Painting is a World Being Created
For him, a painting is an art and not ideological problem. He focuses his interests toward more important sources, toward the bases far deeper than the modern ones. Intentionally aside from the social and artistic games, great advertisements and small works, he has been building his authentic opus and himself in it. With all the risks and not running away from difficult tasks, maybe impossible ones. The feat of restoring a tradition is an ideal. Only dreaming about it is already a lot

By: Dejan Đorić

Recent Serbian painting can be divided, conditionally speaking, to abstract (which now does not have a wider influence, although it was favorite among the renowned older critics and art historians) and fantastic and realistic (significant at this time).
Irrationality and imagination dominate only recently with the appearance of ”Mediala” as a group and movement, and then among its heirs. Realism has a more logical historical development. It comes from the times of our masters in Biedermeier, painters graduated from academies, painters of Munich school, i and continues into the time of socialistic realism, new figuration and Neo-Romanticism. Older and longer lasting than the painting of imagination, the predecessors of which in Serbia are Stevan Aleksić and Leon Koen, the realistic is, same as the fantastic, juxtaposed to high modernism and avant-garde, various forms of abstraction and conceptualism, namely the so-called new artistic practice, which is neither new, nor artistic, nor practice.
On the far end of the value scale of insubstantial (neo)conceptualism and new-media arts, realism is still very present in art today, not only in Serbia. Some of the most important contemporary world artists, such as Lucian Freud, are realists. And the great novelty on the world scene, contemporary Chinese painting, is marked by intertwining of pop-art and socialistic realism, as a form of polit-pop.
There are fewer and fewer younger fantastic painters, but new realists keep appearing, because realism is the dominant esthetical starting point for many figurative foreign and local painters and sculptors.
One of the representatives of restoration of tradition, which has in Europe ben lasting since Ancient times until today, is certainly a younger painter Želјko Nikolić from Šabac. Staying aside from hyper-realism, which was brought to life in our country for the second time after the 1970’s thanks to Dragan Malešević Tapi, and not connected too much to the hometown realism nurtured in ”Esnaf” group from Sremska Mitrovica, and using the advantages of these two different schools, Nikolić has created his opus independently.


The repertoire of Nikolić’s themes and motifs is classical and belongs to the tradition of European illusionism. Mostly these are landscapes, nudes, portrait, les often figure in free space and still nature. He also expresses his respect toward museum art in the form of copies of old masters or electrical combinations. One of his successful expansions consist of a few paintings of female nudes done after the photographs of Ljubinko Kožul, who is regarded by the critics and general public as the most important photographer from the early 21st century.
Other realists are trying to answer to contemporary problems in their works, whether it is urban realism, hyper-realism or hometown realism of the masters from Mačva as the original Serbian contribution to this esthetics (it may also be read in the key of anti-modernism or critics of the civilization of consumerism). Such artists most frequently react to the challenges of times and explore the retro-position on the art scene. Nikolić, on the other hand, has no such ambitions. He is not getting involved in the ideology confrontation in our art, as Miro Glavurtić says, the war between figurative painters and (neo)avant-gardists. He is not interested in further fate of the painting, its social influence, but only the achievement in the studio, the work in itself, painting as art and the emerging world. he gets easily detached from his canvases because he is going toward new challenges, trying to, in the times without a real teacher, discover the most successful way toward the painting on its own.
Aside from big stories, even role models of contemporary Serbian realism, Dragan Martinović and Rade Stanković as two founders of hometown painting of that kind, he has focused his interests toward much more significant artistic and spiritual sources. he admires old masters, especially baroque ones, he also paints icons in the spirit of post-Byzantine illusionism, and his art is emerging as a consecration and an attempt to pa son precious experiences. He is interested in beauty and softness of art material, the soft glow, overtones in landscapes and silkiness of images, painting as an artistic and not ideological problem. That is why he may be defined as a counter-revolutionary against the current experimentators. He is moving toward far deeper bases than the modern ones. His artistic designation is much riskier than simple esthetic investigations of cold austere realism of his contemporaries who have no relation toward the past. Unlike them, he is asking questions about the today’s meaning of tradition, and is, among other things, also a nostalgic i retro-oppositionist.
He is displaced from his own time, which has certain advantages – he steers clear from rashness and demands of the moment. It is a desire for restoration of art in a most difficult way, probably impossible one: a desire to continue in the spirit of the old, at the place where baroque and 19th century masters stopped. It is too heavy a task, maybe an impossible intention in the category of spiritual feats. That is why we must excuse this painter for certain impossibilities and inconsistencies, aware of his utopian anti-modernist aspiration.


Road to the Painting
Želјko Nikolić (Loznica, 1972) lives and works in Petlovača, Šabac municipality. Self-taught as a painter, he organized three independent exhibitions in Belgrade (at National University ”Braća Stamenković” in 2007, International Press Center in 2009, and Gallery of the House of Đura Jakšić in 2011). He participated in several group and theme exhibitions, such as ”Portrait” in the Gallery of NUBS. He is presented in the book reality of the Arts. Introduction into Studies of Modernism by Dejan Đorić. Besides classical painting, he also paints icons. His paintings can be found in private collections in the USA, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, B&H, Montenegro and Serbia.


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