Opening remarks, Solo Exhibition, Havana, Cuba

The complex reality of life is reflected in art, and Shex emphatically demonstrates this fact. Born in Gorazde, Bosnia, in 1957, he grew up believing in dreams as happy children do, until the day when he saw that one house could fight against another house. Since then he has lived in Rome, in Montreal and Toronto, and he has travelled and exhibited his art worldwide. During his stay in Rome, from 1992 to 1995, he studied the sfumato style of painting. While the Italian Renaissance masters Leonardo and Correggio used this technique to create soft, nebulous backgrounds by blending colours and tones, Shex applies this style to the entire painting. This is not to say that he excludes the use of well defined lines and edges. It is rather that the sfumato in his paintings is the dominant style and an important part of the message. This style endows his paintings with a mystical, enigmatic character, and it portrays human figures as part of a larger world that denies them the defined worlds they once enjoyed and that gave them identity and importance. Shex nurtures this essential characteristic of his paintings with other strategies that give them a disturbing quality. He masterfully manipulates extraordinary interrelations of time and space, offering at times distinct moments in the same space.

At other times there are disproportionate confrontations, the massive evil against the small but luminous good, a bicycle that because of the configuration, the proportions and the geometry of its parts, constitutes an almost impossible challenge for whoever contemplates riding it.

Shex has stated that there are two types of imitation that of external and visible forms, and that which, by means of colours, structure and forms, materializes what is felt and conceptualized. This is the mimesis that he favours, and in it resides the sensibility of this man who modulates and sfumates with tenderness his great strength. He thus allows us to discern even in desolate situations sparks of light that point to possible exits. And in the face of the great menace he offers us the small and propitious figure of defiance.

Shex has exhibited his works in galleries in Bosnia, Montenegro, Yugoslavia, Italy and Canada, in this last case, especially in Montreal and Toronto. His paintings live in houses and offices in several other countries. This architect and painter feels particularly satisfied when his creations go out and marry other worlds, and bind to those worlds their energy and messages, which, Shex believes, vindicates the raison d'être of art. His paintings comment with eloquence and controlled passion on the decisive experiences of human life.

Professor Keith Ellis, University of Toronto

Art Criticism

Galería Avellaneda
Teatro Nacional de Cuba
Exhibition of 24 Oil Paintings by Dragan Sekaric Shex. June 3, 2003.

Blessed be the one who respects the grief and dignity of those who suffer.

Blessed be the one who sublimates the image of anguish and turns it into a work of art.

Blessed be the one who accompanies extreme loneliness with a rich palette of life-giving colour.

Blessed be the one who paints the dreams of those who have faith.

Blessed be Dragan Sekaric who sings of life using different themes, some traditional some unconventional, but all given exquisite treatment in the creation of his work. In this artist’s work we recognize the bold combination of two artistic tendencies, two artistic techniques using oil: the vigorous impressionistic strokes of the spatula, and the languorous sfumato style which reminds us of the master Leonardo. Only this time one technique facilitates and harmonizes with the other, and both are rich in nuances.

His compositions move from such traditional forms as the triangle to the most daring deformations; they are centered in a landscape that tantalizes us with the prospect of other realms to explore. These geometrical abstractions may challenge us, the spectators, asking: What do we think about life? Where is our home? Which is our temple?

We are observing an artist who paints poetry and puts no limit on the fountain of inspiration that nurtures him. He does not control the visions that move him, nor does he deny them. He sings with all of them, recognizing the vigor of each one. His discourse is reflexive, and his canvases subject us to a continuous lecture, profound and always new.

Sekaric is more than an artist of our time. He is a master of universal scale owing to the breadth of his discourse and the range of expressive mediums he uses to communicate his ideas. The best thing is that the originality in Dragan's art will make him a reference point for future generations of artists. This is the highest level one can reach in art, much higher than the fame that often produces commercial compromise and slows down the major attribute of a total artist ... his dedication to the search.

Adrian Fidel Díaz Leal
Visual Artist and Specialist in Art Restoration

(Translated from Spanish by Daphne Harris)

Sekaric's Paintings of Despair and Hope

None of the innovations occasioned by the wheel were, however, more lyrical or wondrous than the bicycle, which offers most of us our first real sense of triumph and freedom. Our initial efforts at riding one inevitably fail: we veer to one side of the path or the other, careen into rosebushes or unceremoniously land on the pavement with skinned hands and knees. If we had not seen other people glide effortlessly by, we surely would believe the task to be impossible.

