Voj Stanić's 97th birthday: Celebrating life, despite everything

The space of Voj's paintings is Herceg Novi, but as an imaginary city that is a spiritual and artistic world metropolis. He says: 'The center of the world is where you are'

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"Riva", V. Stanić, Photo: Portal Oko
"Riva", V. Stanić, Photo: Portal Oko
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

It has been thirty years since I first saw Voj Stanić's paintings.

In 1988, Lule Novović, whom I knew through basketball because he played in Radnički (today he is in America), told me that an exhibition of a painter from Herceg Novi was opened in the SANU Gallery. Before that, it seems to me, I had not even heard of Voj Stanić. I went to that exhibition and - I was mesmerized. I found there a magical world that really attracted me.

I couldn't define exactly what attracted me to that world, but those pictures, with the atmosphere of the Mediterranean, leisure, lethargy, games, had such a power for me that they took hold of me immediately, and I fell in love with them in an instant. It wasn't hard to recognize their magic.

Vojo knows how to say: 'Even the stupidest person can understand a good picture'. Only later, getting to know painting better and more closely, did I begin to recognize and understand my first impression. But that first love for Voj Stanić's paintings remained. Because love opens things up for you. First you fall in love, and only later you start to deal with it and understand it - but you don't stop loving.

After that exhibition in 1988, I said to myself: when I have enough money, I will have to buy at least one painting by Voj Stanić.

First picture

At the end of the eighties, I went to work abroad, first in Spain, then in Italy, in Pesaro. There I supplemented my painting education by visiting museums. When I earned some money, I asked my late friend, the actor Milo Miranović, to take me to Voj to buy one of his paintings. While we were talking with Voj and his wife Nada in their house in Herceg Novi, I noticed a picture hanging above the door in the living room. The painting, called Riva, was deliberately hidden from view, and was not exhibited, precisely so that it would not be sold. But when I saw her, I was attracted by her color and the power she radiated, which reminded me of Piero della Francesca's The Scourging of Christ, a painting I saw in the museum in Urbino. I was stuck to buy it too.

The sale of paintings, technically, was done by Nada, and she offered me some other paintings that I liked less, but I insisted on Riva. Vojo felt that I loved that painting and would keep it, he decided to sell it to me. If he hadn't interrupted, I would have argued with Nada in vain. He made decisions about the sale of important paintings, only when he didn't want to sell himself to someone, he hid behind Nada. And that's how I bought Voj's first painting: Riva. Later I acquired many more.

Vojo Stanić
photo: Portal Oko

Pictures do the talking

What are Voj's paintings about? At first glance, it is about some summer joy, but then it turns out that each picture reaches much deeper and reaches out to all segments of life. They have lethargy and boredom, that heat of summer when it seems that the day will never pass, that life has no end, and the beauty that is lost, humor and melancholy, the strange atmosphere of sleep, and the most important thing: love for life, in all its forms. Vojo knows how to say: 'If I ever die...'

Each of Voj's paintings is narrated, the characters on them are completely dislocated, they have their own biomechanics in their movements and are often reduced to caricatures.

"In the painting of Bonac, for example, there is a metaphysical, dekirkian moment: on it is painted a boat, in which you want to fall asleep, to sail away into a dream... In another painting, Deceptive Sun (True Expectation), you can see lonely people on street, which seem to levitate in some strange peace, as if it were some hour of contemplation. In the window of one of the buildings, the face of Alfred Hitchcock, the author of Vertigo, can be seen in profile. On the left side of the picture, in the reflection of the window, you can see an airplane and, at first glance, the sun. But when we look a little closer, we see that it is not about the sun, but about a rocket flying towards the plane, and the plane has just fired a rocket that is flying towards the street and will explode at any moment. The people in the picture are unaware of the impending disaster, just as we who are looking at the picture are not aware of the danger in which we find ourselves. But the painter is and he knows. He is in the position of a god.

A game

Vojo doesn't follow sports much. The ball is not such a common motif in his work, but it exists in a number of paintings, as a perfect shape, as part of a game that evokes fun on the beach, like football with several balls, bocce ball, balloons. There are anthropologists who call man homo ludens, Vojo is too wise not to understand that. There is a lot of play in his paintings, but there are also sages.

