (water) gradually fades, finally disappearing completely in about 2010, when the background becomes black. In technique, too, there are changes and experiments. The paintings are on the vinyl tiles that were used as floor tiles in the 1980s, and the pigments themselves are also synthetic – acrylic. In these later works, from 2005 to the present, the format of the paintings becomes square and the composition is simplified; no longer chaotic, overcrowded, they now feature a few figures forming the focus of the narrative (Catwalk, Movie Kiss, Lovers by The Sea, I Love Japan!, Me Gusta La Vida Nocturna, Rub It With Bad Habit!). Hodak gradually takes baby steps into the world of lowbrow art, a specific form of pop surrealism. This is not yet typical lowbrow art – crude and garish.

Lowbrow is one of today’s leading art movements, its disciples influenced by a range of phenomena such as the mass media, mass culture, underground comics, punk music, cartoon and animated 3D films, television, films, advertisements, surfing, hot rod street culture and other subcultures.1

In essence, the subject-matter has not changed – these are still unusual, crazy, dislocated scenes, such as reworkings from the film classic Mutiny on the Bounty, or scenes taken from or influenced by Japanese manga, anime and softcore porn films (pinku eiga) that have captivated the whole world, full of combined eroticism and violence. Japan and its contemporary pop culture occupy a significant place as the subject of Hodak’s recent works. Japanese scripts become an integral part of the painting, in the visual sense. The dark atmosphere is imbued with the mystique of David Lynch’s films, such as Mulholland Drive (2001). The daydreaming or typical dreamlike nature of surrealism that featured in earlier works gradually disappears, to be replaced by what might be called dark pop surrealism.

Hodak plays in his artworks with imaginary or real idols such as Marshal Tito or figures like Hello Kitty, not allowing anything to be censured; everything, every public figure could be at any time the subject of discussion and critique. The painting Pikachu BBQ originate from one of the iconic photos of Tito and Jovanka Broz, where we can see them having barbeque, covered with the blankets roasting Pikachu, one of the Pokémons, but in a very harmless and funny way. It is one of the very famous photos about Tito’s passionate hobby (hunting), which was published in every school history textbook and other books on Tito in ex-Yugoslavia. In the painting Daddy’s New Love we will recognise the body of little Miša, Tito’s son with a head of Hello Kitty character. One of Hodak’s latest paintings Bob DoorKnob & Prego HelloKitty refers to a bizarre Japanese fetishism doorknob licking, where we can see a pregnant Hello Kitty conceived in surrealistic or impossible way by doing doorknob licking, what is to be oral sex. It is well known fact that Japanese people are masters of subliminal presentation of everything that refers to sex.

The 2010 triptych Wet Tsunami Shadow seems almost prophetic of the natural disaster that befell Japan in March 2011. The end of the world is symbolized by the imperial Japanese couple, backs turned as though they are witnesses to the total apocalypse that would result from nuclear disasters and global warming.

As a final conclusion we have impression that the author is staying faithful to his surrealistic expression in total. This expression had a long process of maturing, from metaphysical style, to pop surrealism including a slight touch with lowbrow art. During this ten years period the author’s expression became very mature, personal and recognizable, very specific. Author does not want to give up from painting. So far, he doesn’t explore other medias, he wants to declare to public that painting is not dead (regarding to what some critics predicted in the past 40 years and continue to do so) and it will not die in the future time. Hodak in his works, which are narrative by its nature, wants to shock the audience, but he also wants an ordinary viewer to wake up and start thinking about the problems in the world that we’re living in. Although conceptual, digital and many other arts became some sort of spokesman of today society and have been favoured by the art system in many countries all over the world, but there are still other art expressions that are dealing with the same topics in very clearly, loud, critical and engaged way. Hodak is using different methods such as dreams, hallucinations, obsessions, hidden and pushed/forced mechanisms of human psyche, but we also get the illustration of temporary position of a (pre)apocalyptical world that humankind lives in. A great number of his artworks, in the field of painting, are saying exactly the same story (but in more subtle way, because of the nature of traditional art form as paintings and collages are).

Dragana Brkić 
Art Historian and Curator - Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina


