Fresh from the release of his critically acclaimed animation, the Budapest-based artist is in Berlin with a unique exhibition of his paintings.
Milorad Krstić started out as a graphic artist and painter, but since the success of Ruben Brandt, Collector, an animated feature that was shortlisted for an Oscar last year, the world might know him best as a filmmaker. Born in Slovenia in 1952, Krstić has been painting and drawing since the age of four, a lifelong obsession that eventually brought him recognition in Hungary, where’s he’s been living since 1989, and, later, to the top of the film world. He took home the Silver Bear at the Berlinale for his 1995 animated short film My Baby Left Me, and Ruben Brandt just last year made it to Hollywood. Surreal yet insightful, the film was mostly hand-drawn, following a fictional psychiatrist haunted by visions of famous paintings.
RUBENsremBRANDT, Krstić’s latest exhibition, is showing at the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin (CHB) until the 19th of August. It presents almost 70 portraits that Krstić completed in the 18 months after finishing Ruben Brandt, Collector.
Your new exhibition at the CHB draws, in part, on your big animation success “Ruben Brandt, Collector“, which is choc-a-block with cultural references – to painting of course, but also to literature and theater … Do you think people notice them?
There are more than 200 such references, and some people do, some don’t. I remember, one or two years ago after a screening in St Andrea in Hungary, during the Q&A session, a little boy – maybe 10 or 1 2 year s old – asked me why do we see an old tombstone with the engraved name William Wilson 1839–1926 in the funeral scene. Nobody ever asked me that, not even in the studio during the work or later in the numerous interviews I gave. Why this name was etched in the kid’s memory – I don’t know. For me it was cool to put the tombstone in the film because “William Wilson” is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1839. The tale follows the theme of the doppelgänger. It was my homage to Edgar Allan Poe and a slight hint that our protagonist also ha s a doppelgänger.
How did you select the paintings, including work from Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, that appeared in the movie?
Ruben, the protagonist, is haunted in his nightmares by characters from famous paintings. I could have used some terrifying characters from the paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, Francisco Goya or Hans Memling, but I found it more interesting to have him be attacked by some innocent, beautiful creatures, like Velázquez’s “Infanta Margarita” or Botticelli’s “Venus”. That gave me a chance to create those transformations from a beautiful girl to a monster.
It took me one and a half years to create what you can now see at the CHB. But I’m not complaining. When I’m painting I’m not working – I’m enjoying it.
In some of the other nightmare scenes, it was interesting to activate some supporting characters in a famous painting. In Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, we can see three characters clearly, but there’s the fourth guy we only see from behind. I wanted him to turn to us, to show his face, and to play the main role in my remake.
The film got very positive feedback from around the world. Do you feel that it has affected your career as a painter?
There is a difference between movies and paintings. If you are an unknown painter in the world, it’s very hard to even offer your painting to prestigious galleries, but if you are an unknown filmmaker it’s easy to send your film to big festivals. From my experience, film festivals are much more open to new ideas: the juries are more independent from the market than the gallery owners.
Plus, today it’s maybe old-fashioned to express yourself through painting. Movies, computer games and 3D animations are more a accessible to the broad masses. So, yes, the success of Ruben Brand got more people interested in my paintings. And a number of the paintings now on display at the Collegium Hungaricum are connected to my movie.
What can we see in your RUBENsremBRANDT exhibition?
It’s a unique collection of 67 paintings, some of the referencing my film, and reproductions of vintage postcards, printed in the book “Berliner Post” in 1987. I incorporated those fantastic handwritten cards from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries with round Berlin stamps in my ink drawings. After finishing my film I turned to my paintings immediately. It took me 18 months to create what you can now see at the CHB. But I’m not complaining. When I’m painting I’m not working, I’m enjoying it.
I don’t see my painting in motion when I work on them, but when I finish the paintings I can almost hear them talking to me: “Come on, Milorad, let’s make a movie!”
So what drew you towards animation? Do you see your painting in motion when you work on them?
My drawings and paintings always have some written titles, some words. The English idiom “every picture tells a story” is the right description of my works. It is not difficult to step from my figurative drawings to comics and make a further step to animation. To be honest, I don’t see my painting in motion when I work on them, but when I finish the paintings I can almost hear some of them talking to me: “Come on, Milorad, let’s make a movie!”
You are also working on a new film. Rumour has it that it will be aimed at a younger audience, can you tell us a little more?
Well, I cannot reveal much yet. But it’s about two siblings, who, with the help of their scientist uncle are fighting through time and space to save the world from the out-of-control, most powerful person on Earth, a villain named MouMoush, the King of Plastic. This project is still in development with the National Film Institut Hungary and we are looking for a co-producer.
How have the recent months of lockdown affected you and your work? Was it inspiring or rather distracting?
Rather distracting. I enjoy being alone in my studio but the cloud of the coronavirus is still all over our globe, succeeding to stop normal communication among people for a long time. I was invited to the Kino der Kunst festival in Munich for the projection of Ruben Brandt, Collector in April. At the same time, two exhibitions of my paintings were planned in Germany. One in Munich, and this one organised by Marta Nagy. Because of COVID-19, everything was postponed. I couldn’t be physically present for the Berlin opening and Kati Lovaas moved the Munich exhibition online – The COVID19 DIARIES. For that exhibition, I made a digita graphic, showing my vision of our times. That sums up how I feel.