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Damir Polic: Art, Violence and Memories

13/06/2014 12:50 BST | Updated 12/08/2014 10:59 BST

The Affordable Art Fair opens its doors once again in leafy Hampstead June 12th to 15th this week. 113 galleries exhibit a range of contemporary art within the 'affordable' bracket, showcasing their wares and artists, established names, emerging names, paintings, photographs, sculpture and original prints between £40 and £4,000.

One such international artist starting to make a name for himself on these shores is 36 year-old Bosnian-American London-dwelling Damir Polic exhibiting with the Hicks Gallery of Wimbledon, London. His story couldn't be further removed from the genteel 'burbs of Hampstead that will house a selection of his recent works for the next few days. I caught up with him in his studio in South London as he chose his exhibition pieces.

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Damir Polic was born in Sarajevo in 1978. At the age of sixteen, 1994, the art student fled to Croatia after two and half years amidst the brutal violence of the most devastating conflict Europe had seen since the end of the Second World War, The Bosnian War, 1992 to 1995. (Over 100,000 people were killed and over 2.2 million people displaced. War crimes were so savage and so endemic that the UN tribunal set up to investigate their entirety and is only due to complete its findings in December this year. A whole twenty years after it was established).

From Croatia, Polic successfully emigrated to the United States the same year on a student visa to continue his education in Carmel, California before the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA, and finally Columbia College in Chicago. He eventually became a naturalized US citizen settling in California before moving to London two years ago.

Polic's series explores memories of violence, anxieties and the identities violence creates.

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Ironically (besides the obvious subtext to his work), Polic makes awkward light of his experiences growing up in Bosnia that seem to penetrate his art. He oft deflects by default to how 'lucky' he was. Asked to extrapolate he points to the inherent futility of dealing with and representing these ideas through art "especially painting", while conceding "but I guess it's my fuel, it is what gets me going and mixing that paint."

Asked to deconstruct his art further Damir Polic explains...

"My practice starts with memories of experiences and diverse perspectives of what feels like many lives I have lived. Of course I don't mean this in a sense that I am a wise old man who has seen it all or a reincarnated soul of some sorts, rather little life experiences that sometimes are actually quite grand or quite difficult and even devastating but a lot of us go through on daily basis - I am not alone in it. These memories fade away then reappear, conceivably becoming unreliable myths and tales that reflect, on a smaller scale, collective memories of different groups of people and whole nations together with overlapping and conflicting stories. Questions of identity, history, boundaries, decay, atavism, anxiety and violence arise to be challenged by those of hope, grit, regeneration, reinvention, progress, tolerance and acceptance."

That's a lot to take in. How do you begin to represent those thoughts and perceived 'memories'? Do you have an idea of what the finished artwork will look like in the end?

"I play games of associations with these questions and try to process and deconstruct them rather than represent them. It all does turn out to be at times quite a sensory overload but that is why I find abstraction perfect for dealing with it. Break the sucker (!) down until it represents nothing and in turn becomes tangible and glorious in its own right. What was I thinking about initially? Hell, I don't know, but look at that texture and that color".

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[District IX # 425,060 (Revision), 2012]

You use a range of materials and mediums. What is the thought process behind this?

"The mixture of the traditional materials, mediums and techniques I use in conjunction with the new industrial ones enable me to constantly experiment. The chemical and physical process of painting eventually replaces initial intellectual musings that started it.

The physical object in itself and my interaction (more of a fight really) with it becomes a challenging new situation to be dealt with. I endlessly layer, rework, corrode, cover then try to reveal and get lost in the splendor of the thinnest translucent glazes to opaque solid textures that I did not expect to see or create. At those times I am in a kid-like awe and bliss".

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[Ersatz (Ennead), 2014]

It sounds deeply cerebral and painful. Is it?

"I use "you better finish what you have started" approach to painting and find that moment when a painting is completed an elusive one. It can sometimes take months, if not years of work, frustration and even disengagement until I get that gut feeling when I know the work is done."

Does it ever go wrong?

"Every once in a while I do regret taking that next fatal step and seeing the outcome. But by then it's too late. Shit happens. I smack myself on the forehead and move on. A lot of times these painting mistakes, if one can call them that, turn out to be great discoveries. Much like losing inhibitions and doing something new. At times though they are just plain fuck ups. Best leave it alone, gain some temporal distance, forget about what was underneath and create something else. Much like life".

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[Widescreen (Ersatz) 2014]

When do you know that painting is 'done'?

"I suppose a painting is truly completed only once it leaves the studio and is out of my hands and reach, off to become part of some other different narratives and lives. When as a physical object of art it transcends my thought process and initiates someone else's. There is always some degree of separation anxiety involved which is plain silly but it makes me feel that it wasn't all in vain. I've done something right, somebody appreciates it and it's time to let go. It was well worth it".

Final thoughts?

"Much like crumbling painted facades of London, my paintings are remnants of time passed, lives lived and observed, containing stories that perhaps were never told but surely existed. In a way a lick of fresh paint creates a blank slate for the future while solidifying and containing the past".

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[Candy (Hard), 2014]

Damir Polic exhibits at the Affordable Art fair with Hicks Gallery 12th - 15th June

http://affordableartfair.com/hampstead/

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Editor Notes:

Damir Polic studied art at School of Applied Arts in Sarajevo, California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA, and Columbia College in Chicago, IL, and also lived and exhibited in Paris, Carmel, CA and Los Angeles. Currently lives and works in London, UK.

For further information go to www.damirpolic.com

[All images: Author's].