On the eve of tonight’s opening of the “Atlas of a Smaller World” exhibition at the NMMU, we spoke with the artist Zlatan Vehabović… Read what he said in the interview for the NMMU…

NMMU: What would you say is the specific quality of the series you are showcasing at the NMMU?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: If there is something specific about this series, it is that the entire project went through a long phase of uncertainty. There were moments when I actually thought I would not be able to show the three-year effort to the Zagreb audience.

NMMU: How much time do you spend in your studio?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: I work full-time in my studio, every day.

NMMU: In addition to the painting tools, what else can you not do without?

NMMU: How do you start your day?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: The alarm goes off at 6:30, when all of us at home get up. Then in an hour we try to have breakfast, dress, get ready for the day ahead, without getting into an argument; which before 7 am is very challenging.

NMMU: Are you planning any new expeditions related to your work?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: No. I am still somewhat in disbelief that even that one has happened. Although, if we remain in the realm of wishful thinking, I would really like to one day see a desert somewhere the world. In particular, Petra and Ur are the places that I would very much like to see.

NMMU: Can colours brighten even the greyest of days?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: To my mind, the better question would be if the greyscale can compete with a sunny day. Somehow, colour is often an unknown and uncertain adventure for me. Although this series includes works with strong colour contrasts, I often feel safe only in a limited colour scale. This, however, is not the type of business where playing it safe brings results, so getting out of one’s comfort zone is a good practice in art.

NMMU: Is it difficult for you to part from your paintings?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: No. It makes sense and it is good that paintings go out into the world.

NMMU: Is there a painting you would never sell and why?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: There has not been such a painting, thus far.

NMMU: In your opinion, what is the artist’s role in today’s society, and the world?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: The role of the artist himself is to take great responsibility to do his work. The work he does is not a job, but a calling, and there is no pressing need for it in the world. However, if he is dedicated, conscientious, and takes great effort, then the society you speak of recognises such an act and values it as an antidote to chaos, madness and banality of our mundane daily life. I believe that at their core human beings have to find meaning of some kind, and this is where art plays a role.

NMMU: Is there a moment that determined your professional path?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: When I transitioned from primary to secondary school, finding out that there was the School of Applied Arts and Design, more or less eliminated all other dilemmas around my lifepath.

NMMU: What is the most cherished experience in your life so far?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: I honestly cannot single out just one.

NMMU: Unfulfilled or great wish?
ZLATAN VEHABOVIĆ: One month in the summer on one of the remote lighthouses in the Adriatic.

Interviewed by: Lana Šetka © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023.
Photo: from the NMMU archive © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023.

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