5 Questions to Radenko Milak
Radenko Milak’s art focuses on the reception of our increasingly confusing reporting and our collective visual memory. One of the artists featured in the Marta exhibition “Deceptive Images”, in this interview Milak answers five questions.
Your artistic output is based on news images. How do you go about selecting your visual material?
When I started exploring the Internet 20 years ago, I began collecting different types of images, texts, documents, and various other information every day. This research into news, historical events and so on molded my artistic development. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of painting and the messages it transmits. Another preoccupation of mine is how the internet and social networks have become part of so many people’s everyday lives.
How do you define the role of painting in the context of documentation?
Historical painting and big themes have always fascinated me. On the other hand, I love painting intimacy and specific atmospheres like the Dutch master Vermeer and the American painter Edward Hopper. In addition, the aesthetics of my work are shaped by the cinema of the mid-20th century. We’re bombarded with information every day, some of which is important to us while some isn’t. As I’ve already said, I work with a different kind of information every day. Sometimes I react immediately and produce a watercolor based on a current issue, such as the COVID-19 series. At other times, the information stays on my computer for a few years and I come back to it later. I spend a lot of time researching and preparing individual topics. This research based on different types of information is a daily activity for me. It spontaneously influences my painting, which has a documentary character.
If you had to define painting and photography as media for the communication of content, what would you say were the main similarities and differences between them?
There are some specific differences that were much clearer in the analog age. In the digital age, there is more talk about one medium permeating another. Nowadays, there is no dominant medium in art. Instead, each medium has its own meaning and carries its own specific message. What’s interesting in all this is the sheer diversity. These differences are a phenomenon of our global society.
What are the striking stylistic elements in your images that arouse our attention?
It all depends on the field I’m working on at the time. Sometimes it’s difficult to decide what motif to paint. It’s always a dialogue between rationality and intuition. Above all, experience tells you in advance what motif might be interesting to translate from a photo or media image into a painting. There’s a great essay by Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” where he talks about what a work of art—like a novel—loses during translation. When I paint, I sometimes make minor changes to the photos. I’m obsessed by images’ contexts and themes rather than their stylistic elements.
What say more: pictures or words?
These days, we live in a visual culture. I’m on the side of the images surrounding us. We can also talk about the mental images that are so strong and intense in our dreams that we often remember them in our daily lives. I remember a great book whose title illustrates the digital age very well, a book by W. J. T. Mitchell: “What Do Pictures ‘Really’ Want?” We’re sometimes trapped in language because we try to explain everything in words. Yet for some new phenomena, we need new words or new linguistic and conceptual tools to explain the world we live in.