Well-known painter Sali Shijaku was invited by the Center for Openness and Dialogue (COD, Tirana) to present his personal exhibition entitled “88 shades and colors”, curated by Eridana Çano, during the period of March 23rd – May 29th, 2021. This exhibition reintroduced figures that the painter has often treated during his artistic activity, but the drawings in different perspectives and angles of light, previously unnoticed by art followers, were a novelty of this appearance. Something remarkably interesting is also the inclusion of abstract painting in the exhibition, by an artist whom we know as a realist in his creative greatness.
Besides being a student of Abdurrahim Buza, Nexhmedin Zajmi and Odise Paskali during his professional and cultural education, and also a student of Russian master Boris Vladimirovich Ioganson in St. Petersburg, Sali Shijaku is an artist who has dedicated his life to Albanian art. Sali Shijaku’s paintings of Vojo Kushi and Mic Sokoli are indelibly engraved in the memory of everyone, whether they belong to the field of art or not. The Albanian identity, which is so present in his paintings, becomes conspicuous through many features that entirely permeate his artistic activity, perhaps as a result of his strong vital and spiritual bond with the popular tradition.
The exhibition presented 112 works which belong to the time frame of the ’70s to the present day and was divided into cycles, respectively: “Abstracts” (16 drawings, 2000-2009); “Kreshnikët” (The brave men) (10 drawings and a ceramic, 1985-2010); “Roosters” (5 drawings, 1985-2008); “Tringa” / “Trimja” (Tringa / The brave) (4 drawings, 1980-1986); “Zadrimorja” (The woman from Zadrima) (3 drawings, 1990-2000); “The surprised man”; “Fairies” (7 drawings, 1980-2005); “Giti with the umbrella”, “Giti the petulant” (2015); “Nude” (12 drawings, 2000-2010); “Harlequins”; self-portraits (1984, 1991, 2000, 2002, 2010); sketch of “Monument of Freedom” (1985), landscapes (1980-2000), as well as some oil paintings.
For the most part, the works composing the exhibition had not been created as such individually earlier or on the occasion of the exhibition. Actually, these drawings have been the steps taken into the creation of a work (or could’ve been an experiment or study with the purpose of creating great works). Sali Shijaku is a painter with a monumental artistic activity, therefore, already well-known. Precisely for this reason, the organizers decided to bring something more personal, more secret and indefinite ever shown to the art viewers.
Through this exhibition, the viewer had the opportunity to enter the secret twists and turns of the artist’s world, his inner reflections, and to find the right shape and color in an attempt to transmit the main idea as accurately as possible: perhaps the figure of the brave man, somewhere further the hero of the people, then the Albanian girl in the Albanian dress and a submission to the author’s explosion of abstractions.
What stands out in the late period of Shijaku’s creativity is the technical selection (twisting lines, linear rhythm) more than the former volume of large paintings, often encountered in his early creativity. The playfulness between light and color is easily noticed – and all this in the constant search for the exuberance of inner movement, feelings and sensations, always keeping in mind that painting generally does not encourage examination (analysis), but stimulation / growth of the sensation within us.
In contrast to the artist’s all-time journey where white, red and black (colors taken from the Albanian ethnography) take place, what is notable in this exhibition is the combination between slanting lineaments and sudden colors, thus achieving special expressions and stimulating visions and sensations of all kinds, caused by the theme of various subjects, among which we also find the fundamental figures widely used by the painter: turkeys; fairies, heroes, Homeric figures as pre-chosen and much loved subjects. This theme may have helped the author escape ideological interventions and maybe avoid the possible punishment with intelligence, humor and elegance, at the same time even with the intention of allowing a different respiration in painting.
In continuance, the Albanian male figure appears, the valiant, a figure which is reflected as strong, full of self-confidence, almost like a piece of rock. On the other hand, there are female figures (especially nudes) who mainly show the female liberated from the chains of a morality of iron and if not false, supernatural. In them, the female is revealed with the courage of the beauty of a nymph or a dryad. In these drawings, she no longer has to be a mountain fairy in order to be free, beautiful and alluring. While at peace with herself and the world, she is very close to her own identity. Contrary to the harsh and gloomy beauty in the paintings “Zadrimorja” and “Tringa”, in the other paintings: “Giti with the umbrella”, “Giti the petulant” and “Girl with flowers”, the characters are even bolder than the nudes. They smile right in your eyes as they openly show all their seductive power, although in two different times of life: “Girl with flowers” at the beginning of life and “Giti with the umbrella”, aware of her feminine power.
At last, Sali Shijaku’s self-portraits are presented in sketches, drawings, oil paintings and they’re distinguishable because of their depth and sadness, sometimes even from their demonic color where: the curled up eyebrows and white hair, as well as the abstract redness (the scarf) in the gills create the impression of a Dantesque burn mixed with Poseidon’s grunt.
Through this exhibition, Sali Shijaku, often mentioned for the pathos in the brushstrokes, for the rich rhythm and color, illuminated the way the mentality changes over time, the steps through which the human character walks and his creative momentum, the space occupied by the human and the artist in the society; and finally, how the whole society is transformed thanks to the transformation and influence of the individual.
*Sali Shijaku was born in Tirana on March 12, 1933.
He is one of the most important Albanian painters of the second half of the XX century, who even within the strict canons of RS, managed to create artistic values that influenced the modernization of Albanian painting of 1965 -1980. Shijaku was a colorist, decorative painter and the creator of one-figure compositions in the Albanian pictorial art of the last quarter of the twentieth century. The son of a small trader, Shijaku, after graduating in painting from the Artistic High School “Jordan Misja”, Tirana, under the guidance of the professors Abdurrahim Buza and Nexhmedin Zajmi, he continued his higher studies at the Higher Institute of Arts “I. E. Rjepin” in St. Petersburg, former USSR (1956-1961) near the studio of prof. Boris Vladimirovich Ioganson (well-known painter, president of the Academy of Soviet Arts and Director of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow).
Photo courtesy : The Center for Opennes and Dialogue (COD) | Tirana