Stari Most in absentia
Oil on canvas on panel, 13 X 18 cm.
The subject is fairly obvious to anyone familiar with recent history of the Balkans: The remains of the old bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina. It was destroyed by Bosnian Croat artillery fire on November 9th, 1993.
This little painting was more than anything an exercise in the use of photo reference. Some painters wouldn’t touch photo reference with a forty-foot pole, and for understandable reasons; the result may end up looking simply like a photo, which makes the whole exercise rather pointless (even though some seem to think that the greatest compliment you can give a painting is to say that it “looks just like a photo”).
Now, that’s all very good, but without some use of photo reference I couldn’t have painted this. First, I am not in Mostar. And even if I were, the scene would look entirely different, as the bridge has now been rebuilt. So, I had to rely on a photo from 1998:
It’s not the worlds greatest photo. The centre is a rather confusing mess that distracts from the important elements, the gap where the bridge once was and the fragments on either side of the river. But – this is exactly the kind of problem that is easily solved in a painting. I simplified the background and obliterated a lot of details such as the makeshift metal bridge and the scaffolding in order to emphasize the missing connection between the two banks of the river, and I exaggerated the shadows on the ruins on the left side to make them stand out more clearly from the background. I also muted the entire colour scheme to get rid of that sunny postcard feeling.
The painting is little more than a quick sketch, but I do think that I managed to get rid of the confusion of the photo and make a picture that more clearly tells the story of this tragic case of urbicide.