Slavonia 365: Meet Zoran Simunovic, Osijek Artist of International Fame

Katarina Anđelković

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Zoran Simunovic
Zoran Simunovic

As Vecernji writes, those who appreciate the painting of gestural abstraction of high modernism of European provenance and the works of Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung, or Edo Murtić will recognise, said Branko Franceschi at one time, the basic performance principles that build the solid core of the composition of the painter Zoran Simunovic. The derived characters were inspired by real life and create spaces of memory and nostalgia based on the transparent display of recognisable objects, almost fetishes, such as motifs of toys: teddy bears, trains, or bananas that his son Oskar loves. Every corner of his work of art is personalised and bears a mark that conveys memories and passion for home. Seemingly unimportant figurines, plants, and fruits become important because they are recorded on the canvases as artifacts of his becoming. They seem to almost float in the composition, concentrating in the centre of the painting, letting the colours completely occupy the edges of the canvas. His paintings, thus, halfway between figuration and abstraction, take on a strong narrative character and tell stories with a small dose of humour and a lot of poetry.


“My home is full of details. In essence, the observer is directly involved in the creation of the work through fragments of their growing up and their most beautiful memories, precisely their childhood. It is sometimes difficult for artists to expose their intimacy and show it to the world, but I have no problem with that”, said the artist himself, who is well known on the local cultural scene. A native of Osijek, curator of the Vukovar Municipal Museum, and a true Slavonian addicted to tattoos. An eternal optimist who, as he says himself, does not see the world through rose-tinted glasses but through rose-tinted eyes. This can be seen in his paintings and the optimism they radiate, and there are currently additional reasons for a rosy mood, as his career has been on an upward international trajectory for some time, and his paintings have just been exhibited in the Vienna gallery District 4 Art.

“District 4 Art is one of the foreign galleries representing me as an author, and as part of its activities, it also prepares exhibitions. Negotiations with them began at the suggestion of my friend, collector Milan Krivda, and after a quick agreement, they resulted in successful and pleasant cooperation. Basically, many people are interested in my works, among them are some celebrities, but discretion is highly valued in this business, so I would rather not go into details”, Zoran Simunovic answered somewhat self-deprecatingly when asked about stars from the world of art who became interested in his playful oils on canvas, primarily in large formats, which fetch up to 20,000 euros on the European market.


What is the profile of the people who are the majority of Zoran’s customers? “Their profile is quite diverse. Moreover, today it is extremely difficult to assess who a potential customer is. You’d have clients who simply want to treat themselves to one of my works, while on the other hand, there are clients who are serious collectors and invest in the future. What pleases me the most is that all my clients, regardless of which group they come from, buy my paintings primarily because they enjoy them. In this context, I have to be proud that all my paintings they bought are on their walls and exposed to the view, and not waiting in some dark warehouse for a higher market price”, says the artist.

He also exhibited a novelty in Vienna – the rugs he makes in Vukovar, and on which he copies the motifs of his paintings. It turned out to be an excellent decision, he says, because the reactions were more than positive. The story of his breakthrough into art is well known, but since repetition is the mother of wisdom: He was born in 1984 in Nuštar as the son of a farmer and grew up on a large farm where wheat, barley, corn, and rapeseed are grown. He spent his childhood, he recalls, in a tractor and forklift, helping his family in the fields. His parents wanted him to run the family business, so he enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture, but he soon realised it was not the right path for him and left it after only one year. His wife Ivana played a key role, and after seeing some of his drawings, she persuaded him to enroll in the Academy of Fine Arts. That decision changed his life forever; he discovered his passion for art and creation, which he says is his greatest blessing.


In 2008, he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Široki Brijeg, graduated in 2013 in the class of Professor Antun Boris Svaljek, and then got a job as a curator at the Vukovar Municipal Museum, where he develops a playful cultural program aimed at a younger audience. “My job as curator of the Vukovar museum is the best job in the world. I cooperate with many artists, institutions, museums, and embassies, which helped me a lot and influenced the development of my artistic career. The artist and the museum need each other, and I achieved a perfect synthesis of both. I try to work professionally in both fields; both of my jobs are extremely creative; they connect and complement each other perfectly”, says Zoran Simunovic.

In private life, he defines himself as a hedonist – he loves beautiful things and lives life with pleasure. He pays special attention to his image, it is part of the whole package, and he has a special passion for tattoos. His body is an extension of the painter’s canvas, he tattoos himself, and each tattoo is a piece in the creation of a unique work, a project that, he says, will never be finished and will grow with him.


As for Osijek’s art scene, he is satisfied and does not complain about Zagreb’s centralisation, which many point out as a problem. “There are different profiles of artists as well as their art worlds. I believe that every region offers several good authors, including the east of Croatia. Osijek, as the centre of Slavonia and Baranja, offers both authors and audiences a wide choice. I am convinced that there is enough space for all high-quality artists from all artistic fields to find their place under the sun, wherever it may be”, he said. Asked about a potential business offer that might one day prompt him to move from Slavonia, he continued: “I love Slavonia. It is my home. As a city, Osijek offers absolutely everything you need for a pleasant and quality life. Never say never, though. For now, I have no intention of leaving my home, but life may have other plans for me.


Rugs have become an extension of his painting canvas. The quirky design of rugs with a crazy character is an absolute trend in interior design. Zoran Simunovic recognised this and translated his pictures into unique artsy rugs. “The rugs are something new that I made. After ten years of activity, I felt the need to express myself artistically in a different way. Rugs are perfect for me because it is widely known that I am a big fan of product design and that, among other things, I show interiors in my paintings. So I transferred my paintings to a piece of furniture because these rugs are segments of my paintings. Also, it was important to me that all production work be carried out at the local level to encourage each other to grow. I was also very surprised when I discovered that in Vukovar, it was possible to make a personalised carpet from high-quality wool that meets all aesthetic and quality standards”, said Simunovic.

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