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Monday, June 30, 2008

New film project: Tisnikar

As crazy as it may seem, I have decided to try writing and directing another stop-motion film. I don't have any script or storyboard firmly in place yet but I do have a few loose ideas floating around in my head. The film will be about the painter Joze Tisnikar. There is not a lot of information about him out there on the internet and sadly, not nearly enough images of his paintings. I was fortunate enough to have picked up a copy of the book Tisnikar, Painter of Death many years ago while working at a used book store but the book is now out of print.

A little bit of biographical information about Tisnikar: He was born in a small village in Slovenia on February 28, 1928. He grew up in a poor, one room household with eight siblings and an alcoholic father. His mother worked partly as a servant in order to pay the bills and feed the children while her husband spent much of his income drinking at the local tavern. This is a problem that Tisnikar himself would struggle with later on in life. Following WWII, he worked rebuilding the local mill, then later in a hospital tending to patients with terminal illnesses. After a few years, he took on a full-time job performing autopsies and preparing bodies for burial. It was during the autopsy job that Tisnikar first conceived of the idea of painting the deceased.

Tisnikar died in the late 90s, relatively unknown in the wider art circles, but highly respected as an artist within his own community. He had a few strong proponents of his work during his lifetime, most notably Karel Pecko, the Director of the Municipal Gallery of Slovenj Gradec and Dr. Stane Strnad, the head of the hospital he once worked for. The book Tisnikar, Painter of Death was written by Nebojsa Tomasevic and published in 1978. I imagine it must have brought some publicity and increased interest to his artwork but I was unable to determine just how much from the sparse information available on the net.

Tisnikar's job, philosophy and art were all interrelated. He developed an intimate knowledge of death from his years working in the hospital and morgue. As dark and dismal as this sounds, his paintings express a good variety of human experiences and emotions. Certainly, his images convey feelings of loneliness and despair but there is also evidence of great compassion, kindness and a kind of spiritual hope. He also clearly believed in an afterlife. It is not the idealized carefree existence in the clouds that we have seen depicted in children's Bible illustrations, but more of a collective unification of body and spirit. In several of his paintings, lovers, spouses, mothers and children are seen clutching one another in an eternal embrace. In other works, we see human and animal figures standing together, creating a long chain that twists and winds towards an unknown destination on a deep blue and green horizon. Through this imagery, Tisnikar seems to be suggesting that although the body is weak and temporal, our close relationships and mutual sufferings - indeed, our very mortality, forever binds us to one another.

I admit that as I write this, I am feeling a bit daunted by the idea of trying to convey some of these ideas in a short stop-motion film but I don't want to discourage myself into paralysis just yet. I want to keep the imagery loose and somewhat abstracted/symbolic, more like a visual poem than a straight narrative with a linear plot. For now, I have busied myself with doing some drawings and studies of a few of his paintings. By doing these loose copies, I hope to better understand where he was coming from, both as an artist and as a complicated, troubled personality. This was my first attempt, created in pastel. As usual, click on the image to get a larger view:

The pastel was very messy to work with. I lost control of the details when I got to the feet so I plan on doing the rest in colored pencil or gouache. I am finding his style and colors to be very satisfying to work with. I think I have a feeling for the colors but I have a ways to go with the shape and lines. As you see here, I haven't quite captured the immense feeling of his ravens. Within the world of Tisnikar's iconography, they are supposed to stand as symbolic sentinels to time passing. M remarked that my pastel drawing looked more like a "kid brother" to the original raven in the painting and I immediately saw that he was right. As the project progresses, I'm going to have to keep a vigilant eye out for that and consciously try to resist the cutesy element commonly seen in a lot of stop-motion films.


Blogger Unknown said...

While your raven does have a "kid brother" vibe, the emotion is really nice and the colors are great. Perhaps he is the heartfelt kid brother who listens to moody music and writes thoughtful poetry in his room.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Tina Banda said...

a junior goth-in-training ;)

7:22 PM  
Blogger Raymond Betancourt said...

I just wanted to wish you the best of luck with your film. I also acquired a copy of that book many years ago and have always admired the raven paintings.


8:28 PM  
Blogger Tina Banda said...

Thanks, drive-by blogger. I am fortunate to have ravens in my own backyard as additional inspiration, although they are not very cooperative when it comes to standing still for a drawing. one of them did leave a large black feather near my back doorstep a few days after I decided to do the film. I am taking that as a sign of encouragement.

6:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just the power of suggestion, but I see some intense adolescence in that raven. Is this gonna be hand painted stop motion or "live action" stop motion like the Money Pig? Or possibly a combination of the two?????


10:41 AM  
Blogger Tina Banda said...

hi Erawk, yeah, I agree. the minute M pointed out the kid brother element I saw a brooding 12-13 year old boy in him. how in the world that came out of my hand while attempting to do a fairly faithful copy I have no idea.

in answer to your question about the puppets, I'm still experimenting. M and I created a clay version of a raven from another painting source and he ended up looking curiously like a Nick Park creation. also, it was alarming how much the clay changed just from handling it for a short time and trying to move various parts. I don't think I have the patience to try and constantly smooth down the altered textures where the fingerprints and indentations are showing. I decided to go with a combination of hardened and painted sculpey and cloth instead. they will also have within them stop-motion wire armatures. it's going to be an interesting and educational process learning how to make everything from the ground up, including the armatures.

the backgrounds will be painted though - most likely oil on canvas for the skies or something that I can roll out and underneath their feet, like a mini-photographer's studio. some of the character's feet will have to be clamped down too. the English animators tend to use powerful magnets according to one book I have on the subject but I'm more inclined to do it the American way aka "the tie-down method."

so many things to consider! I really must be insane to try another one of these. that's the only rational explanation ;)

11:18 AM  
Blogger Cayenne Linke said...

Well, I rather like the kid brother thing. Maybe it's the five-year-old in me, but I think a less dark version may be the way to go…like, if you try to make it as intense and somber as reality, it might be nearly impossible to hit the mark -- where if you take a lighter approach, you have a little more freedom to actually present the true story, but have inlets to humor, and also less pressure on yourself to perfectly represent things. I dunno…kind of a "kid brother gives a tour of the haunted mansion" approach.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Tina Banda said...

good points on trying the "less pressure" route. I've been thinking that I need to leave some added room for humor as well because the format and my own writing style seems to call for that. btw I love your Haunted Mansion reference. will keep it in mind. I used to listen to the Haunted Mansion record incessantly as a kid.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I am familiar with Tisnikar...mostly also because of the book. I just ordered another on line. Yes you can still find them. The most interesting thing I would say about him is the story of how the book came about. How the writer is there in his humble home and after showing him painting after painting in silence, finally Tinnikar got up and started jumping on the pile of paintings, screaming 'I knew you would hate them!' The mayor had to pull him off them as the author said NO NO, I was just dumbfounded and awed. bb

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ive seen the book Ivan Tisnikar Painter of Death. Its depressing, bleak, gross, and repulsive and it shows the works of a sick mind who is obsessed with death.

5:24 PM  

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