About the exhibition The Transfiguration
that have place in Konak of Duchess Ljubica in Belgrade in 2002. year, have
write Mr. Vladeta Jerotic, Professor and member of Academie, Mr. Slobodan
Mileusnic, Director of Museum of Serbian Orthodox Church, Mr. Dusan Pajin,
Professor in Academy of Fine Art, and others...
Following the pattern of great and radical, essentially important, changes of human consciousness which were doomed to happen, as they are happening now, in times of crisis of widely accepted and by long existence of malignant and wasted spiritual values, the Christianity likewise was not received with a welcome. The systems of ruling nations and social class’s values habitual and disturbed due to long duration obviously faced with increasing internal contradictions, aggressively treated the bearers of new ideas and concepts. Therefore, the first passionate apostles and firm in fate followers of Christ’s learning were ruthlessly persecuted by the holders of power. They were driven underground and forced to preach the new faith and science, a new morality and new ideas with the unreadable language of symbols for the pursuers, in the dark caves and catacombs, away from the eyes of the persecutors. Because of that, the children's naive and direct honesty of expression on which properties early sacred language of Christian arts is based, matched in every aspect. It was in fact an act of denial of the monastic body and mimetic that previously, in the art of ancient Hellenes and Romans, especially in their sculpture, took shape in the extreme sensuality. After all, it was the best way of sincere renunciation of the earthly and temporal for the sake of the heavenly and eternal.
By the end of the eleventh century certain changes of European art happened, at the time when the differences within the Christian church, between its western and eastern wings, begun to polarize more and more. While strong and similar by essence monasticism of both wings of the Christian Church determined the content of religious art, formal differences were not immense. However, since the beginning of the thirteenth century, by which the Christian church being already divided completely, the more obvious and sharper division between theological heirs and secular philosophical views was observed. On one hand Western Church which put a man in the core center of its interests through the ideas of the Humanism and Renaissance and Eastern Church, on the other hand Orthodox to the exclusivity, which managed to preserve the monastic and sacred essence and the great mystery of creation based on spiritual values due to the sinewy dogma.
The Serbian art’s creation was developed under the rays of European art, whose nature can be understood and explained by the image and icons correlation. This development was, of course, the logical consequence of important events that make the history of Serbian people from its fall under Ottoman rule. Their greedy policy was based on the experience that people without a state, education and culture represent a populi (“raja”), with the certainty that “raja”, in order to Milan Kašanin’s interpretation, does not make but it serves history. Therefore, the Serbian people, who were from the middle of the fifteenth century mostly found within the borders of the Ottoman Empire were left without a basic educational and cultural institutions. People inherited the devastated and all kinds of terror intimidated church, as the sole holder of literacy, the guardian of national values, traditions and artistic heritage.
The cautiously but inevitably relation of the current Serbian fine art with the European art began when the first Serbians, graphic artists, step to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, which happened around the middy the eighteenth century. So inevitably painters and their paintings suppressed the traditionally understood iconography and painting, which means that the Serbian art’s creativity fitted more and more in the mainstream of European art since it was deprived of their own schools.
Not until the early nineteenth century did Serbian art become completely dependent on the circumstances and the impact of Europe, mainly as its provincial offshoot, a very important question of roots and identity, had inevitably risen. Unfortunately, it had risen in an attention- worth form, before the Serbs established the first art school. Thus a crucial role in launching this important issue has not been played by artists but by two connoisseurs of Serbian medieval antiquities, one was the keeper of the National Museum, architect and archaeologist Mihajlo Valtroviĉ and the other was an architect Dragutin Milutinoviĉ, the son of the famous Simo Milutinoviĉ Sarajlija. They knew better than others to adapt themselves to the demands of the young Serbian state and its social needs because they soberly assessed the development of the situation. Starting from the belief that the art of a nation must reflect its being, they had caused the realization of this goal by a good knowledge of the national spiritual and material heritage, and only afterwards by the corresponding improvement. That is the very reason why they criticized precisely Serbian artists, primarily iconographers and architects, who blindly fitted to the more or less well learned forms and formulas on various European art academies and schools.
