by Manuel Anceau
It seems to be an unchanging star - a Sheherazade, which has inscribed, by means of colourful rays, in a thousand and one directions of an endless night, every single experience, hopes and hopelessness, which traversed the body, the heart and the spirit of this attic aristocrat, a bohemian utopian, a cosmic civil engineer.
If we could put next to each - and that should be possible - all these drawings, we would realize that the insistance, which characterizes the accumulation of symbols, is like a cascade of sparks, which might have been visible in the forge of Vulcan in antiquity.
Like some kind of God, a lame, plague-stricken recluse, working in the bowels of the Earth and Heaven : that’s how I imagine the life of Janko Domsic. A life about which, we have to confess, we know very little, apart from the fact that it covers, like the wings of a migratory bird, the entire twentieth century.
There you are with the drawings. Nevertheless, Domsic did not consider himself as a “drawer” (1). Should we, indeed, consider the term “drawer” in its ordinary meaning, that is as a person who, by means of an activity qualified as “artistic,” offers to weave a distaff of colours and forms (2), then these drawings, whichever their format, do not possess, at first sight, anything artistic (3).
(1) Domsic did not consider himself as a drawer : “I am a writer, I have always been involved in general and international economy.” This quotation comes from an interview conducted by Alain Bourbonnais, p. 6 in Cahiers de l’Art Brut, no. 16 [Lausanne, 1990]. (2) The distaff of colours and forms : if I dare... to spin a metaphor, we could say that the so-called creators of “art brut” move us to such an extent because they have been REALLY pricked by a distaff. Therefore, a “prince” (more or less charming) is needed to wake them up : hence the utmost importance of the other as a discoverer and as an explorer (the essential role, for an amateur of art brut, of exploration and discovery ; the mad desire to kiss the one who is asleep, who has been kept or is keeping away ; Dubuffet’s principal lesson : go and see, cross thorns and brambles, in order, out of the desire for the other, reawaken one’s own desire.). (3) They do not possess, at first sight, anything artistic. Do not let me be misunderstood, I do not wish to take away the artistic pith from Domsic’ drawings : they are filled with it, otherwise they would not move us. I believe, however, that this kind of pith can only be obtained by applying strong pressure, similar to squeezing an orange (the reason for which we feel obliged to speak about it). Left to his own, this kind of fruit, orange - Domsic, would exhale the heady perfume of “science” : art of an engineer, a utopian thinker, an economist - historian, etc. We consider today the chronophotographies by E. J. Marey very artistic ; nevertheless, he as the first would have been shocked and would have perhaps even disliked such an idea. The artist in him was smouldering under the positivist embers so he could not realize from what kind of wonderful wood his “work” was shaped up. Domsic likewise might have searched - where we are blown away by the incredible “artistic” intensity - above all, a new theory, a new discovery. Where we see “drawings” (accompanied by writings or the other way around), he might have only seen the unfolding progress, by all possible means, of a discourse with “scientific” scope dealing with the world and man (hence “drawing,” partly also because of the impossibility to display all his energy in French, a language which he did not master sufficiently).
Here are then the drawings created by a an “old immigrant” ; moreover, a “moaner” (4). These days it is not well considered to be old (5), immigrant AND insisting on one’s social rights (and Domsic did insist on all of these). Being old ist not profitable. And the immigration of an “uneducated person” is not well seen. Why did he not mind his own business ? Fortunately for him, Janko (little John), Johny the “Savant Universel Souperstar” (Scholar Universal Superstar) [dixit Domsic] : Johny is dead. He might have joined the universe, which he has portrayed to us with such joy and anxiety. Both rigid and frenzied representation, mirroring what we are, those of us who have not yet been blinded (but it will not take long) by earthly dust.
(4) a moaner : in an extract from what seems to be an interview conducted by Alain Bourbonnais [idem, p. 5], Domsic complains that he does not receive any unemployment benefit or a small pension. (5) old : all Domsic’ drawings which we have seen date from the seventies, when Domsic was about sixty years old ; for a man on his own, living in a “sordid tiny room,” according to Zora Fitting’s essay in no. 16 of the Cahiers de l’Art Brut, sixty years does not seem like a “prime of life.”
Here were are : standing in front of “it,” either we “get the hell out of there,” but if we stay, with this before our very eyes, it is impossible not to feel dizzy.