1.) Lowbrow, or lowbrow art, describes an underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles, California in the late 1970s. Lowbrow is a widespread populist art movement with origins in the underground comics, punk music hot-rod street culture, and other subcultures. Over the years, Lowbrow has unapologetically picked up influences from classic cartoons, 60’s TV sitcoms, psychedelic (and any other type of) rock music, pulp art, soft porn, comic books, sci-fi, “B” (or lower) horror movies, Japanese anime and black velvet Elvis, among many other “subcultural” offerings. It is also often known by the name pop surrealism. Lowbrow art often has a sense of humour - sometimes the humour is gleeful, sometimes impish, and sometimes it is a sarcastic comment. Most lowbrow artworks are paintings, but there are also toys, digital art, and sculpture. Some of the first artists to create what came to be known as lowbrow art were underground cartoonists like Robert Williams and Gary Panter. Early shows were in alternative galleries in New York (in Greenwich Village, New York City) and Los Angeles Gallery (gallery in Hollywood). The movement steadily grew from its beginning, with hundreds of artists adopting this style. As the number of artists grew, so did the number of galleries showing Lowbrow; The galleries both showed important artists and helped expand the kind of art that was classified as Lowbrow. The lowbrow magazine Juxtapoz by Robert Williams, first published in 1994, has been a mainstay of writing on lowbrow art and has helped direct and grow the movement. Writers have noted that there are now distinctions to be drawn between how lowbrow manifests itself in different regions and places. Some see a distinct U.S. “west coast” lowbrow style, which is more heavily influenced by underground comics and hot rod car-culture than elsewhere. As the lowbrow style has spread around the world, it has been intermingled with the tendencies in the visual arts of those places in which it has established itself. As lowbrow develops, there may be a branching (as there was with previous art movements) into different strands and even whole new art movements. In an article in the February 2006 issue of his magazine Juxtapoz, Robert Williams took credit for originating the term “lowbrow art.” Juxtapoz showcases Lowbrow artists and is currently the second best-selling art magazine in the U.S. He stated that in 1979 when it was decided in a one publishing company to print a book of Willams’ paintings, he decided to give the book the self-deprecating title, “The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams,” since no authorized art institution would recognize his type of art. “Lowbrow” was thus used by Williams in opposition to “highbrow.” He said the name then stuck, even though he feels it is inappropriate. Williams refers to the movement as “cartoon-tainted abstract surrealism.” Lately, Williams has begun referring to his own work as “Conceptual Realism.” Lowbrow is also commonly referred to as pop surrealism. Kirsten Anderson, who edited the book Pop Surrealism, considers lowbrow and pop surrealism to be related but distinct movements. However, Matt Dukes Jordan, author of Weirdo Deluxe, views the terms as interchangeable. Museums, art critics, mainstream galleries, etc., have been uncertain as to the status of lowbrow in relation to the fine art world, and today it has been largely excluded - although this has not stopped some collectors from buying the works. Some art critics doubt that lowbrow is a “legitimate” art movement, and there is thus very little scholarly critical writing about it. The standard argument of critics is that critical writing arises naturally from within an art movement first, and then a wider circle of critics draws upon this writing to inform their own criticism. This apparent absence of internal critical writing may be because many lowbrow artists began their careers in fields not normally considered fine art, such as illustration, tattooing and comic books. Many lowbrow artists are self-taught, which further alienates them from the world of museum curators and art schools. Many in the art world have deeper difficulties with lowbrow’s figurative focus, its cultivation of narrative, and its strong valuing of technical skill. All these aspects of art were deeply disparaged in the art schools and by curators and critics throughout the 1980s and 90s. However, a number of artists who started their careers by showing in lowbrow galleries have gone on to show their work primarily in mainstream fine art galleries. Robert Williams, Joe Coleman, Ciou, Manuel Ocampo, Georganne Deen, and the Clayton Brothers are examples. Some origins of lowbrow’s approach can be traced to art movements of the early 20th century, specifically the works of the Dadaists and the leading proponents of the American Regionalism movement (artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Thomas Hart Benton, respectively) in which such art movements have questioned the distinctions between high and low art, fine art and folk art, and popular culture and high-art culture. In some sense lowbrow art is about exploring and critiquing those distinctions, and it thus shares similarities with the pop art of the 1960s and early 70s. One can also note that just as the lowbrow artists play in the blurred (or perhaps evaporated) boundaries between high and low culture, other more “mainstream” contemporary artists use artistic strategies similar to those employed by lowbrow artists. Examples include: Lisa Yuskavage, Kenny Scharf, Takashi Murakami, Greg Colson, Inka Essenhigh, Jim Shaw, John Currin, Mike Kelley, Nicola Verlato and the San Francisco-based Mission School, which includes Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Wolf in a Spacesuit. If the test of time for legitimacy (as an artistic movement) means that Lowbrow speaks/spoke, in visual terms, to the millions of us who share a common cultural, symbolic language - albeit a “lower” or “middle” class, media-driven language - then, yes, Lowbrow is here to stay. Anthropologists will probably study Lowbrow in the future, to attempt to figure out late 20th and early 21st U.S. societal influences.


Saatchi Art - New Art Collectors

Saatchi Art - Sample Gallery/Dealer Art Work - New Art Collectors
One of 389 artists. :)

Sample Gallery/Dealer Art Work - New Art Collectors 

An Ode to Love (Lovers), oil on paper mounted on cardboard, 21.5Hx33W cm, 1999.
An Ode to Love (Lovers), oil on paper mounted on cardboard, 21.5x33 cm, 1999.


The 6th April Exhibition - ULUBiH Collegium Artisticum, Sarajevo

The 6th April Exhibition

Šestoaprilska izložba tri likovna udruženja: ULUBIH, ULUPUBIH i AABIH - ponedjeljak 7. april u 19h. Dobrodošli!

Šestoaprilska izložba tri likovna udruženja: ULUBIH, ULUPUBIH i AABIH
Šestoaprilska izložba tri likovna udruženja: ULUBIH, ULUPUBIH i AABIH

Exhibited artwork:

Pikachu BBQ, acrylic on vinyl tile, 36.8x36.8cm, 2012.
Pikachu BBQ, acrylic on vinyl tile, 36.8x36.8cm, 2012.