Interview with Biljana Petrovic for the web magazine “Arancia Rosa”
How to Become a Sculptress? A few words with Biljana Petrović, a professional artist. Serbian by birth, Italian by by citizenship , Biljana studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna.
Initially enrolled in the painting department, the artist began to observe the work of students of sculpture at the academy, which left her mesmerized. Thus she began to move closer and closer to this discipline, realizing its endless creative possibilities. Against all her plans, both personal and those related to her study programme, Biljana increasingly found herself involved with sculpture. Trying out her abilities with great determination and persistence, she slowly opened her way in the unpredictable universe of art, becoming a professional sculptor who built herself a career by means of her talent.
Between pleasure and uncertainty, “Billie” encounters on a daily basis the problems and difficulties that face artists who support themselves by their own art. “How to become a sculptress” by following the advice of a professional artist.
Characteristics of this job
Which factors should be taken into account in order to start this line of work?
I have to admit that this question sounds a little odd to me in relation to art, considering that this is an “inner” calling (vocation) based on strong feelings, a choice guided by intuition and passion. It is not a decision that can be planned; on the contrary ‒ it is a decision made by the heart. This vocation has to be accompanied by a fair amount of courage, and guided by personal talent and inspirations usually manifested from an early age.
What do you like and what do you dislike about your job?
I like everything involved in the creative part of it, from the birth of the idea to the final phase of work. I even enjoy the exhaustion and problems that have to be solved during the process of making a sculpture ‒ I also like the complete surrender to work and the necessary involvement of body and spirit, which sculpting requires.
What I appreciate much less is everything connected with the promotion of my art. Much energy is needed to present your work to the audience (especially if you are not backed by a good gallerist who would take care of it), particularly today, in the modern jungle that the art scene has turned into in the past decades.
Which challenges does your job present?
My way of life, between habits and difficulties, is different from the life of an average person who has a steady job with fixed hours, regular wages, etc. What is probably the most difficult is the uncertainty that all of us, artists who are not popular on a national and international scale, have to bear. This is a life prospect that everyone choosing art as their calling has to be aware of. It is essential to be brave, have faith in yourself and work hard.
What is the greatest pleasure that this job can give you?
The greatest reward for an artist lies in the creative act itself. When, after a lot of effort, you watch a “being”, which at first existed solely as your vision, materialize under your hands ‒ I think there is no greater ecstasy for an artist… Opportunities to witness emotional reactions of people watching your works are certainly a great reward for every artist! Following your own path and standing strong, despite the difficulties which the way of the artist is fraught with, is certainly a subtle success in its own right.
How to start
Did you have to make sacrifices in order to follow your heart and try your skill as an artist professionally?
Oh, certainly! Both at the beginning of studies and career and on a daily basis, sculpture takes a lot of sacrifice and renunciation. The most difficult ones for me were certainly related to my decision to go abroad in 1996, when I left my home country and my family in order to get the opportunity to study art. This difficult decision was exclusively mine. Although aware of the pain it entailed, I knew that I had no other choice, having been born in a country which, unfortunately, has little to offer to future generations… let alone those who want to engage in art!
For me, carving, sculpting or working on a drawing are a complete fulfilment of the soul!
Putting in a lot of work, relentlessly, even when everything seems to collapse… improving and learning constantly. I think that these characteristics differentiate us who live for art and from art and those who practice it for fun.
How did you find your first business contacts?
My first public order came from a foreign architect from Parma, Barbara Zilocchi, who had had an opportunity to acquaint herself with my, at the time, student works. I was asked to make a bronze relief door for St. Magdalene Church near Parma. After that, I made a bronze crucifix which is displayed in front of the Santa Croce Church (Church of the Holy Cross) in Fontanellato, Parma. In this period, my three bronze sculptures were exhibited in the main square in Bologna. It is necessary to acquaint the public and art lovers with your work .
Methods of work
How does one of your sculptures come into being?
