Macedonian Sculpture -- Tome Serafimovski

Tome SerafimovskiMacedonia has experienced the hardships of slavery, divisions and destructions which have, to a large extent, impeded its general, national and cultural development. The historically created isolation of this country was overcome in the years of the Yugoslav War for National Liberation (1941 - 1945), after which the Macedonian people gained liberty, independence, statehood and nationhood for the first time in history, as well as a right to free development in all areas of social life, the right to express their national identity in various forms. The creative work of Macedonian artists, which contains the contradictions of its own development, has made a very important contribution to this general progress. Its specific features can be observed in the growth of an art form which does not have a real historical tradition in this region in Macedonia in the post-war decades. In other words, everything that was created in other places over centuries, systematically and gradually had to be accomplished here in a relatively short period of time. Because of this, Macedonian art has, in its own way, coordinated itself with the development of Yugoslav society and with general movements in art. That is why the accepted norms of the doctrine of socialist realism in the period between 1945 and 1950 could find a very fertile soil in our environment, also because of the discontinuous development of sculpture which, in the pre-war period, was represented by very few works of art, reflecting the spirit of the aesthetics of socialist realism. Therefore, having in mind the discontinuous development and slow rhythm of change and establishment of certain stylistic sequences, it is quite logical that the beginnings of sculpture were represented by works which reflected a spirit of traditional sculptural motif. This concept, embodying various aspects of academic and modern realism, along with certain elements of impressionist, expressionist and cubist approaches, is present in the work of the first generation of Macedonian sculptors, (R. Todorovski, D. Kotco etc.); is developed more intensely in the post-war period, (R. Muratovski etc.); and is continued, with renewed freshness, in the work of the younger generation of sculptors to which Tome Serafimovski belongs.

Macedonian sculpture in the first post-war generation struggled with basic technical, thematic and artistic problems closely connected to the time of its appearance. However, the very nature and character of sculpture lead to an undefined social status as well as to public resistance to it. Even in the period after this, when there were better conditions for its development, as a result of certain social stimulations and a greater freedom in terms of orientation, Macedonian sculpture faced various impediments and limitations of political and material nature.

In these newly created conditions, with the rapidly growing democratisation and transformation of Yugoslav society and art after 1950, we should mention the appearance of several Macedonian sculptors, young at that time, who were educated at the Academies of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana, and who also began their work in that period. (D. Popovski - Dada, S. Manevski, B. Nikolovski, T. Andreevski, etc.). This generation, to which Serafimovski belongs as well, began working in an atmosphere of a noticeable differentiation between modernism and the tradition of Yugoslav art, traditions more specifically present in the circumstances in which Macedonian sculpture developed. In the beginning, Serafimovski coordinated his art with some tendencies present in the Yugoslav art of that period, mainly in terms of the treatment of a figurative sculpture characterised by reduction and stylisation of form. Nevertheless, he is consistent when it comes to his basic preoccupations - to base his creation on the elements and experience of the classical Rodinian and Bourdelian tradition in sculpture; of crucial importance for his orientation in this sense was his professor A. Augustinchich. Serafimovski has remained consistent in his orientation towards a certain sculptural, ideological and aesthetic view based on the centuries long humanist tradition of sculpture in general, but also, of sculpture in our culture, a tradition that has maintained itself up to the present, but not without sudden and unexpected development.

The Life of the Artist

To present the creative output of Serafimovski means not to exclude the possibility of giving a more general view of it since in the work of this artist we are faced with a stylistic and thematic entity with recognisable characteristics of its own. Serafimovski belongs to the group of artists from the third generation of Macedonian sculptors, one who discovered his artistic temperament and direction very early in his life. His first steps in this field can be traced in the second half of the fifties, but his creative presence became more evident in the early sixties. Serafimovski was influenced by the cultural environment of Zagreb, however, he has developed his work from a ,,soil" of his own, giving it a meaning derived from the context of the Macedonian culture and art. Therefore, it is important to point out certain general and specific circumstances that have both conditioned and contributed to his creative development.

