I didn’t know anything about Nihonbashi when I went to meet with Milenko Stevanovich. Later, I discovered it was a business district—home to the Tokyo stock exchange, and the Bank of Japan. I read about its history—about a past stretching back hundreds of years.
But for Milenko, the location was more about contrasting lines and curves. Interplays of light and shadow. Space and distance.
As we looked out over the bridge, at the pedestrians and the traffic, I asked, “What is it you like about this area?”
“I guess you’ll see it in the drawing afterwards, but I found the kirin (writer’s note: a dragon) interesting, and the way the light hits it in the morning. And then the whole part of the bridge with the water is in shade. There is a sharp light, and some crisp edges on the kirin itself.”
He told me he liked that from the viewing platform by the bridge, one could see the traffic continue far off into the distance. He wanted to translate that to a drawing.
I liked Milenko’s use of that word; translate. I liked the idea that every drawing is the translation of an observation or experience.
Milenko came to Tokyo three years ago, from Serbia, as a research student. Primarily, he paints and draws scenes from Tokyo. Life in the city, he said, took some getting used to.
“The first thing that’s interesting is the size of the whole thing,” he said. “It’s really difficult to decide where Tokyo stops, right? My hometown has maybe thirty thousand people, so… it wasn’t shocking, but it was definitely different.”
I asked him what made Tokyo interesting to draw.
“What I find interesting is the mixture of traditional things that are still existent and the contrast that appears between those structures and the more modern [ones].”
Milenko said he noticed Nihonbashi three years ago, and he’d always wanted to draw it. But to draw a location means to be at the location, and so Milenko’s sketches can take days and weeks of travel to the same spot, slowly recording the image of a place, at a certain point in time.
“I find it more challenging and interesting to be at the spot,” he said. “And you can somehow see the difference, I think. You translate more, I feel.”
Milenko said that simply drawing a picture from photographs pulled him into an impossible search for perfection; a need to capture every detail. Visiting a spot over and over again meant dealing with a constantly moving and changing environment—it meant recording only the details he perceived as most important.
I though of Milenko’s pencil sketches. They were detailed observations of different parts of the city—from scramble crossings to local neighborhoods to temples and statues—translated to pencil and paper. There was a sense of the nostalgic in them, somehow. A sense they were already a moment that had passed. A moment Milenko had seen, experienced, and felt firsthand.
“I’m trying to record my experience here,” he said. “So if I were to go back home and present the things I did, I would like for the people to see which places I found interesting.”