When siblings and artists Lanna and Dejan Pejovic began creating their recent work, currently showcased at Ock Hee's Gallery in Honeoye Falls, they had no idea how complementary their paintings and sculptures would be. Both work with concepts of architectural forms in nature and sacred spaces and with the emotional qualities explored in both, pointing out a potential seamlessness between the hand of nature and that of man.
"Dejan's and my themes happen to be uncannily similar," says the elder sibling, Lanna. Her oil paintings of arching tree tunnels as dim and cool sanctuaries perfectly embody the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku, or "forest bathing."
"We did not collaborate in any way and never talked about what we were doing," she says. Though Lanna says she did occasionally see Dejan's work in the studio, she says she never consciously thought that she would begin using the arch motif. "Likely on some subconscious level I extracted the simplicity of his sculptural invention and applied it to my landscape painting problem, which for me was always how to simplify the richness of nature."
The works echo one another in their use of sturdy forms in space — details of foliage drop entirely from Dejan's architectural trunks, and are only vague, ethereal strokes of color in Lanna's hinted canopies. Both make beautiful use of negative space, with some pathways so perfectly concentric they resemble ripples in water, while others tunnel away into obscurity.
About a year ago, Lanna was walking the Birdsong Trail in Ponds Park. "It was early spring and there were no leaves on the trees, so the structure of the line of trees and the arching branches was completely visible," she says. "I have walked this path for 22 years now and I have noticed often the similarity to cathedral architecture, but for some reason now my interest led me to want to draw just this structure."
Dejan says Gothic cathedrals are his original inspiration for the architectural direction in his recent work. "What impresses me especially in the Gothic is the seamless harmony of organic and geometric form, of mass and space; of small and vast; or protection and release; of the human and the celestial," he says.
Both siblings had an almost identical exposure to art. When they were young children, their family moved from Serbia — Yugoslavia at the time — to Italy, where they spent two years waiting for paper work to come to the United States.
The Pejovics lived in Florence first and then in the countryside not far from the city on a wine producing estate. "Living in Italy was wonderful for us," Lanna says. Italian became their second language, and the exposure to a wealth of beautiful art and architecture at their young ages made a lasting impression — both went to Italy again as young adults to study art.
The family landed in Rochester in 1957. At that time, friends from Serbia — Svetozar and Ruth Radakovich — lived here. "Svetozaer taught at the School for American Craftsmen and at RIT, and both he and Ruth made innovative jewelry and sculpture and were very involved in the arts in Rochester in the late 50's," Lanna says. And their father, who had worked as a commercial artist in Yugoslavia, opened an art gallery in 1964. This gallery, Atelier 164 on South Clinton Avenue, later became Gallery 696 on Park Avenue, and was influential in the local art scene from 1964 to 1978.
While both the paintings and sculptures have elements reminiscent of forests, some of Dejan's pieces have an enclosing, sheltering quality similar to a cave, with vulva-shaped openings. But he sees and imbues a flow between all of those forms and spaces. "What begins as the sheltering womb and cave becomes a place of transcendence," he says.
With a sweeping glance around the gallery space, abstracted trunks morph into soaring and peaked walls, which seem alternately like the ribs of some unknowable beast, or hands steepled in prayer. In one sculpture, this interpretation becomes quite literal — a set of gracefully folded hands rests on one platform, fingers echoing a tunnel of tree trunks or the heart's cage.
Beyond subject matter, the work is alike in its rough-hewn quality as well. Lanna's paintings have a dense application of paint, likely with the use of a palette knife, the texture rather perfect for the depiction of bark, while also beautifully capturing the gentle quality of light filtered through foliage.
Similarly, Dejan's terra cotta sculptures are textured like brick, though his working of the material brings out delightfully subtle details in the forms. He has finished some pieces with a dark, metallic-looking oxide wash, which is applied before the second firing much as a glaze might be, and provides a just-so level of contrast that emphasizes gentle undulations and curves.
"The few wood pieces in the show are a recent departure — a return to roots, as woodcarving was my first enthusiasm when I was a teen," Dejan says. With a background in stone and wood carving, his preferred method of sculpting is reductive. He has applied this method to working with clay, a medium for which artists typically use additive sculptural techniques.
"Landscape has nearly always been my preferred subject matter, usually more abstract — I like to reinvent my experience of the landscape in a painting," Lanna says. She mostly works in oil, as in this show, but sometimes includes other media, such as charcoal, acrylic, or encaustic.
"I have a lot of stored images of landscapes in my head and my painting process is exploratory and usually involves a lot of revisions until a coherent sense of space and an emotional connection emerges," Lanna says. "However, with this new series, of which this show is part of, I have a more focused motif in mind at the start so I am not searching for a place as I am for the colors and textures that will convey a meaningful emotional mood and space."