Impenetrable languague, which could have been also an alchemical treatise. The language of Rabelais : very scientific or, in this case, that likes to think it is, full of neologisms as well as trivial details, which have been searched for and for which full responsibility has been taken. It can thus play on all levels (if Domsic lived in the Renaissance, he would have been one of our greatest minds !). There is also the occasional appearance of three masonic dots, used here with no apparent reason, unless it is to give the text a more or less “initiatory” halo.
However, what captures the attention of an attentive amateur, who cannot accept that he understands nothing (and yet, that is the case), is, in this cascade of words, the presence of particular “drops,” sometimes iridescent of the entire sky : I mean the words written in capital letters and underlined with an arrow, which, according to Zora Fitting [in the afore quoted article], function as “abbreviations and the source of associative chains.”
One of the most striking among these words is the word JANKO (that is the first name of our fellow). He writes that this word is itself the abbreaviation of the following “phrase” : Jesus Astrological New Krist Official. This is the reason for which I have spoken about a drop, a drop founding the first name, iridescent of the entire “sky” : we can see that it comes from the sky to go back again, as some have written before. This is not surprising, in case of a Croatian (Christian culture, etc.). “Delusion” (“délire”) is no longer important as it is precisely this gesture, which breaks up words to free their underlying energy (6) and which explains (a little bit) my fascination for Domsic’ drawings.
(6) break up words to free their underlying energy : an eminently modern attitude, which I would like to connect with Raymond Roussel (his titles such as L’étoile au front (The Star on the Face) or La poussière de soleils (The Dust of the Suns) could easily work as a metaphor for Domsic’ artistic production). On the other side, Roussel was incredibly rich, while Domsic was terribly poor. The two ends of a chain. In any case, both works have been constituted in opacity and mystery. The same expansion of the “I” operates in Roussel as well as in Domsic. However, in the case of Domsic there is an opening towards the “beyond,” which Roussel never admitted.
I imagine Domsic... imprisoned in the social, political and metaphysical misery (Domsic is the incarnation of a modern man after Auschwitz, Hiroshima and the Gulags). He cannot do “less than that” : break up links with which words are infinitely bound, in order to transform them - without throwing these chains into the undecidable (Domsic has not become a mystic) - to unexplored Stunning resources. Endlessly extatic. Domsic’ lines are therefore so powerful because they participate in this willed extasy, similar to a more or less mild drug, extremely desirable.
Yes, it is to the extent to which I seem to see the logic of his “writings” to be pursued in his “drawings” that I can say that the amazement of reading Domsic makes me, paradoxically, understand more my fascination - which I appear to share with others - with his drawings. I believe, of course, that the basis of Domsic’ drawings is the text ; that the drawings function always as an illustration. I bet that it is by means of words, first of all, thanks to his all shattering approach of language (like all exiles ?), that one day Johny realized that what kept him and maybe other fellow men in their bed of misery, were Ideologies. Men spend all their time cutting themselves off, differentiating themselves ; they become poorer. They wish to stand out, be labeled like branded animals. They ignore that their skin is a fairy, their heart a fallen angel and their hands gushing, inextinguishable fountains of fraternal love ! They ignore this but I, Domsic as I am, or because Domsic does not bother me - he does not weigh a thing in this ascension - I am going to go Up There ! To collect the fruits of Primordial Energy. And to taste them. You can see that when it’s a matter of making words speak, I am not the last to speak out. But the question is are you there, spirit, yes, you are, these drawings, as we are supposed to speak about them, they tell me that a spirit is there - and this spirit annoys me because it dazzles me and I will never know why. Even so, says Holmes, drawing a puff of evidence from his clay pipe, there are some clues : the systematic use of a small number of “symbols” ; the refusal of perspective ; obsession with the human body, etc. Something we can start with ; I do not believe, however, that an inventory can tell us what happens when a seller succeeds in selling, for example, a fur coat to an Amerindian from Amazonia. Now, Domsic would be a salesman who, having at his disposal apparently only cheap junk, would have sold me gold in the end. Pure solar thinking. A cosmic cannibal tasting like human body. Nevertheless, Sherlock Holmes carries on, as phlegmatic as before, you cannot avoid the inventory of clues. You would be criticized for that, in the high spheres...
So, trainee that I am, who has been charged with making the inventory of elements constitutive of Domsic’ drawings, what should I do ?
