~ Olivera Bjekic ~
Zoran Velimanovic, photo credit Nebojsa Babic
Over 6,000 people visited the September exhibition “Fantastic 6”, and even 2,000 attended the opening night. It tells us that we are highly qualified and that people are looking forward to seeing the figurative painting, classical canvas, and exhibitions, rather than performances. There are a lot of smart people in Belgrade, those who read, who are educated, who are eager for true arts, and that’s good, the fact they have recognized it as an interesting event – says Zoran Velimanovic, a Belgrade artist who recently participated in the exhibition, together with Milan Tucovic, Sergej Aparin, Vladimir Dunjic, Zeljko Djurović, and unfortunately late Zeljko Tonsic. Huge exhibition, “Fantastic 6” was held in Belgrade Heritage House.
We chatted with Zoran one sunny October day on lower Dorcol about “Fantastic 6”, about the idea of gathering those six artists, about his life and work.
Zoran Velimanovic: The idea for this exhibition originated from Maja Zivanovic, a journalist, and art critic, who was also the curator of this exhibition. Nobody has organized us before. We all knew each other before, and each of us was in some kind of our own projects, but Maya organized and gathered us. And it was a great pleasure to be together with such painters …
‘The Last Day on Earth’, triptych, 148 x 256, oil on canvas
Explaining why this exhibition was important and where Serbian fantastic art is in relation to the worlds, Zoran Velimanovic said that there are many wonderful things present is Serbian art tradition.
Zoran Velimanovic: Myths, dreams, magic tales, symbols, and many more miraculous are present in our artistic tradition”. Although in the world of fine arts, Mediala is our only authentic direction, and there wasn’t group international exhibition at the Fantasy Art Center in Gruyeres (Switzerland) held without our representative; artistic fantasy is a rarity on our cultural scene, and actually we are a group of artists who each have the elements of the strange and fantastic in their own way. That is why this exhibition is very important and therefore considered as a special event; we are six artists of similar sensibilities.
Urban Culture Tribe, Olivera Bjekic: How did you become a painter? What made you an artist?
Zoran Velimanovic: I studied at the Faculty of law, I played rock and roll and always had the need to say something. I thought that I’d be realized through music… And then, suddenly, I realized that I had a strong need to paint. I did not even know if I had the talent, the only thing I knew, was that I had a strong urge to paint that dragged me and was more important than anything else… That need makes sense for me and for people who recognize it and while I am feeling so, I’ll do that.
Urban Culture Tribe, Olivera Bjekic: You had the great courage to engage in painting and interrupt something that looked like a safer life (Faculty of Law). How did that happen?
Zoran Velimanovic: Yes. I started in those insecure times in Belgrade, in ‘90. I had the first exhibition in 1997. I did not have family support and I’m the first painter in the family. I realized that I was not interested in studying law at all. I began working as a real estate agent for a while and a single sale gave me a little space in a sense of material stability so that I could dedicate myself to painting, without thinking of everyday existence. I bought one canvas and a few colors and started to play with the colors and ideas, I painted a small purgatory… And that’s the topic that haunted me to this day… Cleaning is the point of our whole life, cleaning up and going in some direction. We have the opportunity to reset at some years; we are given a chance, the opportunity to get better. The Purgatory gives us this opportunity and if you see a mature man who is angry, he has not recognized or just ignored that moment…
Urban Culture Tribe, Olivera Bjekic: How did your artistic journey start? Who was your first buyer?
‘Purgatorium’ – Gallery of Frescoes, National Museum of Serbia, November 5th, 2015 — in Belgrade, Serbia.
Zoran Velimanovic: My first painting was taken by a girl-neighbor. She was delighted and that first canvas went to Monza, Italy. Then I took the next canvas and more pastel colors, I started combining and playing… I followed my inner feelings and I am convinced that you cannot make a mistake as long as you follow that strong inner sensation. When I collected about 10 pictures, I went to Olja Ivanjicki, our family friend (I loved very much art movement ‘Mediala’), to show her my work and she was very pleased. Then she helped me with connection and some people offered me a workspace for free. So, my life started to unwind. One day, I took a huge canvas, I wanted to make a triptych, but the panic caught me when I realized how much white was in my room. Then I stopped and said to myself: ‘Ok, what is it that you want? What’s presses you?‘ And so it all started. I feel this, I feel that, this bothers me, I brought the atmosphere I felt … And everything was like a miracle, something that’s on the edge of something, like the ‘night before great events’ (the song of Johnny Stulich album ‘The Sons of the Bastard’).
Urban Culture Tribe, Olivera Bjekic: Where did you hold the first exhibition?
Zoran Velimanovic: The first exhibition – performance I had in the Astakos studio in 1997. The opening of the exhibition was fantastic – with the music of the band ‘This mortal coil’. Some friends of mine brought the lighting, there was some kind of haze everywhere, and it drew a huge number of people. And it’s been following me all these years… There was a police cordon outside on the street, it was a complete chaos on the streets of Belgrade… A young journalist came to me and asked for the title of the exhibition, and I said that the performance is called ‘Night before great events’. And then there was an exhibition at the October Salon that autumn, in ULUS, and in Budapest in spring, then Barcelona, and I left Serbia for a while. My international career has begun. Only after ten years, in 2007, I made an exhibition again in Belgrade at the O3one Gallery.
Urban Culture Tribe, Olivera Bjekic: There are many faceless people in your paintings, insect shapes, hybrid beings … How is it to live in a world of such characters?
Zoran Velimanovic: I do not want to show any expression on the face, I do not even want to have a face on the paintings, because I think that the emotion is universal when it is not helped with the expression of the face, body or legs … I have no strikes in the pictures, no aggression, I do not suggest anything, everything is passive, just like the night before great events… I’m not changed… I paint the situation before some event, sensing the events when people are reconciled with what will happen… There are no more choices, you can scream and shake, but you have no choice, as at the time of death; we all go to our waterfall … I really like this reconciliation with certainty. So I do not have characters, I do not suggest anything, I do not give you a template for your life, but my painting will suggest you to think about things in your life that you can still change to become better human being. I still have a strong urge to paint and I still believe in my painting. I am only medium and I am grateful to God for using me. I am only watching this from the first row of seats. I am privileged that I am in some way a channel between the Creator and the canvas.
‘In the Workshop’, 30×30, oil on canvas, 2014 — in Belgrade, Serbia.
Zoran Velimanovic: Yes. I am happy because I return to my art studio after this exhibition. I have to dedicate myself to the painting, in solitude that is like monk’s solitude… Painting is blowing … You have to get into the state of this constant work, otherwise it will not help you… As famous Serbian painter Olja Ivanjicki said you need to be small and humble. Only then, the moment of magic may happen.
Urban Culture Tribe, Olivera Bjekic: Is it possible to live by selling paintings?
Zoran Velimanovic: I have been living in France, Germany, now I’m living in Serbia, exclusively from painting. Maybe I am a modest man, I used to travel a lot, I visited almost everything I wanted, and saw a lot of places, but painting is my greatest adventure. So, yes, I live from painting, but I never thought about the price and money, otherwise I would never paint a canvas of nine meters. Who would have the money to pay that – the six months of my constant life? I’m just doing what I’m doing. I’m not thinking about money and about the price of a picture. I can give it as a gift. The prices of my pictures are the same for all people no matter whether they are in America, Europe, Australia. It’s my paintings, and every painting will find its buyer.
Poster for the September exhibition ‘Fantastic 6’ in Belgrade, Serbia