The issue of Orthodox faith in Serbian iconography of saints was highlighted by cruel controversy which then arisen between the artist Stevan Todoroviĉ and his supporters Djordje Maletiĉ, on one side, and also painter Djordje Krstiĉ and Mihajlo Valtroviĉ, on the other side. It was the first case in Serbian art history that expertly, theoretically based and from the aspect of already created aesthetic attitudes, discussed issues which answers consisted of both religious and typological marks of national style. Although the dispute revolved around the formal iconography, much more important issues, regarding the restoration of national expression in painting and art were discussed. This problem then, during the twentieth century, occasionally and with a different intensity, preoccupied the attention of artists and art theoreticians in Serbia. Various solutions and different answers have been offered but without generally accepted and recognized broader results. For this very reason, even in our days, at the beginning of the third millennium, in fine arts of Serbia, traditionalists and modernists, nationalists and mondialists, those who believe that the roots are more important than the crown are confronting unnecessary hard, angrily and bigotedly. Of course, the dilemma is false, politicized and imposed from outside, by those tyrants who act according to well known rule: divide and conquer! At the same time, the historical experience of the Serbs is forgotten, and it ignores the fact that the Orthodox Saint Sava’s spirit and teaching are not mutually exclusive about the image for the sake of the icons, as well as that the respect for tradition does not require a waiver from the modern phrase, that the personal does not wipe out the common, and that the universal means the truly valuable national. If not so, the emergence and operation of such creative personalities in contemporary Serbian art could neither be understood nor explained, as is, for example, Jugoslav Ocokoljiĉ, conservator and restorer, painter and icon painter, theorist and philosopher who has understood and realized by his work, practically and theoretically, the observation of MPhil Slobodan Mileusniĉ that says: „His picture is an icon and his icon is a painting“.
Of course, the majority of those who have written about of Jugoslav Ocokljiĉ’s creativity have noticed and emphasized his willingness and ability to build an active relationship between the icons and images as a virtue in a way Vladeta Jerotiĉ noted when he wrote that the organic life is imbued with spirituality and a spiritual with organic. Dušan Pajin notes, in 2004th, that his „... paintings have been done in the spirit of the Orthodox tradition and regarding Orthodox subjects“, precisely that they are „... enriched with a personal expression and contemporary art’s experiences and particularly our Modern and Postmodern art“. In this respect, perceptions and interpretations of deacon Nenad Iliĉ, are even closer to the essence of Ocokoljiĉ’s work, as a whole. According to him Ocokoljiĉ „.. is beginning with the ddialogue at the point where paintings and icons were split“, namely, he restores this dialogue at the very spot where it was interrupted more than half a millennium ago. Obviously, therefore good knowledge of the secret sacral language of symbols which is determined by the spirit of Orthodoxy is recognized in his opus, in a complex iconographic layer, as well as a strong influence of early Renaissance painting embodied in creative masters like Giotto, Antonio Pisanello, Masolino, Masaccio, Paolo Uccello , Fra Angelico and Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, etc.
As far as Jugoslav Ocokoljiĉ as an iconographer is concerned we could read lucid remarks in the text of Mileta Prodanoviĉ who understands the unusual connections of the visual and narrative, the visual and iconographic, in his creative work as a „scholarly provocation“ in which „... root there is not a desire to revise the tradition, but rather (...) an attempt to observe it from another angle, from the place where the influences are mixed and where the thought is genuinely, directed to the synthesis which are more difficult to achieve on the other areas, since the moment when the South Slavs converted to Christianity“.
Since Ocokoljiĉ is not idle by spirit copyist but, rather, curious and creative personality familiar with the essence of the problems, the results he obtained, first of all as an icon painter, are the nucleus of the values of Serbian modern art. In fact, he reaches the nucleus of enduring values that are a synthesis of aesthetic ideas and understandings which are, indeed, hard to attain in other areas and other nation. Due to this, his work as a whole meets the requirement, which Rasko Petroviĉ had in mind when he warned that if we want to be accepted in the world and Europe, we need to learn the languages well. But that does not mean anything if these languages and their cultures, to which we strive are not enriched by something that is ours and authentic. The very work of Ocokoljiĉ, as iconographer and painter, bears the mark of absolute creative authenticity, of peculiar value that gives him a permanent and significant place in the history of modern Serbian art. Even more important is that it occurs in gloomy time, when the value of new art is determined by priests (new one) who were brought to the surface by burning and looting of the National Assembly at the fifth October what gave them the right to judge what is progressive and what regressive, what's conservative and what is not.
