The Office for Slovenians Abroad is hosting an exhibition of the work of Vesna Benedetič. The opening will be held on 20 April at 6 PM on the premises of the Office for Slovenians Abroad in Ljubljana (Erjavčeva 15). Vesna Benedetič is a versatile artist. She was born in Gorizia and lived in Trieste from where she moved to Škrbina – a picturesque village in the very heart of the Karst region. This is where she now lives with her family; exploring, experimenting and making art. She is known for her illustrations but she also uses the watercolor technique and works in graphic design, print production, and organizes various events and art workshops. In 2014, the Ramatou Art Networking Institute opened its doors in Škrbina. The purpose of the institute is to promote and help spread art.
The International Women's House in Trieste at Via Pisoni 3 is currently housing her exhibition entitled “The Breath of Color” (Dih barve). Soon, her illustrations will be featured in Ljubljana, available to see each working day (from Monday to Friday) between 20 April and 20 May, from 9 AM to 4 PM. A few days ago, we paid Vesna Benedetič a visit in her studio in Škrbina.
You say that art is something that needs to be pushed among people, onto the streets. How do you perceive art?
Art needs to be a part of everyday life. It has to be inside people’s homes, in their blood. It mustn’t be elite, inaccessible or posh. It must speak to people, to everyone – those who have the instrument and those who don’t. This doesn’t mean it has to reach lower standards, but assist in making those low standards rise. Art does not make you any nobler, so the right thing to do is to raise that “vibration”. That is why art need to be placed among people; it must breathe. Just like we breathe the air, we must also breathe art.
Artists also have a huge social responsibility, an influence on the society. What is this responsibility and how do you feel it?
It is a strong feeling. I think that a man – especially an artist – has a kind of an “antenna” which they must make available to others. It is a great responsibility because this is how the artist is saving the world. If we give into out instincts, as is frequent in today’s society, we become monsters, and that is why we need art. But the artist has to be aware of what he is offering the world and how they are communicating it. They must sometimes think twice before acting. When an artist is creative, their soul is pure. The creative process is immensely pure because it is a link to everything, to the deepest depths of the essence of nature… This is what people need to be given; this is what they need in their life. It is difficult to put it all in words.
Some artists say that they create for themselves while others claim that there’s no point in creating for oneself – that each poem, song or piece of art should be dedicated to the society and the world. Then there are artists who fall somewhere in between. Where do you belong?
It all belongs together – I see myself in each of these claims. It could almost be called schizophrenia but that’s the way it is. I draw for myself, because it helps in maintaining and saving my life. When I illustrate, I always imagine the people I can turn to standing in front of me. I also imagine that my work will manifest itself in front of me, away from me – others will be able to see it aswell. I could say that the moment in which you’re creating something for yourself because you feel one with yourself and the universe should be shared with others. It is the obligation of the artist. They must speak to other people… Artists work for themselves aswell as others. The two are closely connected and intertwined.
The image of today’s society is discouraging for many artists, especially the young ones. But you still have hope in art. After all, you make a living out of it. How would you account for this contrast and what advice can you give the young artists?
They must keep on going. The fact that it is hard to push through actually has a bright side. The artistic profession is something that offers no warranty. The artist must keep on inventing something new, experimenting and doing their best. Only those who are truly motivated deal with art in that manner. If you are not deeply motivated, you will surely not pursue art professionally. I always tell the young they should nourish their dream. Sometimes I hear young people who are depressed and I feel younger than them, even though I’ll be 50 this year (laughter). They are very rational and I feel bad for them. They have been deprived of their dream and there’s no way you can live without it. To live, you need a dream, art and a link to the spirit realm.
So how do you see the youth? Are the majority of them like the ones you’ve just described or are they more of an exception?
