The violet hour is the hour of melancholy ambivalence. The hour of gloaming. It is the time entre chien et loup: the time between a dog and a wolf, impossible to tell them apart. Both similar in shadows, both growing steadily restless under the electric currents of lampyridae, fireflies. That moment when all fragrances intensify, a leaf stands still, birds start on their evening ascent, circle, song, settling down. The hour blooming deeper into the darkening stain of the sky. This is the hour that painted itself so vividly into the paintings of Mile Šaula.
Mile Šaula (1970) is a painter in possession of a unique vision and pronounced fantastic lyricism. His process begins from research of the unconscious through the formal aspects of painting, gradually becoming more and more populated by the presence of contours, figures and phenomena outside of the visible world.
Šaula’s early painterly cycles were engaged with explorations of material (sand, pigment, earth) organised into abstract compositions, maintaining an aspect of the shamanistic drawings of Native Americans. Since 2002, he began to regularly exhibit at the prestigious Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris (founded in 1939), the salon with the longest pedigree for showing abstract art in the Western world. Its name is derived from the idea that abstraction represents a new reality which stems purely from itself, which incited Šaula to think deeper into the meaning of new reality, and to paint with growing focus and strength of colour. In the cycle created in the period from 2002-2006, the artist deals with symbols and signs that occur spontaneously during painting and which he places inside square surfaces comparable with Greek stele, or Bosnian and Serbian stećak. Šaula says “the carved signs on the stone slabs represent scenes from the life of the deceased. In a similar way the spontaneously appearing forms on my paintings can one day be a sign of their author’s existence.” This period reflects the artist’s interest in gesture, drawing and symbol in the art of ancient cultures, medieval and street art – it could be said that he studied the genealogy of the painting. The resulting works are integral paintings comparable to some of the artists of the Yugoslav Mediala movement (Leonid Šejka, Radovan Kraguly), who composed their paintings not only on the basis of its visual elements but also as a synthesis of the artistic and the literary.
At the beginning of 2010, a change occurred in the organisation of plastic and dynamic elements of Šaula’s paintings. He found a way to free his paintings and to express a certain poetic aesthetic that increasingly resembled a dreamscape. Although colour is still of the utmost importance, he was less and less interested in its formal aspects, leaving the nonfigural abstraction and stepping closer towards the vision of his own “inner film”. His canvases became limitless and layered metaphysical landscapes in which forms, signs and anthropomorphic forms are released from the previous tablet-like frames, instead opening the space for the intensifying presence of apparitions, spectres, figures, animals, plants and the natural world. In the period from 2010 to 2017, Šaula crossed from synthetic towards lyrical abstraction and fantastic painting, from searching for transcendence through precise articulation towards the looser language of forms and signs, aiming to capture the elevated reality: that which can only be seen in the corner of one’s eye, where paintings serve as the guides that allow the viewer to discover their own contemplative states, visions and mental vistas.
Šaula believes that a painting mustn’t be confined to itself nor to its formal aspects, but rather to depict life much like that on paintings of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights where “in the vortex of events there is a lot of what life represents: the searching, the games, the hidden secrets”. Šaula’s method of working courts chance and coincidence, and recognises the interconnectedness of loose forms that capture the inner life of those unusual encounters. He is interested in the eclectic image that has a certain multi- and mal-functionality, the drifting motifs hinting at the elusive nature of all complexity, dreamt or real.
The basic place of his paintings and drawings is a kind of “wild nature”, a flat unbounded plain populated by the segments of dreams, mythology, theatre, poetry, film and other arts and artists, especially those of magical realism, surrealism, Southern Gothic or noir, as well as literature (Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster, Yukio Mishima, David Lynch). There are associative nerve points with the fantastic paintings by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), the magical and supernatural subjects of the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, or the metaphysical exteriors of the Croatian painter Vasilije Jordan. In Jordan’s paintings figures from the deep past awaken as from an enchanted sleep, faded from old photographs as from our memory. Some of these subjects are related to those of Mile Šaula. Nick Bottom, whom Puck turned into a donkey in Shakespeare’s Dream of Summer Night, may be a distant relation to the figure of Teacher from the painting Expectations, surrounded with a swarm of bravurous and threatening petal-wasps, chimeric verses or brush strokes as abundant and glowing as painter’s fruit. This oneiric universe is the painter’s world of Mile Šaula, that may slip from a lethargic reflection to a state of tense observation. Much like in a hunt, at dusk, in the violet hour.
Alexandra Lazar, 30 August 2017.