Credit: Courtesy of the artist
For all its beauty, a flower can be a sobering thing – an object whose fleeting glory entails a certain end. For as long as artists have grappled with recreating their likeness in still life arrangements, flowers have been laced with a dual meaning: where there is light, there is also darkness.
But in the hands of Alesandro Ljubicic, a Bosnian-born and Sydney-based painter, flowers are divorced from the moribund sentencing that art history dictates. Instead, they are reincarnated from their melancholic stasis as living still lifes, dynamic and daring, teaming with light and exploding with colour and all the paradox that the expression suggests.
Ljubicic, though, has always been one to upend things. As the only child born to working parents – his mother, a textile manufacturer; his father, a restaurateur – in Jajce, a fairytale 14th century town in central Bosnia, Ljubicic remembers deriving as much joy from playing with his second birthday present, a pinball machine, as he did from dismantling it with a hammer and screwdriver. In 1993, at the outset of the civil war, the Ljubicic family immigrated to Australia “with literally nothing and [had] to start again,” rebuilding for their son a life where job security was secondary to happiness.
Buoyed on by the encouragement of his teachers at his Catholic college, Ljubicic embraced what he now considers a lifelong inevitability to pursue art with a fervor that’s still very much evident when he talks about his practice today. Though he describes himself as not being a religious person, he took The Passion of Christ as the subject of his first major work, treating the traditionally reverent subject matter with the gusto with which he treats his current oeuvre.
“It was quite textural, quite aggressive, with bright colours,” he recalls fondly. “If you ask me now what I would have done, I’m sure I would have done flowers.”
Credit: Courtesy of the artist
Today, the flowers themselves have been beautifully abstracted into a semblance their original form; the posies recast as impasto topographies of vivid colour that more closely resemble invitingly tactile desserts than the erstwhile designs of a florist. Ljubicic bases his compositions off the hundreds of photographs he takes of arrangements produced by his florist collaborators, many of whom he finds – and who find him – on Instagram. He then compiles the photos in a pastiche of their original arrangement using Photoshop, a process that might take up to a month, at which stage the flowers themselves are less of a concern than “the colour balance of the painting [and] the harmony.”
From there, the process is spontaneous and Ljubicic is quick to emphasise the speed and intense physical rigor with which he works, completing some paintings in as little as 12 hours (though the density of paint applied means they may not dry for up to six months). During a recent three-hour painting session, Ljubicic wore a Fitbit to document the ground he covered while pushing his paint around the canvas using palette knives. It registered more than 8,000 steps.
His attic studio in Sydney’s Waterloo is a riot of colour studies; in one corner, a Hammond electric organ displays the sheet music for ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’; in another, a drying rack houses dozens on dozens of small square canvases, each barely able to contain Ljubicic’s candy coloured oils. The squares themselves are a hangover from the old Instagram image format whereby photos were limited to an equal ratio of pixels. Though with growing confidence, application updates and the demands of increasingly large gallery spaces, Ljubicic has expanded his formats to include two metre round canvases amongst other large scale formats that he hopes will provide viewers with an immersive experience during Intrinsic Nature, an upcoming show opening today at Scott Livesey Gallery in Armadale, his largest to date.
Reincarnating an art historical genre as storied as still life with technology inflected painting runs in tandem to Ljubicic’s practice of running his own business, The Sydney Art Store. The artist founded the store, initially online, by combining a grant he won in his third year at the National Art School with the entirety of his parents’ savings. “What have we got to lose,” he remembers his mother saying. “We had everything once. We came here with nothing. If worse comes to worse, we’ll start again.”
For Ljubicic — who co-owns and operates the business with his parents — a recurring sentiment is that the store not only allows him the freedom to practice as an artist at will, but to engage with his community, and in turn, develop new means of expression for both his own practice and those of his contemporaries. The artist has developed his own shade of black in collaboration with Langridge Pigments that uses a translucent carbon-based thalo blue pigment to create a black with seemingly endless depth. He intends to use every drop of the 36 litres of it, and from that darkness, new light will emerge.
Alesandro Ljubicic’s new show Intrinsic Nature exhibits at Scott Livesey Galleries, Melbourne, April 27 until May 20
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of the artist