However, in our everyday pessimistic life, the artists whose creation is fed by their own springs, which relies heavily on self-worthiness and the value of their own heritage not allowing to the spirit of modern traditionalism to be loosed, strive, last and continue to act. Vozareviĉ Lazar and his namesake Vujaklija, then Aleksandar Tomaseviĉ, Miodrag B. Protiĉ and Bogiĉ Risimoviĉ Risim, for more than half a century of Serbian painting, embodied this spirit. The artists such as Jugoslav Ocokoljiĉ still successfully continue to build this heritage.
Paintings-icons belonging to the religious series of creations by Jugoslav Ocokolich enrich and ennoble his attentive spectators in many ways. "Liber librum aperit" (book opens up a book) is an alchemic saying. It can be applied to Jugoslav Ocokolich's paintings through the equivalent "painting opens up a painting". Jugoslav Ocokolich is in the center of the orthodox alchemy being deeply moved by Greek Orthodox alchemy, overwhelmed by experiencing certain Gospel scenes from the life of Jesus Christ; finally dignified by contemplation and stable knowledge of technical composition of the painting. He is in the very center of orthodox alchemy. What is the connection between orthodox religion and alchemy? Alchemy is the skill of transforming metal into gold. Gold means immortality as said in the early Veda manuscript. True transformation from impure human nature (metal) into gold (immortality) is impossible without help of the presence of the Ghost, in Christianity the Holy Ghost, the third face of the Holy Trinity.
Thirty years of Jugoslav Ocokolich's work on paintings-icons have been filled with constant effort-accomplishment (podvig) of transformation (podvig, podviznistvo originates from the old Slavic verb "podvizatsja" meaning going forward but upward as well). In almost all his icons from his recent period (the result of his original creations in year 2002) traces of transformation can be found even when he does not paint Gospel scenes of Metamorphosis (Transfiguration). Live creatures present in his icons like dragon, turtle, heron, fish, sea-horse, chameleon or shell are always close to the face of Jesus Christ and Saints and, as being present on the path of transformation, they stimulate human to transform. Organic is imbued by the spiritual and spiritual by organic in entire nature. Each live being from miraculous shell can produce a hidden pearl only when wounded to a sea-horse (vertically floating dwarf) or Christ's fish thoroughly analyzed by Dostojevski (on the painting "F.M.D") reveals the secret of micro cosmos within macro cosmos.
In the center of this secret in all or almost all paintings-icons by Jugoslav Ocokolich, the image of Godlike Man Jesus Christ can be seen. His expression differs (a real small miracle of Jugoslav Ocokolich's mastering the art of painting) but it always remains divine and human. Jesus Christ is actually the one who transforms animals and plants, men and women, the entire nature, divine and human into supernatural.
God can neither be painted nor his name spoken without inner "fear and tremble". Paintings-icons by Jugoslav Ocokolich cause spectator's inner trembling which makes him watch them longer and longer in order to create a superb need and desire for transformation within him. This truth becomes active when attentive spectator directs the process of transformation to his consciousness by surrendering to free associations which were buried, suppressed and forgotten deep inside him. That is the beginning of the spiral of godlikeness in a human.
Some of Jugoslav Ocokolich's paintings-icons are small masterpieces, experienced and enlightened primarily in the author himself; they offer to the spectator the ideal chance to start the wheel within him and subsequently the spiral of transformation. In such particular case, we will continuously be grateful too Jugoslav Ocokolich because his creations of Christian themes stimulate our longing and need for transformation which always is the process of creation in small.
We do not have to be painters or poets, we always become creators- even in ordinary life we are the same - when deep inside, thanks to the real creative author Jugoslav Ocokolich, we realize the archetypical religious notion, which is the image and presence of the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus Christ for every Christian.
Mother of God, egg tempera, 45 x 86 cm, 2001