No One is Innocent in Art
He ascended to such heights, intellectual and painting, that certain studies about his art seem a bit naive. He initiated and edited the ”Art” magazine, he was a remarkable pedagogue and important essayist, member of the ”December Group”, ”Independent” and ”Group 69”. He made a sharp withdrawal from realism, metaphysics or fantastic art, avoided traps of informal art and all kinds of denial of painting. Due to internal qualities, exclusively artistic, his works will be appreciated in future times as well

By: Dejan Đorić
Illustrations: From the ”Bogdanović” Collection
Photo: Miloš Muškinja

Stojan Ćelić (Bosanski Novi, 1925 – Belgrade, 1992) was and remained a reputable Serbian painter, professor, academician and writer about art. At the time many opuses are devaluated and authors falling into oblivion, his works of art and words are still firmly standing. We should, however, have in mind that Ćelić was disputed as well.
Some used to say that he was chief of the Bosnian lobby at the Belgrade Academy of Arts (together with Radenko Mišević, Emir Dragulj and others). Dragoš Kalajić considered Ćelić’s painting ”abstract kitsch”, and Radovan Hiršl, a painter very prone to modernism, while living in Zurich, noticed that ”museums are full of Ćelić” (meaning that there are many paintings similar to his). The writer of this text noticed that some paintings of this famous academician resemble certain works of Henry Matisse, which was later confirmed in the main text of Stanislav Staša Živković, written for the catalogue for the biggest Ćelić’s retrospective exhibition (SANU Gallery, 1990). On the other hand, Mihajlo Đoković Tikalo, with a great aversion for such form of creativity and guardian of ”Mediala’s” charism, greatly appreciates Stojan Ćelić’s texts, which cannot be separated from his art.
Painters are often not reliable evaluators of works of other authors. Much more objective and neutral in commissions and juries are art historians and art critics. Ćelić’s opus is unique even besides all references to other modernists. It is known that a painting is created from a painting and a text from a text. There is no virginal, pure art or, as painter Milun Mitrović says: ”No one is innocent in art.” Johann Wolfgang Goethe said that, if everything he owes his predecessors would be taken away from his works, there would be nothing left.


As a writer about visual arts, as an orator in interviews and as an intellectual, Stojan Ćelić ascended to such heights that even studies about his painting written by the best historians of modern art, such as Stanislav Staša Živković, seem a bit naive. His painting ascended similarly.
More than that, he was also a great pedagogue. As painter and critic, all forms of realism, metaphysics or fantastic art were ultimately unfamiliar to him. However, as professor, he was able to recognize an ascending painting star such as young Milan Miletić. He guided him with his advice, artistic examples and openly supported him, when many painters of such type were disabled already at their very beginning. It testifies about the professor’s vast culture and that his persistent dedication to Flemish and Italian early renaissance painting, from his student’s days to visiting European museums, is not just an empty story. When speaking about Ćelić’s (self)education and vast interests, we should always keep in mind that a very solid knowledge of history of modern art and its theoretical problems is standing behind his painting. As an expert in art, he published his first text in 1950, and his monographs about painters Marko Čelebonović, Ignjat Job and Nedeljko Gvozdenović were published later. He wrote dozens of art studies, essays, critics and prefaces in catalogues; some of them are collected in books issued by ”Nolit” and ”Clio”, which also published his large monograph in 1996.
As a painter, he was educated in Mladen Josić’s private school, where Jovan Bijelić and Svetolik Lukić held classes during World War II. There he met and became friends with Boško Karanović, Vera Božičković, Slobodan Boba Jovanović, Ksenija Divjak, Aleksandar Cibet Jeremić, Majda Kurnik, Miodrag Protić, Aleksandar Tomašević, Olga Jevrić and Mladen Srbinović. In the autumn of 1943, he enrolled in the painting department of the Academy of Arts in Belgrade, and joined the partisans in 1944. There are stories that he came to the Academy of Arts with a rifle and wearing a partisan uniform, as an active officer, to start all over again. He enrolled again in 1948, when the leading professor for painting classes was the unbribable and unbreakable Kosta Hakman, completely blind for the communist ideology, who didn’t accept any partisan bullying, only talent and work.
From that moment, Ćelić’s career starts ascending. He was elected assistant at the Academy of Arts in 1954, and in 1955 became member of the famous ”December Group”, the most important artistic formation in the second half of the twentieth century together with ”Mediala”. It was formed upon the idea of Zoran Petrović, Stojan Ćelić gave it its name and, besides them, the group included: Mladen Srbinović, Dragutin Cigarčić, Lazar Vujaklija, Miodrag Protić, Lazar Vozarević, Aleksandar Luković, Miloš Bajić and Aleksandar Tomašević. Ćelić was also member of the ”Independent” (1952–1954) and ”Group 69” (1975–1980).


The first paintings and drawings of this artist were marked by strong veining and expressive deformation, but since 1960, after purifying his palette, he dedicated more time to abstraction, without traces of previous associative landscape and realism.
He avoided falling under the influence of then actual informal painting, a form of nihilism and denial of painting. Instead of anti-painting and later ultimate denying figuration in the form of radical avant-gardism, he decided for its confirmation with all classical features, even symbolic, although revaluated in an abstract manner. He gradually built a unique world constructed on pure visuality, basic elements of painting and pastel colors, not without traces of gray shades, silverish neutral coating. That was the exact shade that marked the Belgrade Painting School from Kosta Miličević to Ćelić’s professors Nedeljko Gvozdenović and Ljubica Cuca Sokić, and was used by Dado Đurić, thus easing the strong coloring.
Serbian medieval fresco painting and the charms of the Mediterranean, from ancient art to the sea as inspiration, had a strong influence on the pastel atmosphere of Ćelić’s painting, fine and meaningful itself. Stanislav Staša Živković was among the first who formulated the belonging of the ”December Group” and Serbian modern art to the circle of Mediterranean values, the heritage spanning from Vinča to the XXI century intimists.
Verticalism as a phenomenon in art was often emphasized on the example of Ćelić’s painting (which is the crown of his artistic activities), as well as his researching of space, although it cannot be separated from color and composition. Živković noticed his system of superposition, one of the oldest perspective systems. It appears on frescoes in the city of Dur Europos in Syria, one of the earliest Christian sites. Besides superposition, Ćelić also used various kinds of spatial pulling, spreading and cutting painting plains.
Art in Serbia doesn’t have its own Vasyl Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko and Archil Gorky, but has its Stojan Ćelić, Lazar Vozarević, Aleksandar Tomašević, and above all Ivan Tabaković. It also has other, artistically equally valuable modern masters, such as Bora Ilyovsky. Due to its internal, purely visual artistic qualities, the work of Stojan Ćelić was so much appreciated in his time, and will continue being so in the future.


Editor and Critic
Ćelić was the initiator and editor in chief of ”Art”, the best magazine in post-war Yugoslavia about visual arts. Since 1956, he was member of the International Association of Art Critics – AICA.


The fact that Ćelić was, besides art, engaged in numerous other artistic disciplines: graphics, drawing, pastel, aquarelle, tapestry, mosaic, scenography and illustrating books, testifies about his wide fields of interest.


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