The conceptual art created by Alan Vladusic transfigures our lust of violence into a powerful allegory of a wounded social memory.
The world that we live in is riddled with a violence that permeates all of our existences. It can be said with perfect certainty that no one person has escaped its effects, as Vladusic reminds us with the vague silhouettes of the icons that we lost to our bloody obsession to gun violence. The diaphanous look of these large opaque invisible frames at a dominating size of 4ft by 6ft, at first sink into the white walls, practically vanishing, as if lurking in a gentle fog which obfuscates the subject. A passive eye might see nothing at all, but a shrewd one quickly notices the hint: a red dot that appears to be planted into the wall…
A closer look reveals a bullet hole, out of which a clean streak of crimson red blood drips heavily. As this draws us closer we peer into the hole and find a timepiece with a date, an hour, a minute, and a second – one for example, 1:15am / March 9th 1997. That is when the riddle begins and right as we step back to ponder the meaning of this documentary reference…
Suddenly the art comes to life in the room as out of the fog emerges the smallest suggestion of a familiar figure. At first it may just be the tip of a crown, or the detail of a stomach tatt soon subtly reveals itself. Within a few moments it hits – click! and we know exactly what we are looking at: two larger than life portraits – one of Biggie Smalls, another of Tupac Shakur. In total there are eight of these epic artworks that include other figures such as JFK, Ghandi, Malcom X, MLK, and John Lennon – all elegiacal referenced in this foggy motif.
Vladusic’s images are dialogic allegories that speak to the phenomenon of memory and the constructs of permanence. The victims of violent crimes such as these iconic individuals have equally brought ends to their lives, and spurred their deathlessness:
Alan Vladusic: They’re still with us all the time. That’s why in my work you kind of can see them and kind of not. The fog barely shows us the silhouettes that come to life in our minds; they are there but really not. That’s why I’ve titled the series ‘Immortal’. You can’t kill them, you can only make them stronger.
For Vladusic, it is not the glorification of violence that interests him. Shock-value has no merit in his opinion because it is ugly – and for him, ugly is not only unoriginal but a cop-out.
Alan Vladusic: I feel like everyone can portray the ugly. I can make a film about ugly things and show crazy images but that’s been done before. It’s too easy and it’s not new – everybody knows what ugly looks like. But nobody would know it if you took it to turn into something else.
His mission is followed to completion with these eight gracefully polished images whose simple yet unfolding aesthetic raises the bar of a beauty that transcended through violence. Despite his sophisticated and elegant art, Vladusic confesses that his youth was anything but pretty. An immigrant Bosnian family living in a tumultuous 1980’s Germany, he went through experiences that an adolescent shouldn’t have to:
Alan Vladusic: Growing up as an immigrant blond white kid with an alcoholic father on the outskirts of Frankfurt I was exposed a seedier side of life: substance abuse, corruption, and violence. It was always around me. It was one of the reasons I left my home so young. 15 is quite young when you think about it.
The Knockturnal: It’s a surprise you didn’t end up…well, different.
Alan Vladusic: True. I did lot of shady stuff which I’m not very proud of but it helped me to get through things…
The Knockturnal: Does that shady stuff appear in your work?
Alan Vladusic: Everything that I did in the past, somehow, reflects in my work. But it’s the way that I chose to reflect it that is different. Ever since I was young I always wanted to take something that was really ugly and not-so-nice and turn it into something beautiful. My art reflects that mission. If you look at it, it should transmit the sense of beauty even if the subject is harsh or disturbing like violence, blood, or guns. Whatever it is, I take it and turn it into something meaningful. That’s very important to me.
After hearing some of his wild stories of days past, I was struck by the Vladusic I encountered, at his white marble table in a sunny Hell’s Kitchen apartment, drinking expensive artisanal coffee that he percolated to perfection, surrounded by Kaws sculptures and fine print photography, as well as prototypes for new works; this while being dressed in his own elegant Wingmate fashion brand – this, was not the Vladusic I would’ve expected.
For Vladusic, as for many artists, those early adversities are what gave rise the impulse of his work – and in fact, he sounded somewhat grateful for it:
Alan Vladusic: If I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. That was my way of education. Everything I do now, my work, the way I treat people, the way I see the world, it all reflects the way I grew up. I know finishing your studies is important [ahem, Sergio], and being book-smart is great, but there is another half to it. You have to be street smart as well and combine those two things. That’s a powerful weapon.
The Knockturnal: What’s the next step?
Alan Vladusic: To really come to life and speak the message I set out to, you have to see the whole series. For me the next step is a chance to showcase all my ‘Immortal’ series to the public because that’s the full experience. I can imagine walking into a gallery and the paintings hide on the walls and all you see is the blood red bullet holes. I would love to show all of them because that’s when it becomes really powerful.
We forget how close violence actually is to us all. Vladusic’s work actively reminds us of that quiet reality as it puts words to the unspeakable truth that is our own vicious natures. His frames invite us into our own consciousness as it begs us to re-evaluate our relationship to a ruthless history of assassinations and murder that is everywhere in our time. Furthermore, his art comes at this critical impasse in our country’s course. His work skillfully confronts these violent truths.
Alan Vladusic: It’s around us. Almost every day, you know? For me early on it was my family being in the Bosnian war, now I’m seeing it on TV every day; a shooting in Brooklyn or a mass shooting in Florida. I think the problem is that nothing really ever happens from this. So many things need to happen but still nobody can do anything about it and it’s becoming normal. What I can do from my side is to see it, hate it, and make it into art.