I notice that every figure is frontal, sometimes dislocated like a puppet, at times resembling “cossack” dancers or riders looking like cowboys. Most often we find these figures in a rigid posture, arms and legs spread, reminding us of the famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, Canon of Proportions (Proportions of Man, Vitruvian Man, an image taken up by Manpower in 1965). Sexual figures, like the Man by Leonardo, with apparent penis (Domsic, however, being our contemporary, shows also women, with no ambiguity or depreciation). There is no obvious “body” : a network of lines, which could, analogically, remind us of a spider’s web (Man taken up in the web of Cosmos and/or men-spiders, spinning the same Cosmos [would Domsic have made an allusion to Spiderman, a “superstar” as good as any other ?]).
Quite obviously, Domsic is not interested in anything else than the Man. Therefore, he can be considered as a humanist, however, it is hard to know if there is not, sometimes, a certain irony : what does this kind of “puppets” stand for ? One cannot escape one’s fate, the “astrological” influences - or can one cut off the link to the stars and leave (with his Brothers and Sisters) in search of the Great Self ? Likewise, in his “cossack dancers” we can find not only apparent freedom - fluidity but also, as these dances doubtlessly do not leave much “room to manoeuvre” for those who practise them, quasi mechanical determination of gesture. Briefly, Domsic’ figures only show, like tightrope walkers walking on the lines of their own “bodies,” that the border between the forever repeated oppositions (top-bottom, interior-exterior, body-spirit, microcosm-macrocosm, etc.) is very thin... and that it might be useful, once for all, to realize this.
Domsic thus resembles the upholders of the primordial Tradition (resolution of oppositions in the first Unity), and it is not because he was a complete fool, on the contrary, that he decided to put in these scales certain weights and measures belonging to freemasonry. Union by surpassing (acceptance) of our specificities. Search of the Light. And really, try to do it : when you stare at Domsic’ figures long enough, they will end up twinkling like neon signs, on the background of an endless night of our History.
I mentioned the “stiff” poses. Nevertheless, you could find complaint with that affirmation. Admittedly, some of the figures’ poses are, to say the least, stereotyped. That these puppets-dancers-riders-minstrels [delete where inapplicable] reveal themselves, at closer examination, as “cosmic extrapolations” of man-Domsic, including his feminine declinations, does not help. I believe, however, that it is very important to feel the intense circulation of energy that emanates from these figures. Here it is daylight, expanded chests and permanent erections, an immense desiring system. “Machine Célibataire” a la Carrouges.
Or, simply, if I can say so, in a row of tormented souls, this vision of some kind of “blood human-cosmic system” is infinitely declined because the “pump,” the heart, is the real leitmotif in this grandiose orchestration.
Let us insist on the image of the “heart,” which appears so often that I would be tempted to see it as a constant reminder (very moving if we recall what seems to be the “real” life of J. Domsic), of the omnipotence of Love (or its omnipregnancy). Every single element thus used by Domsic in his drawings, although repetitive, however never identical, cannot be read on its own. The afore mentioned drawings are not allegorical : they cannot be grasped in a commentary, the object of which they may become. They cannot be erased from the surface of the paper by deciphering, f.g. : the heart stands for Love. It does not stand for Love. It is Love (or Life, or its Seed, etc.). Domsic’ drawings are essentially symbolic : they “provoke” the spectator, as Duchamp would have said. They awaken him (as we know, a Symbol does not teach : it provokes and arouses, inexhaustibly). Similarly, though of different scale and incomparable intricacy, the work of Aloïse or someone like Wölfli take our breath away (and, for a short while, also leave us speechless !). In comparison, Domsic’ production, more modest and less intimidating, although as flamboyant as the other two, nourishes quite readily our speech and provokes comments. Precisely because more sparing of his means, to a certain extent, Domsic uses symbols (or emblems) that almost every one can identify. Heart, pentagram, swastika, the hammer and sickle, orthodox cross, the crossed “S” of the dollar. That’s it. There are not such things as f.g. the strange “snails” in Wölfli. If his writings are impenetrable, his drawings hardly seem to reveal more. However, Domsic does not try to trick the spectators (who must exist, be it in his “delirium”). Heart, pentagram (7), etc. are all used consistently. Domsic has not invented and has not tried to invent any sign : our artist does not find any joy in the modification of symbols. He seems to enjoy more their profusion, their quasi “capitalistic” accumulation and thus manages to transform the iron glove of “unjust destiny” to show its - more than improbable - velvet side.