The motif of chess is common in his paintings... There is one painting where two people are sitting on a blue bench and playing chess, the sun is day, and the moon can be seen through the treetops. A chess piece has fallen, one starts to make a move, and the other holds a cigar and falls asleep... Game!

I can't remember which was the first single painting by Voj that particularly attracted me, but one of them must have been his yellowest painting, The Ronhaug Ship from 1983.

And if I had to single out one picture that would be my favorite, then it would be Triptych Clock. It depicts Herceg Novi with a clock, the one from the clock tower from the square, from the Ottoman period, to the left of it is the Catholic church, to the right is the Orthodox church; behind are the sea, the sky, a ship, an airplane... The clock speaks of stopped time and life beyond time. In this picture, it seems that through timelessness, boredom and lethargy and life is endless. His pictures take me back to my childhood, as if to a mythical space where people are what they could be.

Triptych 'Clock'
Triptych "Clock"photo: Portal Oko

When it comes to time, Vojo knows how to say: 'Don't let your life go by like a train station.' People are divided into losers and winners, the former live in the present, the latter wait for a life that never comes. The present, say psychologists, lasts three seconds: in those three seconds you should live. In other words, you have three seconds to fill them, if you do it right, then you gain fullness of life. And that's what these pictures are about.

The space of Voj's paintings is Herceg Novi, but as an imaginary city that is a spiritual and artistic world metropolis. He says, 'The center of the world is where you are.'

Maybe that's why he doesn't like to travel, it's hard to get him to go anywhere. But that's why he travels in his dreams... Laza knew that he would come, and for him he invented that Between reality and dream...


People do not choose the city in which they will be born, but they can choose the city in which they will live. Vojo Stanić was born in Podgorica, grew up in Nikšić and Šavnik, but chose Herceg Novi for his life. He chose the sea.

"The sea is the longing of the highlanders, as in Paolo Conte Genova's poem per noi, which I love: the highlanders live in a place where the sun rarely shines, where they are constantly wet with rain, and then they go down to the sea that attracts them, they go to that blue hole with with desire and fear... So do I. When I'm on the water, when I just see such a big thing as the sea, I feel differently. When I enter the water, it takes away all my nervousness...

For a while I lived by the sea, in Pezar. After a while, I have seen, one easily loses the sense of what a privilege it is to live by the sea. Well, Vojo never lost that feeling. He says: 'The weather is always nice here, it's nice both when it's nice and when it's raining'. He was an excellent sailor. He himself finished his sailboat, which he used to sail for years, which meant a lot to him - he has a lot of pictures of sailing, sailboats, regattas, wonderful pictures of the south, wind...

"Regatta"photo: Portal Oko

He felt the wind, he was able to see its color, to hear the roar, and that's how his paintings were created. The sea further developed his otherwise incredible imagination, which is why his paintings are so full of fantasy and spirit.

I was once on a sailboat in Boka, and - I saw the wind, I recognized it from Voj's paintings. All sea sensations, light and shadow, can be found in Voj's paintings.

His late brother Vlatko, an architect, offered to help him maintain the barge, but he refused. 'I don't need anything to help me', he used to say, 'when I can't do it myself, I'll stop sailing'. And that's what he did when he got older.

He turns ninety-seven on February 2021, XNUMX. Now Vojova's boat ended up with Rambo Amadeus - he was aware that it was also valuable as a monument.


First I fell in love with Voj's paintings, and then I got to know him and fell in love with him as a person. Despite the big age difference, we became great friends. From that friendship, which I am proud of, I understood a lot.

I have an apartment in Herceg Novi, which I bought in order to be closer to him. We like to sit at that Kusturica station and talk about everything. He is a very educated man, a man who still reads a lot, but also a very funny man, which can be seen in his pictures. But we can also be silent, and when we are silent we know what our topic is.

Vojo is a real aristocrat of spirit, but also what is called a 'gentleman's man'. In his dealings and friendships, he demands a civil, not petty-bourgeois, level, he demands respect and appreciation, which often does not exist in the Balkans. Reciprocity of respect can always be expected from him - Vojo respects the man with whom he sits.

