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27 November 2014

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You are in: Manchester > Entertainment > Arts, Film and Culture > Arts and Literature > Drawing from the past

Stuart Kolakovic - Never Been (detail)

Stuart Kolakovic - Never Been (detail)

Drawing from the past

Understanding your family roots and knowing where you come from has become a popular pursuit for many people, but artist Stuart Kolakovic has taken it one step further as his history has formed the basis of his striking artwork.

Stuart’s grandad was a Chetnik, a Serbian resistance fighter who fought for a Royalist Yugoslavia during WWII, but he was forced to leave his country once the Communist regime began.

The artist’s new exhibition, Never Been, delves into that Serbian heritage, a theme he has investigated before in his art and one which has helped him produce award-winning work already.

Stuart Kolakovic - Never Been (detail)

Stuart Kolakovic - Never Been (detail)

"A lot of the inspiration for the work has come from the stacks of old photos I've collected off relatives of my Grandad in Yugoslavia, as well as the photos that were sent to him after he left the country.

"Ever since I wrote Milorad, a graphic novel which won a D&AD award, I have become obsessed with the Eastern European visual aesthetic.

"It can sometimes be a bit annoying as an illustrator to have so many boring constraints, so I've just used this show as an excuse to be really self-indulgent and just do exactly what I want."

The big idea

As with all artists, Stuart’s work is constantly evolving, but even taking that into account, the leap from Milorad to Never Been is a big one. Instead of Milorad’s comic book format, Never Been is one giant image that will wrap around the wall of the Projekts MCR gallery. Despite that, he insists that they do have similarities.

Stuart Kolakovic - Never Been (detail)

Stuart Kolakovic - Never Been (detail)

"It's not a comic strip as such, but is a visual description of a year in the life of a fictional Eastern European village sometime around the early twentieth century.

"It's still in the process of being made, but I think it's going to be around ten metres when it's finished.

"I like the idea of people being able to look at it and make up their own ideas about the characters I've drawn; there's definitely some obvious story plots I've dropped in, but also some subtle ones. Hopefully it'll get people talking amongst themselves about the different stories they've created in their heads."

A writer or a picture maker?

It’s that idea of story-telling and the interpretation of tales that most intrigues Stuart - as he says himself, "sometimes I wonder whether I'm a writer or a picture maker" - but he is aware that the way he has chosen to tell his stories is not without its problems.

"The world is changing at a ridiculous pace, but stories will always exist in some form or another."

Stuart Kolakovic on why stories are at the centre of his art

"I need pictures to tell the story, maybe because I think in visual terms rather than literary ones. Trying to get passed the stigma of ‘comic-book artist’ is difficult, but things like coming runner up in The Observer short graphic story award and this exhibition will help show to at least a few people that comics aren't just about super heroes.

"Stories are extremely important to me; they're the driving force behind everything I do. The world is changing at a ridiculous pace, but stories will always exist in some form or another. I like the idea of a story being permanent once I've put to paper for people to read and remember."

Art of the people

People are at the heart of Stuart’s work and that isn’t just the characters that he draws. He’s also aware that he is creating something that is supposed to have an audience and that’s something that he tries to remember when he is working.

Stuart Kolakovic - Never Been (detail)

Stuart Kolakovic - Never Been (detail)

"It's strange because as an illustrator, you have to constantly be aware of how easily the image can communicate to the reader. That is what illustration is about - visual communication.

"Sometimes you get so caught up in figuring out what is the most effective way to communicate an idea, you forget about how people are actually going to react to it.

"I hope my work gets people thinking, not just about the story itself, but how the story relates to their life. Sometimes people say my stories are depressing. Never Been is a deliberate attempt to combat that and create something that is at least more fun visually, that gives the reader the chance to make up their own narratives."

Is Never Been an exercise in genealogy, an indulgent meander through a different culture, a personal imagining of a half-known truth or a story of a country’s past? The truth is, it’s a bit of all four, but more than that, it is a beautiful, disturbing and intriguing piece of art that warrants a closer look.

Never Been is at Projekts MCR on Edge Street from Friday 7 December 2007 to Sunday 3 February 2008

last updated: 22/11/07

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