Dušan Otašević

Was ‘pop art’ a term used by yourself or colleagues or was there a different terminology that referred to a new figurative art movement in the 1960s and early 1970s?

In 1966, an exhibition by a group of young artists entitled New Figuration of the Belgrade Circle was held in Belgrade. Apart from the commitment to figurative expression, there were no other unifying elements between the artists. The term new figuration was used later to mark an orientation towards a figurative mode of expression, which was different from figuration of the period between the two wars.

Did you ever consider yourself (now or in the past) a pop artist?

I did not declare myself a pop artist, although my works from that period do feature some elements of American pop art. I felt closer to European new figuration because of its more complex choice of topics. I sometimes used to call my artistic products ‘OTAŠEVIĆ PROCESSED GOODS’.

Did your work engage with current events in the 1960s and early 1970s?

Some of my work from that period came into being as a result of my opposition to the ruling socialist ideology in Yugoslavia, or as a reaction to world events such as the senseless war in Vietnam.

How did you choose the subject matter for your work included in The World Goes Pop?

I brought some propaganda materials back from my trip to the USSR in 1965. For the triptych Towards Communism on Lenin’s Course, which will be shown as part of The World Goes Pop exhibition, I used a poster with the portrait of Lenin in a characteristic speech-giving pose on a podium, but I added a red five-pointed star and a traffic sign prohibiting right turns.

Where did you get your imagery from (what, if any, sources did you use)?

My newly acquired knowledge of the existence of pop art as a new artistic expression coincided with my affinity for ‘folk art’: handmade signs that hang over craft shops, ‘cooking poetry’ (hand-embroidered motifs and rhymes popular in Central Europe, used as decoration in the kitchen) or fairground treats such as ‘gingerbread hearts’. I would sometimes incorporate such a mixture of amateur products and kitsch into my work.

Were you aware of pop art in other parts of the world?

My first discoveries of word pop art were made via art magazines and reproductions that occasionally reached Belgrade.

Was commercial art an influence on your work or the way in which it was made?

Commercial art that could be seen at the beginning of the formation of consumer society in our country [Yugoslavia] appealed to me because of its naïve immediacy and freedom from any knowledge about art.

Was there a feeling at the time that you doing something important and new, making a change…?

At the beginning of my artistic activity I felt close to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s idea of burning down the museum. I tried to move away from the language of painting, acquired at the Academy [of Fine Arts in Belgrade], through my choice of topics and mode of execution. I used trivial everyday life moments such as lighting a match or licking ice cream. Instead of classical painting materials I used industrial paints, spray-painted onto aluminium or wooden boards.

Was there an audience for the work at the time – and if so what was their reaction to it?

Art critics recognised and accepted my aspirations to create a new artistic expression, starting from the very first exhibitions of my work. Therefore some of my works found their way into the collections of contemporary art museums. But apart from friends, artists, writers and film directors, art lovers more generally did not have a great desire to embellish their homes with my pieces.

Looking back at these works, what you do think about them now?

Looking back some fifty years, it seems to me that the sharp turn away from easel-painting represented a significant move towards a different understanding, and a broader view of the language of painting.

September 2015