Despite our tears of frustration and pain, we doggedly try one more time. At the start, this effort also seems doomed to end in disaster. The bicycle wobbles back and forth wildly, as if drawn by a magnet first to the fence on one side of the sidewalk, then to the parked cars on the other. Miraculously, however, this time we keep ourselves upright. The bicycle swerves less crazily, and we are away, the magical soaring sensation making us forget -- at least until we reach the end of the block -- that we haven't learned to stop. Suddenly we can fly, it seems, and vast new terrains beyond the end of our street call out for us to explore them.


Dragan Sekaric's painting Bicycle (1995) contrasts starkly with exhilarating experience of riding a bicycle, because Sekaric's two-wheeled vehicle is unusual in several respects: the square wheels, the front one apparently made of wood; the old-fashioned configuration of a large front wheel and a small back one; the handle bars seemingly connected to the rear wheel; and the saddle an awkward distance from the pedals, which are attached to the axle of the front wheel. "It seems impossible that one could ride this bicycle," Sekaric says, "but I know people who have no choice but to manage it."


As Sekaric suggests in a related image, Journey into a Morning (1998), these people continue their lives almost mechanically. In this picture, a mother walks towards us out of a pallid landscape. With her are two children, one of whom, shrouded and bent forward like herself, she carries in her arms. The other child clings to her leg, the child's desire for security thus impeding its parent's movement. This child presents a conundrum: desiring security and comfort, it grasps its mother's leg, but in doing so prevents her from walking forward and thus hinders her from providing the safety they both seek.

The title repeats the grim irony. Generally, morning symbolizes hopeful new beginnings, but no metaphorical new day dawns in Sekaric's image. The background is only a featureless, colourless landscape marked by a village in flames; the foreground is similarly desolate. In a way, it does not matter that the child impedes its mother since, as Sekaric says, there is "chaos behind them and nothing in front of them." The trio, made particularly desperate by the absence of a second parent, is on a journey. Unlike most journeys, however, this one starts and ends nowhere, with no purpose other than for the travelers to avoid staying where they are.

Sekaric's painting style in Journey into a Morning echoes the picture's grim theme. The style is not realism in the strictest sense -- Sekaric does not intend us to be able to recognize the landscape or the people in it as we could if this picture were a photograph. "There are two types of imitation," he says. "One reflects that which exists and is visible, while the other type materializes through colours, structure and form that which is imagined or sensed. My paintings are the second type of mimesis." Thus in Journey into a Morning , Sekaric wants to communicate empathy for the wandering refugees rather than represent the form and colour of the landscape and figures. The bland, featureless grey and brown, ground suggests the hopelessness of their plight, while the hunched posture of the mother and the infant in her arms speak to the way that the chaos around them has beaten them down -- a psychological violence that, we sense, has gone on for so long that they can hardly remember anything else. Even here, however, the desperation is not absolute. If the mother in Journey into a Morning truly had no hope left, she would sit down in the mud and wait for the chaos in the background to overtake her children and herself; she no longer would bother to walk forward.

Blue Flower

This hope blooms in Sekaric's latest paintings, such as Blue Flower (2000) and his recent series of Montreal street scenes. Blue Flower is a simple, lyrical still-life of a flower on a table, with only an old coffee tin for a vase. A wonderfully economical gesture, this image shows optimism reawakening. In an otherwise barren setting, the most obvious symbol of faith is the single flower. Allies exist in the least likely places, however, which is why the top of the simple table also is blue. It is the painterly equivalent of a harmony emphasizing a melody through repetition and subtle embellishment.

The Montreal street scenes also communicate this message, showing us the most poetic and evocative side of this city: its venerable, crowded buildings, and the unique bustling, cosmopolitan feel of the old city. It is the Montreal of cheery skies and summer festivals, of jazz and ballet enjoyed in the outdoors. After a long journey, Sekaric remains far from Bosnia, yet somehow finds himself at home.

This sense of hope contained in Sekaric's most recent paintings returns us to the image of a bicycle with which I began. For even here, one can find some good. The curved form of this fanciful bicycle gives it a novel jauntiness, a unique sense of panache. And if that front wheel is wooden, won't its corners become rounded somewhat as we ride it, making it smoother and more efficient the further we go? It does seem impossible to ride this bicycle, but that is the nature of bicycles. They all seem impossible to ride and yet we ride them, magically, joyously and often a bit recklessly. "To possess a bicycle is to be able first to look at it, then to touch it," writes the epochal philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. "But," he continues, "touching is revealing as insufficient; what is necessary is to be able to get on the bicycle and take a ride."

