I have been following the work of Ivan Stojakovic ever since he began painting. Therefore I have a bit of an illusory belief that I am capable of understanding all the changes, which occurred in his creative artistic personality during the last decade. But, since he is “far away” (in New York) and I am “here” (in Belgrade), our encounters have been confined to those sporadic occasions when Stojakovic comes to his native town to set up an exhibition. On the occasion of setting up a prominent exhibition in the Atrium of Belgrade City Library, I finally realized that, in our relations, both personal and artistic, I will have to revise categories of “far away there” and “here.” Stojakovic’s paintings and his whole creative credo imply that he experiences the whole world as his homeland and draws motivation from his nomadic identity—something that all of us, in the era of globalization, are destined to do sooner or later. A journey, either virtual or physical, has become a significant way for him to undertsand existence. Be it traveling from New York to Belgrade or from a world of natural/technical science into the world of visual arts, Stojakovic keeps traveling, and that can be clearly sensed in his paintings.
Some eight years ago, at the beginning of 1999, Ivan Stojakovic left Serbia for good to settle in Toronto. The Milosevic’s Serbia that he left then was a burden he could not easily cope with: an uninterrupted series of Balkan wars from the 90s (the Kosovo crisis was just getting warmed up), difficult conditions, life and work in a pseudo-communist dictatorship, catastrophic cultural conditions in an atmosphere constantly filled with arms clinking—that was the “luggage” with which Stojakovic arrived in Canada.
Nevertheless, Stojakovic had started to display exceptionally strong artistic impulses from his personal existential situation. His emotional effect, strangely combined with an interest in natural sciences and technology, became subtle and crystallized through a series of powerful paintings he presented to Toronto audiences in the “Red Shift” exhibition in Gallery 401 in 2001. That “shift,” which by its color and intensity was truly red, marked the acceptance of his new meta-identity; reconciliation with the status of a nomad who now opens eyes wide towards the world and absorbs the rich manifestations thereof. And while, according to author Anda Kubis, Stojakovic has “revealed space distances and relativity of a thought,” according to author Vladimir Spicanovic he tries to “remind us of the beautiful and the sublime—the former on its return from the discursive exile of post-modernity, the latter finding its spirit in the seductiveness of electronic visual interfaces.”
Just when I thought he was finished with the changes, Stojakovic moved from Toronto to New York City in 2003. In New York, he received an MFA degree from Pratt Institute and started a new transformation cycle, obviously not frightened by the complexities and consequences of his latest move. He wanted to be as close as possible to the home of the artistic life, that spot of a possessed pulsation which finally sucks one dry or cuts like a diamond.
In the paintings created in the last few years, one can see color intensification and strays into more complex shapes and compositions—a kind of extroversion compared to the former egg-shaped forms reminiscent of mandalas. Does he, with his bright scenes, aim to provoke the audience to, as he says, mutually “explore the Being,” to share his almost animally sensual but yet sophisticated experience of reality? According to reactions of Belgrade audiences, it could be said so. A renowned Belgrade art critic, Djordje Kadijevic, linked Stojakovic’ s interest in “the aesthetic” to his “nostalgia for the mystical” and marked it as atypical for his generation of artists in the Balkans.
I was fascinated to observe the reactions of the audiences during this summer exhibition, as well as Stojakovic’s reaction to the Serbia he found. Milosevic is not present anymore but scars of his era are all around. In a country coping with problems of transition typical of Eastern European countries, striving in one way to adjust itself to liberal capitalism while also remaining heavily suspicious, art in Serbia is still being experienced as a “state issue.” On the other hand, new generations of young artists show high awareness of “new game rules” and give evidence that they are not hindered in seeking creative access to global culture. Belgrade is open again to ideological streaming all around, and is gradually being pulled out of a pit where it vegetated for two decades. Stojakovic’s appearance is just a confirmation thereof and his sense of the necessity for his artistic presence in this region should be considered a good sign.
To a meticulous eye, Stojakovic’s paintings demonstrate his multiple artistic nature in which turbulent contrasts are reconciled in a hidden metaphysical point. Still, he also shows another, more Western side—a slightly bitter pragmatism of reasoning in contemporary art, a clear understanding of the operating mechanism of it and a readiness to compromise with requests imposed by life in the era of the global economy. In a few words, Ivan Stojakovic, a painter of vivid nomadic expression, has succeeded in living instantaneously on both sides of the Atlantic, thereby creating worthy and attractive art. The loss we sustain may only be his decision to choose New York instead of Belgrade as the physical location for his residence. In this respect, a bridge which Stojakovic set up with this exhibition significantly reduces our sense of loss and makes the other coast of the Atlantic somehow closer and less strange.