He socialized with great people of spirit such as his fellow citizens Ivo Andrić or Zuko Džumhur, but with the same respect he socializes with the ordinary world, fishermen, sellers, cleaners. He once said: 'When you meet a beggar, a gypsy or a peasant, you tell him, and you tell a well-dressed man, about whom you also know nothing. A gentleman is a man who treats everyone as if he were a gentleman.' Such is Mr. Vojo Stanić.

Vojo preserved the child in him, and towards the world he has a wise attitude of a young old man. Hence his gentleness, which can also deceive. He is - a good man. Not good out of weakness, nor because there is no choice, on the contrary. He is aware of his genius, he is aware that he has caught a big fish in painting, and this is what gives him inner peace.

'Deceptive sun', V. Stanić
"Deceptive sun", V. Stanić photo: Portal Oko

97th birthday song

He is completely dedicated to his vocation, and on the other hand, he has a strong character, which gives rise to some unexpected but explicit reactions to things and phenomena that are important to him. He says: 'I may not know what I want sometimes, but I know what I don't want'.

Thus, one of the important things in his value system is anti-fascism. He was young when he joined the partisans, and that was because of the purest convictions that he has kept to this day. He expresses his civic and political views in a non-conformist way, not taking into account what the masses will say. His character was also manifested in 1991, when he strongly spoke out against the shelling of Dubrovnik. Then they threatened to throw a bomb at his house and studio. In order to preserve some of the paintings that were important to him if that happened, he donated about twenty of them to the museum in Cetinje. He gave one of his dear paintings, Bok, to me then, so that it would be preserved if a bomb was thrown at his house.

His full fame came relatively late, only after the mentioned exhibition in SAN in 1988. And then with the collapse of the country, everything fell apart, including the art market. Yugoslavia was also small to him, let alone this land on its ruins.

When I got into collecting I was amazed at how much jealousy there is in the art world. I thought it was only for us basketball coaches and doctors, but the Greek saying that the potter does not love the potter is true... There was a lot of jealousy of other painters for his success, gallerists who don't have his paintings, dealers...

I have heard superficial stories that Vojo is not original, that he only quotes De Chirico, Magritte, Bosch, Baltus. Originality cannot be achieved, nor has it ever been possible, without relying on and building upon the originality of its predecessors. Vojo Stanić is doing exactly that. For example, De Chirico painted a space, removed people from it and replaced them with his statues, which gave the picture a metaphysical dimension. And Voj's paintings, in a way that is impossible to define, rise to the level of metaphysics.

Vojo is always the same, he never followed fashion because his artistic instinct does not come from outside. When in one period figurative painting had a negative omen and was declared anachronistic, he refused to adapt. He said: 'I read someone said that only donkeys don't change. I'm one of those donkeys. I don't believe in changing people and I don't believe in people changing. Man only improves, and becomes better or worse, but always consistent with himself.'

His is the space of dreams and metaphysical questions, but Nada, his wife, dealt with real life and practical things during his life. She took care of the orderly rhythm of life, of commerce, protected him from contacts with gallerists, and in a fine way built a cult of his work, a cult that he naturally deserved. When Nada left a few years ago, there were rumors that Vojo would not last long after her. Once we were sitting, and he said out of context (if anything between friends can be out of context): 'I have decided to live for the rest of my life.'

"Walker on a Wire", V. Stanić
"Walker on a Wire", V. Stanićphoto: Portal Oko


When I acquire paintings, including Vojov, I don't have a primary instinct for possession. I really like those pictures, and I enjoy them. Painting calms me mentally and makes me stronger spiritually. Basketball was the main thing in my life, but now a serious illness separated me from the court, and dialysis separated me from life. Living with dialysis is not easy, especially for me, who lost my basic passion and enjoyment: working on the field with the players... Now Voj's pictures mean even more to me.

We all love life with oscillations, that's why it's important to love concrete things, concrete people, even some objects, because through them you get attached to life. We all know very well where we are going, and that is why we must constantly look for a reason why it is worth participating in life. I find that reason in Voj's paintings. Sometimes, when I'm having a hard time, I look at them and feel - joy. Even though they are not always painted with joy, they are always celebrating life, despite everything, despite the pains that every life brings.

(We transfer the text from Modern Times from the Oko portal)

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