Charles Reeve, Ph.D. Princeton University
Art Critic and Lecturer in History of Art
Opening Remarks, Solo show sponsored by KC Mortgage Financial Group, 2001.

Dragan Sekaric Shex: An Emotional and Philosophical Artist in the Globalized World

The formation of the Post-Cold-War World Order and the spread of Globalization impel artists to take part in the creation of a new world view, as artists did at the time of the French Revolution, or earlier at the time of the Renaissance and the time of the discovery of the New World. At the present moment technology and science are not as inseparable from philosophy and art as they were in the work of Leonardo da Vinci. Yet, artists with true humanistic concern are not without comment: they caution against this lack of balance, against the fact that science and technology are often used to advance politics and economy, and are sometimes void of ethics and human concern. Dragan Sekaric started to paint full time when he became deeply concerned that "not all is well in the kingdom of Denmark." For the nuclear world driven by corporate interests, the present drama is a play of "to be or not to be." The intricacy of global developments and the complexity of human nature are the subject of Sekaric’s paintings, portrayed with deep emotion and powerful use of color. Born in 1957 in Gorazde, a medium-size city in Eastern Bosnia, and educated in architecture in Sarajevo, Sekaric lived in Rome, Italy, for five years, before he moved to Canada in 1995. He communicates his wisdom acquired through this rich international experience using only a spatula. While his oil paintings testify to injustice and brutal contradictions in life, there is also an ever-present capacity for adaptation. He may condemn and denounce, but he keeps a positive philosophical view of life, and portrays human warmth and love amidst various trials. This is what Sekaric says about himself as an artist:

"Everyone knows that to be a true artist one has to be born an artist. However, hardly anyone knows when the person who carries the artistic energy matures into an artist. It is also equally difficult to know what causes an artist to open up. In my case, with the beginning of the war I had to paint. The process of opening up is difficult in any circumstance, and as exhausting as giving birth. But in moments of afflictions it abates the pain and is a means of spiritual and material survival. For me as a painter and for those who observe my paintings art has had the power of healing. It also is a powerful means of communication. My exhibition in Quakertown, Pennsylvania in 1999 gathered a diverse group of people from New York and Philadelphia. I was pleased to hear their erudite, informed comments. But my communication with my viewers was not only intellectual. What pleased me profoundly was the moment in which a businessman and his wife bought their very first painting that I had called "Hermit" and they called "Jesus". Moved by my painting, they asked if they could hug me."


There are two types of art. One reflects that which exists and is visible. The other type materializes through colors, structure and form out of that which is imagined or sensed. My paintings are the second type of mimesis. I clearly remember the presence of energy inside me. For a long time I could not take it out of myself probably because it needed time to mature and leave me of its own accord. External events can and do speed up the process of fermentation. I started to paint when I witnessed the beginning of the Bosnian war. This war was not an ordinary war, but a civil war, a war of one street against another, one house against another, one friend against another. To see people change to the point where they long to destroy another human being that just yesterday was their friend is the worst form of witnessing. My work called "Loneliness" is an expression of a desire to live and keep our heads above the ground, and the pain of the burden the present profit oriented dehumanized world has placed on individuals and nations. Like the horse in "Guernica," my horse attempts to live despite the fact that he is burried alive.


I don’t know if he is burdened by human greed or by human senselessness. I think of Shakespeare’s King Lear who says that like flies in the hands of roguish boys we are in the hands of God and the powerful. They torment us for their fun.

A line in itself is something defined. As such it does not provoke nor disturb but pleases those who observe it. There are no questions, no messages, no enigmas. Energy is harmonized, and one can calmly enjoy one’s coffee next to this type of painting. However, there is the other kind of painting where ideas come not only from objects that are in the work, but from the energy the artist earnestly transmits through the painted canvas. This energy comes from the deepest side of the artist and it is unique. It depends on all the factors that make up the artist: the universe, his heritage, his experience, the not-yet-experienced, love, hate, anticipations, disappointments, and all other components of the spirit and the microcosm. A combination of these individual universes makes up the macrocosm, a larger harmony. The artistic creation is born in this small universe which is then transmitted through the artist’s hand onto the canvas and then to the soul of the one who observes the painting. The purpose of the painting is then to provoke, to move, to awaken.