The dynamics of my work varies. Some of my marble sculptures were inspired by the piece of marble itself, its irregular geometric form, which provokes “movement”. Watching such a block of marble, I imagine a body within its irregular surfaces move and turn until it “finds” its place in stone, and then I try to record this form through drawings and clay sketches.
In numerous cases my sculptures and drawings were inspired by music, primarily classical and rock music (although I find something that I like and that inspires me in all music genres). As I love ballet (both classical and modern), while listening to music that always accompanies my work I often imagine entire choreographies. One of my last bronze pieces is the result of such inspiration and is called “THE ESSENCE OF STRAVINSKY” (ESSENZA DI STRAVINSKIJ”).
What is your working method?
My method of work is very traditional, like the choice of materials I work with: clay, marble, bronze. I do almost everything myself, only the casting of bronze is entrusted to professionals.
Organization of work
How much time do you spend on making one of your sculptures?
Everything depends on what has to be done and how complex the work that I engage in is. I usually invest a lot of time in each sculpture, taking into account the material and dimensions of the sculpture. I don’t have a fixed time for work, but if I’m working on a large marble sculpture, sometimes it takes a whole year or more to finish it.
Do you work alone or in cooperation with someone?
I work alone. That is the only way I feel comfortable. The realization of one’s own ideas takes a tremendous amount of concentration. I don’t see how an artist can work except in solitude.
The only company I find myself in from time to time are stone cutters (“scalpellini” ita.), in the short periods when I go to Carrara. This experience is invaluable as there is always much to learn from them, but at this stage I work on an already completed sketch, a fully formed idea, and this is when their counsel has no price, and their company is really charming! We should value stone cutters / sculptors much higher, and appreciate their craft which is at risk of disappearing, both due to the artistic tendencies of our times and to the increasing use of robots in laboratories for marble processing, even though the results of such mechanical processing can never be compared to the human hand. I think that human role is irreplaceable in some fields.
Materials for work
Where do you find materials for work?
I buy marble in Carrara, other materials in art shops, hardware shops, at the ironmonger’s.
Are the materials and tools you use for work expensive?
Yes, unfortunately, my choice entails considerable expenses. Many people are left in disbelief when I tell them how much the casting of bronze sculptures or a rough block of marble cost. What has to be understood is that these are noble materials, eternal materials which stay to bear witness to our lives, our history, for centuries after our time.
What kind of space do you use for work?
I am more than grateful to an Italian family, fantastic and generous people who gave me part of their factory building. My line of work imposes great demands. I need space where I can work without disturbance and complaints about the noise of tools or marble dust. Further, I often need a crane and various other types of machinery for moving heavy marble, which I, of course, cannot afford. Thanks to these people, my dream and my work can continue even after the completion of my studies at the Academy!
What does your typical work day look like?
My work day starts with the sound of the alarm clock at 5.20. An hour later, I’m in my studio. After a few cups of coffee, around 7, I’m in full swing . Everything is much simpler in the summer period. In winter, everything becomes much more difficult… On average, I work 9‒10 hours a day.
What do you feel as you sculpt or paint?
The feeling is unique. There is no one, there is nothing around you. You are immersed in your personal universe, a world that becomes real, born from the union of ideas, imagination, vibrations that might originate from carefully chosen music coming from the background… Hands become the intermediary between two spheres ‒ the inner one and the outer material one.
Advice and future projects
What advice do you have for those who would like to enter your profession?
Above all ‒ to be honest with themselves (it is essential that we ask ourselves how prepared we are to take sacrifices that the uncertain life of an artist brings). Then ‒ to be honest through their art. The art scene is full of clones whose aim is fame at all costs, and who thus lose their (already dubious) artistic identity. All this has led to great confusion in art today.
Do you have plans for the future?
My plans for the future are always the same: to work as much as possible! I put in all my effort, the rest depends on luck and circumstances.