Sadko Hadzihasanovic

Portraitizm

March 4 - April 1, 2000


Paul Petro Contemporary Art is pleased to present new work by Toronto-based artist Sadko Hadzihasanovic. In this exhibition Sadko continues to explore identity, and its cultural and social implications, with an extensive portraiture-based body of work. The exhibition is comprised of large-scale works on wallpaper and small works on mylar framed in lightboxes. Both bodies of work combine his now-familiar use of mixed media and collage, and an array of references to popular culture.

The large-scale works form a series entitled Hi, my name is...and I like.... The works depict a range of people who directly or indirectly have a connection with the artist. Rather than establish pictorial identities based on professional credentials Sadko personalizes the portraits with peripheral anecdotal visual information that acknowledges the subject's concept of self and Sadko's unmediated take on the individual.

A second body of work, the small-scale lightboxes, are the result of letters Sadko sent to many artists requesting early photographs of them from between the ages of two and four. There are twenty-four works in this series. While many Toronto artists are included there are others whose likenesses are lifted out of eastern European culture. While the images of Toronto's artists-as-children reveal the origins of familiar character or body traits the children from eastern Europe seem older than their years, their capacities having been tested in different ways.

Since his arrival from Bosnia in 1993, Sadko has participated in over thirty exhibitions in public galleries and artist-run centres across Canada. He is the recipient of grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. Portraitizm is Sadko's third solo exhibition at Paul Petro Contemporary Art.

“What is a portrait? Legitimizing ones political or social status; ensuring ones place in history; creating a public identity. Even today, when the media has replaced the portrait gallery, it is still the rich and famous, or the notorious, that are deemed worthy of representation. Hadzihasanovic inverts this convention and chooses to paint those that interest him or respond to him, and give them an identity that has to do with something other than their public profile. Portraitizm is divided into two series: one a large-scale body of work on wallpaper, the other small works on Mylar framed in lightboxes.

“The former plays with the convention of television introductions - "Hi, my name is..., I like to...", the artist asked various people, known and unknown to him personally, to send him a photograph and a completion of the phrase. With these two elements, he has created portraits that focus on the person and his/her ideas, their concept of self (manifested through their choice of the photograph: how they view themselves and want to be viewed) and his concept of theirs (what does he make of these choices?).

“In a riveting portrait of Howard Book we are confronted with two fused figures: a cat and man. Book's intense, almost hypnotic stare emphasizes the text, which reads, I like magic. In the corner we see the outline of an overturned magician's hat, and elsewhere the words indulge your dreams. Probing the image for identity we have none of the usual reference points: attributes or background. Rather, the portrait focuses on the single factor of the chosen image. Instead of reductionism, this begins to open up the representation for we are free to note the individual details of the face, and the playful markings around it.

“How different then, is the portrait of a well-known person, like Atom Egoyan. In the top left corner we see a casually formal image: leaning his head on his hand, smiling, slightly angled so that one half of the face is blurred. The image comes from the photograph above his newspaper content and has the characteristics of grainy black and white distance. Taking up almost the entire rest of the paper is the very light outline of a child's face, Egoyan's, as it gazes off, dreamlike, into the distance. The two images together make up a whole identity: the official, congenial face above the far less discernible child's outline, which recalls the inward look of the artist. The lilting text, I like movies and plays and traveling and I also like going to the galleries, is a gentle play between man and child.

“The portrait of Stuart Reid, painted on brassy floral wallpaper (the text reads I like to win), captures the performance part of Reid who is bare-chested with one arm reaching up sensuously to brush his hair off his forehead. Once again a smaller portrait - Reid holding his cat - complements the larger, filling out the identity. The expected clues to what he does and who he is publicly fall away. We are left to piece together the person through images such as the fragment of an ad showing a Chantilly bottle, and a little picture of a Teletubby.

“In the second series Hadzihasanovic has chosen to draw artists as children, focusing again on a group that does not have traditional portrait value, being the makers of images rather than the imaged. These careful and intricate works reveal an entirely different aspect of the portrayed. The playfulness and blatant inclusion of pop culture around the paintings serve to enhance the central image, which is of a fully developed person capable of articulating their perceived or desired identity. With children, Hadzihasanovic has focused on images not ideas. The lightbox only has single points of light, which illuminate one aspect of the drawing. This gives it a warm, magical and also nostalgic glow. The drawings of children are delicate, capturing an essential that exudes a child's ability to live fully in the moment. Some of the photographs have been rendered faithfully while others are embellished with fantastic images from fairy tales or other child realities. We see a grinning Sandra Rechico in a wide coat wearing Mom's huge red pumps in a Cinderella story. A circus scenario with a lion, about to leap through a flaming hoop, plays above Gunilla Josephson's head; the wicked twinkle in the otherwise soft face framed by neat hair, reinforces the feeling that this story could be imagined behind the well mannered exterior. Capturing a moment of pure joy, Max Streicher is portrayed laughing as he rides on a teddy bear. In contrast, Suzy Lake is earnest in her little coat with a hood, holding the hand of her grandfather as she gazes seriously at the camera.

“What do we see in a child's portrait: the indication of its future? An abiding characteristic? Its core or merely a child playing like many others? In fact, we see all these things; even in the posed image of John Armstrong with his sister (the words `Dunleavy Studio' have been retained in the drawing) we see the features and frank look that we know from the grown man. In the very upright standing portrait of Vessna Perunovich we see the young girl, proud in her chic purple bikini, pink purse and huge sunglasses - contradicted by her bony child's body and arched stomach - and recognize also the duality of chic and humour that we know from the adult woman.

“As also with previous work, Hadzihasanovic appropriates images from pop culture that have become powerful through their very ubiquity: in the newsstands, television, on the billboard. By placing unknown faces into the center he inverts the ideology that upholds the power of the media. Thus he succeeds in positioning his images within the mainstream while never undermining his aesthetic. The portrait as a frame of identity vs. likeness is what the artist plays out with this series. Identity, which is both external (a chosen image) and internal: the desire articulated by the paintings, the intense experience visible in the children. While we may recognize the portrayed we are also offered a view of them not previously brought to the fore, aspects that are deeper than their social status or profession. Humorously, with a sharp eye for detail, acutely aware of his own cultural moment, Hadzihasanovic has proven that the art of the portrait continues to live vividly.”

- Corinna Gaznahvi
Sadko Hadzihasanovic, New Portraitizm