My art pleases, but it does not sedate. I know that it is safer to put people to sleep than to awaken them. But this turn of the century, perhaps like all turns of a century, is not the time to be asleep. Before the war, armed struggles and human suffering were happening somewhere else, and I believed that they would remain distant. Like all young men, I dreamed looking at the stars. During the war, hungry, I dreamed about potatoes as I once dreamed about the stars. My painting "Never" seeks to remind us that we should not take even potatoes for granted."


Sekaric’s paintings indeed hold on to light, even in the darkest moments of human selfish and senseless destruction. He may paint a tired and resigned Don Quixote in "Weariness and Tranquility," but the white, elegant horse, drinks from a calm and refreshing river in that painting. Hence, there is fatigue, but there is also rebirth. In Sekaric’s art in general, death and destruction are recognized as painful and powerful, but life and artistic energy are not defeated.

The difficult task of finding harmony and success is achieved through formidable effort, and in Sekaric’s paintings it is often depicted through performance of an artist, an acrobat, or through life-and-death sports. "Ballerina," "Bicycle," "An Immigrant," "The Bullfight," and "Justice," for example, suggest that surviving the present world order is an arduous balancing act. Sekaric’s ballerina in the painting by the same name must perform next to impossible acts to combat the darkness that lurks in her background.


To the rational mind, her position against gravity is impossible. Yet, the vibrant colors in her outfit together with her quiet elegant flexibility relate normalcy and stability. The adaptation of the body around the solid square and the alignment of a serene baroque head and protruding breast in a vertical line suggest harmony, her elongated body does not contest the immobility and shape of the stage, but takes on the challenge. The difficulty of the task is seen in the expression of gravity in her face. We almost hear: "This is unfair but I have done it and I will remain dignified in my own world. Nobody is applauding or rewarding my effort, but I am not expecting significant acknowledgments."


In the subtitle to "Bicycle" Sekaric tells us that "It seems impossible that one could ride this bicycle, but I know people who have no choice but to manage it." This painting created in 1995 in Italy at the end of the Bosnian civil war is a product of the experience of the war. The bicycle with square wheels is a symbol not only of war but of all difficulties life often presents to nations and individuals mostly of the Third World, but also of the Western world. The straight line that marks the skyline, the vertical or upright position of the bicycle, the light coming up behind the horizon, the bright blue sky, and the calm overall tone evoke harmony amidst devastation. The enigma in the painting is the enigma of human destiny. There are no indications why the difficult vehicle is brought as an offering to some, nor can it be known where the green road comes from or leads to. The equilibrium of the overall atmosphere suggests acceptance. The absence of explanations brings the spectator into the painter’s world because the human mind asks: In the world of sophisticated technology, why is such a vehicle still here? And more importantly, why is not humanity advancing with technology?


The nude human figure in "An Immigrant" is offered no other choice but to accept his destiny: walking the thin line. This autobiographical painting represents the artist’s early experience in Canada, as it also illustrates a general human condition. It is fortunate that borders are opening, and that people can chose to move from one county to another. After all, refugees remain alive and are able to escape war and difficult economic conditions. However, when they arrive, most immigrants are handicapped in a new country, and have to perform an acrobatic act if they are to move forward. The man in the painting has no choice but to move forward, because movement helps him stay on the line. The soap bubbles may or may not help him hold his balance. The mutilated nude figure is light in color, and stands upright, leaving the darkness in the background. Does the light in his figure come from his interior? Won’t the acknowledgment of pain disturb his concentration and lead him to fall? Is this how positive and negative possibilities balance each other in miraculous survival?

St. George

"St. George’s Church" depicts a moment of explosion in which buildings are in the air, but amidst debris and devastation the church is prevented from falling by a young girl’s breath. Often it is difficult to keep the faith that good will and innocence can balance onslaught of destruction caused by wars and economic greed. Yet, many confirm from experience that almost miraculous kindness and effort of the innocent kept at least their lives going. Sekaric’s home was destroyed in the civil war and his family was dispersed all over the world to remain unsettled for some time. The only thing left to them is faith: faith in the innocence and benevolence of a young girl. When a spectator finds him or herself blowing with the girl, the painting has succeeded: art awakens and works towards the improvement of the world. Such am act is not an imitation of anything but a profound statement. And when a work of art is not expressive of a mythos, but is a bursting out of internal energy the art is a triumphant success.

Introduction. Catalogue of Dragan Sekaric Shex’s Early Work in Canada.