Aleksandar Todorovic (b. 1982, Belgrade, Serbia) graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade with a Master in Fine Arts. Todorovic is a Serbian painter who makes politically engaged art that tackles some of the most urgent and sobering issues of our times. As an artist who has grown up during the Balkan civil wars of the 1990’s, Todorovic is particularly sensitive about political systems and their effect on the world. At the very core of his artistic investigations lies the concept of evil, which he approaches from different angles in an attempt to understand its origins and its ramifications. Todorovic’s visual style is illustrative, meticulous and accessible. He subverts the visual codes of Western pop culture, advertising and the Eastern Christian tradition to meet his own artistic goals. The darkness of his subject matter he sugarcoats with politically incorrect humor, deceptively attractive colors and cartoon-like cheerfulness, combined with a rich vocabulary of symbols that he has personally developed over the years. His use of the traditional Byzantine painting techniques and materials has received attention and critical acclaim internationally.
Todorovic has exhibited his works internationally, including exhibitions at various institutions, including the Contemporary Art Gallery at Smederevo Museum (Serbia). Todorovic, is one of the artists selected for the publication and exhibition “100 Painters of Tomorrow” by Thames & Hudson and Beers Contemporary. Awards include the Beers Contemporary Award for Emerging Art (2013). He has been featured in several magazines, such as HEY!, Ink & Arrows, Neuroblasto, Ideafixa and Superpaper. International art websites like Artforum International, Juxtapoz, Widewalls, Yatzer and Risha have also featured his work.
Bio courtesy of Dio Horia Gallery.
Hi Aleksandar, it’s a pleasure to sit down with you. First question. How does a regular day look like for you in Serbia?
Thank you, it is also a pleasure for me as well. My regular day starts around 9 am. I usually try to do the most menial things at the begining of the day, home chores, emails etc. Then I start working. I work in two or three work sessions, each is 3-4 hours long, and try to hit at least 8 hours of pure painting/drawing a day. Those work sessions tend to be very intense, in terms of the concentration needed, so I need to rest in between them. I spend time with my partner, do choirs etc., and I usually have a late evening work shift as well, when everything calms down and is nice and quiet. It is standard for me to go to bed at 2-3am, or even later if I am in “the zone”. I work on most weekends as well, no rest for the wicked I guess. I have a home studio which allows me that work/life blend.
Alright, so what got you into painting?
I loved drawing since I was a kid. It was my favorite activity, and was very supported by my parents. Practicaly learned to read through comics. I guess I always wanted to do something along those lines when i grew up. Going to the Fine Art college felt like a pretty natural trajectory. Was acquainted gradually with the painting process and techniques during the preparation for the college enterance exam, which I continued developing further after I enrolled.
Your work revolves around social/political issues. What made you start documenting those topics through your art?
Well, I grew up during the 90’s, there was a civil war in ex Yugoslavia, sanctions, subsequent NATO bombing during Kosovo war crisis, pretty hard dictatorship- so politics was discussed very openly in my family and our circle of friends. I guess the interest in those issues- why such things happen- kinda stuck with me. Not all of my works revolved around political or societal issues, especially in college. Did a lot of different non-political stuff. But somehow life occurrences pushed me in that direction, which wasn’t planned from my side at all.
Which brings me to my next question. You’re pretty aware of the political landscape and you’re in tune with what’s going on both localy in Serbia and the world in general. What is your take on the political climate? What do you think needs to change before it can get better?
I think that in the current political climate we are seeing a resurgence of very right wing politics and very inflamatory rethorics, and it is happening in a lot of countries. Fascism can take many forms and it is never truly defeated, we must open our eyes and accept that bitter truth. The danger is that the people behind those ideas are well funded and on a constant move. They shapeshift and switch targets yet they never stop their political offensive- they are always on a move, like sharks. It is very worrying, especially as we saw the failures of the so called democratic and liberal Western states to mount effective health and economic policies during Covid. Resulting social isolation and the internet massively helped propagate conspiracy right wing theories like Qanon. War in Ukraine added immensly to that instability at the time when we should all work collectively to solve looming multiple crises.