(7) pentagram : let us notice Domsic’ perfect symbolic coherence and recall that the figure of Vitruvian man, which he seems to recapture in a number of his figures, has been inscribed in a pentagram. Moreover, should we question the profusion of stars, we should also remark a star decorating most of the figures’ heels, which looks more or less like a ... spur. If we consider these figures as riders (cowboys) Domsic, Lucky Luke of art brut, draws quicker than his shadow (there is no shadow in his work, only light, fire and sparks).
Everything shines here, we cannot detect even the smallest surge of hate or resentment (perhaps there is irony but it never lasts long and here we go again, head over heels, into overturning the Cosmos). The veiled presence (8) of such a number of energetic symbols (the heart and cross, above all), incites us to see here the explosion of the “I” of Domsic ; a huge jump towards the most intimate shores of individual history, which, as we know, embraces the shores of the biggest collective rivers.
(8) veiled presence : I have the impression that Domsic’ drawings, with their superpositions, entanglements, etc., function like watermark motifs on certain banknotes : as if Domsic had positioned, in the face of the Symbolic Light (the Light of the Masonic Delta, situated in the orient of the Temple ?), the note - Man. The body disappears. The outlines of the “I” become obliterated... What remains, like a “filigree,” is Love and the desire for Union, the only qualities which endow Man and Woman with authentic life... Domsic-the-troubadour. His work is eminently poetic (for those who have not yet noticed).
One last remark concerning the “heart” : I’d stake my life on it that the figure resembling the wing of an angel (and which is doubtlessly also the wing of an angel), is above all a triple couple of hearts [all Domsic’ “wings,” whichever the drawing, subscribe to this design]. One is never lavish enough in Domsic’ drawings, never generous enough. And never rich enough : the “heart” is also the good fortune. The number one ace of hearts. Triple pair of aces : vow ! Poker dice [certain drawings have definitely the atmosphere of a western, a la Sergio Leone : rodeos, card games, smoke, dollars... it it impossible to ignore these imaginary elements.]
However, if we have grasped the - sometimes torrential - presence of the heart, the cross, the pentagram, all of them exciting universal symbols of Man and his Desires-Sufferings (these symbols make the disembodied figures drag along a trail stripping their Bodies), how do they marry with those symbols more connected with the man - subject of History, such as the swastika (9) or the hammer and sickle ? Admittedly, Croatia has passed between these two ice fields. However, I would bet that Domsic, who found himself between macrocosm and microcosm, was more than anything else worried about balance. This is why his figures smoke, defecate (10), have an erection, etc. Domsic carries along higgledy-piggledy, as in his writings, the trivial mingles with the sublime, the grotesque with the solemn : the miraculous intensity and balance of his drawings is therefore all the more touching and impressive.
(9) swastika : should we use the word “swastika” or hook-cross (Haken Kreuz) ? Of course, only the first word is acceptable. This symbol of energy, of the rotation of the visible world, etc. would lose all its universal and positive substance were it to be identified as the Nazi hook-cross. But where Domsic throws us, in an acrobatic hold made up of symbols blown-out by sturdy muscles, is in the superposition of the profane and the sacred. It is therefore not surprising that the figure of Jesus Christ, which blends, as if in a crucible, the profane and the sacred, fascinated Domsic who, I imagine, must have been starving for Love and Harmony. Arbitrarily, and only in this particular case, I would bring Domsic together with Anselme Boix-Vives : another exile tortured by History, who, because of his situation, tried to pull through, by aiming at the “top,” by sheer effort, appealing to the suns of harmony ; we are thinking of his pathetic appeals to the good will of the “Great of this world”... (10) defecate : as is expected, their intestins are emptied by the bottom, in a spiral recalling the “gidouille” of the king Ubu. And of course, Jarry is a universal genius whose work cannot be summed up with Ubu. But I imagine that he would not have minded to have a glass with Janko, to drink to the “miserable miracle” of intoxication and the solitude of geniuses.
To dismiss the Nazis and the Stalinists, of course. A simple reminder for Domsic (who experienced both) that the two historical “poles” of the 20th century are these two ideologies. However, we have to pay special attention to the eblem of the dollar, whose “grid” is planted on the face of too many characters. The repetitive presence of this kind of helmet urges us to examine the exact nature of these modern knights. Here, an interpretation becomes imperative ; why not admit that the United States of America represents for Domsic the “land of plenty,” inhabited by his carnivalesque figures ? The US quite simply embodies the Promised Land of the 20th century, in which everything can still be united. A number of his drawings represents at least one figure, whose head is “surrounded” by seven points forming a starry halo, similar to that of the Statue of Liberty (11).
