Nik Dudukovic: The Greatest Story Never Told

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“The Annual Hunt,” ink and acrylic on Mylar, 16″ x 20″
Photo courtesy of The Butcher Gallery 
THE BUTCHER GALLERY
SAVANNAH, GA

Like evidence of an unsolved mystery, the 18 drawings (all ink and acrylic on Mylar, in addition to one copper etching) in Nik Dudukovic’s exhibit, The Greatest Story Never Told, are more “situation” than “story.” Images are related, but not sequential, like a display of artifacts intended to explain a culture’s history. There are simple illustrations, character profiles–Defender I (8″x10″), a whinnying horse in full armor, and Defender II (8″x10″), a tiger on hind-legs, teeth bared and claws spread as if to strike in mortal terror–are rendered in ink and acrylic washes, minimal color. There are full scenes: of children hunting, of giant beasts, either captured or released. The choice images force the viewer to assemble (or deconstruct) any plot among these pieces.

Inarguable about this world: it’s cold. Grey skies stretch across each scene, honing a solemn tone, tense silence. Human figures are dressed in fur-lined coats. Snow drifts cling to the ground. The emotional tone is reinstated by the use of ink washes, the Mylar and restricted use of color.

The Annual Hunt (16″x20″) depicts a pair of young men, each with his own shot gun. A flock of birds fly towards them, overhead. Positioned in the foreground, the lad to the left is half human, mythical–a pair of wings outstretch behind him, but they’re smallish, disproportioned to his body. He cradles his shotgun. His expression is fixed beyond the viewer, introverted, eyes unfocused. Beside him, the other young man aims his gun in malice, the barrel positioned at the winged-boy’s head. But the shooter is set slightly back. Wind draws the boy’s coat forward as he aims, as if he’s part of another atmospheric perspective (not a feather nor fold of fabric is adrift on the first figure). Between the two, on the ground, are a bird, a bug and a tortoise. All of the animals and human figures are monochromatic, drawn topically–the Victorian mansion and cluster of trees of the background, and the yellowed grass of the foreground are under-drawings on a layered cell, pulling them back from focus. Technical execution targets the dramatic irony of this piece: that the hunter is the hunted, that reality, and our perception of reality, are two different things.

Dudukovic, who is a Canadian resident formerly of Belgrade, takes inspiration from “graphics, diagrams, history, deities, evolution, monsters and elaborate narratives. The ideas [for The Greatest Story Never Told] are influenced by these interests and their representations,” Dudukovic says. He plays with different perspectives throughout the exhibit, showcasing The Creator of Worlds (8″x10″), a pair of hands, one red, one black, fingers interlocked, a blue raindrop falling above them, a leafed branch extending below them and The Destroyer of Worlds (8″x10″), one red hand, palm open, with a black snake slithering between figures, one black droplet falling from the wrist. These images could possibly explain the start and end of all the scenes and imagery in between, but explanations vary upon the viewer.

Likewise, there is the Creator of Nature (12″x16″), a silhouette in profile, lips open, a branch extended from the back of the head. The figure faces a red dot; below these drawings, another, of a bare black branch, shopped in two places, highlighted with a bleeding red. The antithesis is the Destroyer of Nature (12″x16″), a portrait of a horned, mythical-man. An image of two figures copulating is tattooed on his chest. Slender, dark-haired and bearded, he bares a slight resemblance to the artist. “I suppose there’s an autobiographical element to all of the images, but none of them are direct self-portraits,” Dudukovic says. “The Destroyer of Nature is an anti-hero. He is not someone I hope to become.”

 

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