I am worried that we are all now in a very unpredictable and very dangerous territory, and that the precious time and energy is wasted on further destruction. How to solve all that, what one needs to do- I frankly don’t know, as the problems are numerous, vast and systemic. The solution is probably the unglamorous and laborious blend of personal life style changes, doing civic actions like protesting, electoral politics, connecting with like minded people in order to think of better societal and political solutions. Probably also having the guts and the willingness to suffer some form of personal harm and sacrifice. I am pretty sure that destructive and irreperable changes to our world and socities are unavoidable- they are already happening. Climate change is here, biosphere colaps as well, alongside regresive societal shifts. Our collective actions will determine when those harmful changes will stop, hopefully sooner than later.
Well said.. Details are a huge part of your paintings. Have you always been detail oriented? And where do you think your attention to details come from?
I did very detailed works for probably a majority of my art career, but I also did various other things, big format paintings, so called “landscapes” with various materials… As a kid, my favorite comics were super heavy with details, and very humorous, filled with absurd surrealism, sarcasm and irony. I think that the issues I am exploring are themselves complex and if I want to tackle them properly the resulting work will also be complex in the end.
What is the process like when creating one of your paintings? Do you already have an idea in your head? Or do you just start on a canvas and then go with the flow?
I sometimes have a visual idea, sometimes I do have some written down textual statement I need to express and sometimes just a subject matter which I want to explore. Reading or listening about certain topics- the “research”- is a part of my daily work. Many times I have no particular idea in mind and I am faced with a blank sheet of paper in my sketchpad. During the sketching phase while I rest I also go through the various sketches I made for works which I never finalized. Sometimes I find inspiration in those old sketches and i repurpose some of them. When sketching is done I continue doing the work on boards. Painting my “Icons” is a very strict step by step process due to the old timey painting technique, one cannot just wing it, needs to be very much planned beforehand. That’s why sketching is crucial.
What do you hope that we, the observers get out of your paintings?
I hope you fell like you haven’t wasted your time looking at it. I hope you find it fun and humorous. I hope it pulls you to come closer and suddenly discover the crucial teeny tiny detail I put in a corner of the work. I hope you understand the message- always complex and visually wordy- I wanted to convey, and that it resonates with you. I hope it makes you think and leaves you maybe a bit depressed or sad after you had your first laugh or two, but also that it doesn’t make you completely hopeless. I hope that it is a bitter sweet visual experience. I hope- and this is the tallest order- that it inspires the observer/s to actually do some meaningful real life change in the world, for the better of course- which is the best any artwork can do.
This year some of your paintings were exhibited at Enter Art Fair, in my homecountry Denmark. Did you come and visit? And if so, what was your impression of the country?
Unfortunately I didn’t visit the art fair, nor have I ever been to Denmark, too much work at that time. The only impression i can have is from the images I can see via the internet- and Copenhagen looks gorgeous, fairy tale like, and as I heard it is pretty pricey. The only empirical experience I have about the Denmark is Lego, my favorite childhood toy.
Haha you’re right about that. It’s cold and pricey (laughing). So what motivates and inspires you?
I love the ability to have an idea and to create it in a physical form, and that process is both play and magic combined. To create something I have in my mind, to express it in a visual form, is both the motivation and inspiration at the same time. The art of my peers also inspire me greatly, and it also motivates me to give my best. The need to pay the bills is also a very strong external motivation.
If we remove painting from the equation, then what’s your favorite thing to do?
Spending quality time with the people I love, my girlfriend, family and friends. I also love excercising and wish I had more time to work out, maybe try out some new sport activities. Reading was my favorite pastime and wish I could do more of the “not work related” kind.
Who’s your favorite painter(s) and why?
That is frankly a very hard question for me, as I don’t think in that way about the art or almost anything. I don’t have a single individual artist in mind, and the list of people whose work I adore is very very big. My taste is pretty eclectic, and all I can say is that I love this particular period that I am in. The type of art being produced- especially painting- is very much up to my liking. I am more inclined to figurative and narrative driven type of art though. People around my generation or younger are creating amazing works every day and they inspire me the most.
Matthew Paladino, Christian Rex van Minnen, Erik Parker, Amir H Fallah, Cathrin Hoffman, Vickie Vainionpää, my greek colleagus Elias Kafourous, Chris Akordalitis and Stelios Faitiakis or my Serbian and ex YU colleagues Mihael Milunovic, Davor Gromilovic, Stipan Tadic, Nevena Prijic, Maja Djordjevic- it’s just a very very small selection of artists whose work I very much like and respect. If I put every artist that I like the list would be as long as the rest of the interview.
For more information about Aleksandar, check out his Instagram.