(11) the head of the Statue of Liberty : here the statue is moving, dancing and playful. Would there be, in this production, a Fairy Godmother distributing magic stars, giving back to each man or woman their essential Liberty, their childhood pleasures of playing and dancing...
It is impossible to perceive any kind of depreciatory judgement in Domsic’ drawings. Even further : there are certain elements which show Domsic’ fascination not only for the US - a “cultural” fascination for the land of cowboys (12) - but also a sort of tribute to the positive role the union between USA and Soviet Union played in the fight against Nazism. See, f.g., the Nazi emblem used as a “propeller” of a ship, on which stand two figures. We could interpret them as passengers of a ship (they do not touch each other, but they seem to stretch their arms towards each other). Moreover, the same symbol is featured on a stylized engine, on which strike the Bolshevik hammer and sickle. Would that be the propelling force of “Evil” (= Nazi propeller) that has led America, helped by the Soviet Union, to discover its “saving” mission ? Perhaps. But above all, Domsic seems to recall here that men gain a lot in uniting themselves, beyond any Ideology, to fight Evil (13).
(12) the land of cowboys, indeed ; however, being of Slavic origin, Domsic has not forgotten about his “Russian roots” (balalaika, cossack dance, the hammer and sickle ; perhaps also the flying squirrel, one of the emblematic animals of the taiga). Domsic does not give the impression of wanting to trade his “roots.” He is more inclined towards glorifying his “origin,” first of all by multiplication, in a kind of vibratory arithmetic, often ambiguous - and let’s face it - deafening. In this he would really be, even if indirectly, a champion of the American melting pot. (13) everything that men have gained by uniting themselves, beyond Ideologies, in order to combat Evil : resorting to freemasonry becomes then even more comprehensible. It really is one of the ideals declared by this initiatory order : the endeavour to spread universal Peace, by means of working on themselves, the Brothers (who, “within” the Temple, regenerate themselves in order to be able to spread better, “outside,” love and truth, with no dogma).
In the eyes of Domsic, there is a proof : the Nazi regime has been defeated, has been reduced to ashes (a character smokes and in the bubble of smoke, there appears to be a swastika...). A simplistic message, we could say. On the other side, the fact is that it is there, although it has been reduced to ashes like the “philosophical legacy” of freemasons. And the whole artistic production of Domsic remains thus more than anything else a message in a bottle, a desperate SOS, which we are privileged enough to see now, while its disappearance in the waves would have been more than probable (Domsic, who drew so well the union, the desire, has he not also created incredibly favorable circumstances of fraternal attention, which have allowed the transmission of his works until us !). A bottle which we can see today, beaten by foam, lifted off and carried far away toward the horizon, by waves of great beauty. And here is the last and only thing we can say : it is beautiful.
Let’s be perfectly honest : all attempts to make these sea walls yield have been in vain. Domsic’ production will resist for a long time to come. Despite the explosive and radiant quality of his drawings and the shattering effect of his writings, we cannot avoid thinking that they are both governed by utmost concentration, to such an extent and so well that we, who wish so much for things and beings to flow from a source, become irritated when we realize that while they appear expansive, flamboyant, etc. the truth is that this production is like Faustroll’s “cold sun.” It is silent. It blazes and keeps quiet even more because of its sparks and speech. I have spoken about a star - Sheherazade. But precisely, the more Sheherazade speaks, the less the sultan kills (me, you, us) and listens to Sheherazade speaking. And forgets thus the narrator, the destiny he has prepared for her. It would be therefore better to read Domsic, to watch his works - and forget the destiny which was prepared for him. Fortunately ! The stamp of “Art Brut” is there and guarantees that there would be no critical dismembering, or at least not without critics feeling guilty.
As we have spoken about Domsic, finally, there is the question of him being a heck of a poet ; a hefty fellow ; but more than anything, let us think about the café in the rue Caulaincourt where he apparently went to write and draw - a player ! A very serious one, of absolute rigour, dedicated to “make a ring” in his work, like in a pin-ball machine, with the steel pin-ball of desire which hits and hits and hits again, to “make a ring” I was saying with the word “MAN,” so many times subdued, more and more smouldered under the ashes of History, to ‘make a ring” I was saying with the word “MAN” with all the whistling and multicolored rockets of Love. (June 2005)