I love the young a great deal. Sometimes, I run into someone who’s bitter, but it’s more of an exception. I absolutely still have hope and I feel the responsibility to encourage them. Why would we push them down any further? It is true that artists sometimes struggle. I often ask myself why I didn’t get a job at a bank but you can’t say that to a young person – they have to persevere. They must be enthusiastic and convinced. Sometimes, I see grown-ups pushing the young down due to their own bitterness but we mustn’t do that. The young are our future. I want a young person to someday tell me, “Good job, Vesna! You have done something beautiful!” Every once in a while, I run into children I used to mentor in my workshops and they thank me. This is the satisfaction that comes with art. You have to be pure when interacting with the youth. The world can be changes but I can only change myself. I can’t change you. But solely by changing myself and my perception of the world, I am doing something beautiful. Today, when everything around us is dreadful, we need that. We need to feed on something beautiful. We whine so much we have become monsters. Just take a look at how we treat refugees and immigrants. The other is always different; an enemy. In art, such differences are non-existent.
When you create little animals, forests and dwarves, you say that you first imagine the animal. But this is not yet the animal you are about to draw. What is this process of shaping your illustrated characters like?
It all depends on the moment. The illustration of the bear wearing a heart in his hands came to be on a random morning, when my husband Pap put milk on the stove. The milk almost overflew and he made a special gesture that inspired me to draw the bear. Sometimes you imagine a character but you don’t make it as you imagined it; you create something completely different. My creative process is tightly connected to the morning hours. I wake up early and go to the studio. As I enjoy the peace and as the morning gives birth to another day, I feel refreshed, as if the night had given me a new vision. I am not talking about inspiration. There is, after all, plenty of inspiration in the Karst region. A bird or a falling tree branch is more than enough. The point of it all lies in your observation. A pencil is a pencil, but it can be anything else. It could be a stick or a witch’s broom. Early in the morning, when everything is quiet and I listen to the birds waking up from sleep, I sit behind the desk and gaze into a blank white piece of paper in front of me. I don’t have an idea but it comes soon enough. It is something an artist needs to train for and perfect. This is my advice for the young: draw every day. It is necessary because the hand, which is a part of the brain, needs its training. I follow that rule. Even when I’m not drawing, I always come up with a drawing per day. I always carry my sketchbook in my bag
Being an artist takes a lot of dedication which is something that people who are not artists hardly ever realize…
Of course, I work all day. You need to master the art of getting inspired. If you do it professionally, this creativity must find its own creative path. What comes next is perseverance on a daily basis. There’s not a single day that I don’t grab a pencil and start drawing.
The Karst region has a strong impact on you, which is something that is evident in your illustrations. How has your relocation from the chaotic Trieste to the secluded village on the Karst Plateau affected your creativity?
It’s had a great impact. I came to know the forest and a number of different animals I’d never seen before. For instance, I draw many foxes because I often see one behind my house. I also draw owls and forests. My most recent drawings are that of the forest. It gets really beautiful in the winter. Even though there aren’t any leaves, the forest doesn’t seem dead. You still get the feeling that everything around you is alive and that something, somewhere is watching you. I love that feeling. I imagine it might be a bunny or a doe… You establish some kind of a dialogue with the area which resonates from within. The Karst is my America.
Your most recognizable animal character is a red bird, Ramatou.
It’s my great love. Ramatou comes from the family of sparrows living in Senegal. The males are red and they look gorgeous. In Senegal, they are believed to bring good fortune. The Institute is also named after the same sparrow species. I have always loved drawing birds. To me, they represent a beautiful thought. Whenever they sing, they bring wonderful thoughts.
Illustrations on the one hand and the watercolor technique on the other... You might not find them that different, but nevertheless they are. What is the relationship between them?
It is true. I don’t find them to be that different. Watercolor paintings come first. They are not filtered – the thought it transferred directly onto paper. I don’t like to call my drawings illustrations because, for me, illustrations are those which I have made for books with text that was not written by me. These illustrations are something different. They are like shooting starts, each of them a story that is my own.
You are in the process of making a story related to a set of illustrations about a girl named Amina…
That’s right. And the project is just beginning. I am currently looking for a publisher. I might try on the Slovenian market this time.