Serafimovski comes from a village called Zubovtce, in the Gostivar area, a picturesque place at the foot of the snowy Shar Mountain; from there he has inherited his well-built body, his strong temperament and his persistence. His difficult childhood and the terrors of the Second World War impressed on his child's mind unpleasant experiences and memories which would, later on, be transformed into a suggestive language of the art of sculpture. Serafimovski showed an inclination towards socially organised activities ever since his student days, but at the same time, he reacted creatively to immediate historical events such as the National Liberation War, then the liberation, the restoration and building of Yugoslavia, etc. Moreover, he is one of those artists who is able to establish an active dialogue with revolutionary events and personalities from the near and distant past of his own and other nations. Serafimovski, feeling certain about his professional orientation, and convinced that the road he had chosen was the right one, enrolled in the School of Applied Arts in Split in 1953. This is important because of his definite turning to sculpture as a predominant medium during this time of his creative formation. Even more important is the period of his studies at the Zagreb Art Academy, under the tutelage of the well-known sculptor A. Augustinchich, a decisive period for the creative formation of Serafimovski. With the recommendation of his professors, A. Augustinchish and K. Hegedushich, he left for Paris in 1966, and over a period of four years attended the classes of professor Adane at the Academy of Fine Arts. Moreover, he spent three years as an assistant in the studio of the famous sculptor from Argentina Alisia Penalba. It was then that Serafimovski finally decided to stay with his previously taken artistic position, with a respect for classical sculptural values.

After this period of dynamic learning and experience, Serafimovski returned to his country, where he spent some time working as a scenographer at Skopje Television. Since 1970, he has been a director of the Cultural Association of Gostivar, an institution important for the cultural life of this region in Western Macedonia.

Throughout the years, Serafimovski has been tirelessly creating sculptures which reflect the attitude of a committed artist who follows his inner drives, but who is also sensitive to the needs of his social environment.

His Creative Output

To attempt to find Serafimovski’s roots of his life-long orientation to sculpture, after an initial interest in painting, several things have to be pointed out. He discovered his predisposition for sculptural expression very early. That inclination was stimulated by the suggestions of his professors at the Split Art School, and later on reinforced by the experience he gained at the Zagreb Art Academy. His first creative results, which date from the second half of the fifties, reflect the Yugoslav modernism of that time, an art which relied on traditional artistic attitudes. That can be seen in the insistence on simplification of objects and stylisation of the realistic form, and is present in his first works of art (paintings, drawings, graphics and sculptures). Robust shapes, strict, cubist forms, all are linked with a very lively rendered structure on the surface of anthropomorphic entities. In these early works of art, dating from 1957 to 1965, Serafimovski stresses his basic stylistic and thematic concerns. The prevailing motifs are taken from folklore, from intimate memories, from the revolutionary past, etc. ("Zurla Player", "A Shar Mountain Motif", " Girl with a Flower", "Caryatid" "Flee", "The Fresco on Trsat - Rieka").

Painting and plastic elements are interwoven in his works of art; these indicate a kind of a pictorial approach in his life and in the immediate modelling of the sculptural shapes. It can be explained by his affinity for modelling in softer materials, either clay or gypsum, which is present more often than in stonecutting or woodcarving, though he shows his skillfulness in the treatment of the latter two materials as well. Meanwhile, in his search for long-lasting results, Serafimovski uses bronze as a material of the mass; It is heavy hard, dynamic, and imbues the surface with a vitality and the shimmering effects of light and dark. The solidity of the mass and the completed unity of the inner rhythm of its elements can sometimes, with one part, press out and resist the space that surrounds it. For Serafimovski, sculpture is a struggle with the clay, while bronze materialises the clay's action, running, flowing around. This shrewd and immediate approach which contains elements of impressionism and expressionism correlates with the basic creative striving of Serafimovski’s. He seeks unity of form and content. This can be seen in the ways of expression applied to his figurative sculpture, his frontally resolved anthropomorphic forms and entities, in which the thematic layer determines, and is more important than, the layer of plastic phenomena. The central theme and content of Serafimovski's creative output is the figure of Man, his appearance and how that appearance is sculpturally rendered. His creative life does not, in the context of the classical approach, exhibit essentially different and characteristic phases, for the elements that have changed are the less important ones, such as the way of modelling, the organisation of planes or technical questions of inner construction.

Having in mind these points, Serafimovski's output can be viewed in several thematic cycles (e.g. portraits, figures, monuments) and treated in the manner of a classical realistic approach which has been modified by new realisations and approaches at certain phases in the artist's life.

Vladimir Velickovski

Translated by: Aneta Georgievska