Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Mitch Lui
When it comes to deciding what to pursue in life, artist Alesandro Ljubicic has noticed two distinct possibilities.
“The first is you can be very successful doing something you hate, but the next day you can lose it all. The second is you can do what you love to begin with, because there is no such thing as a safe bet.”
The philosophy has been instilled from observing his parents, who came to Australia from a war-torn Bosnia, leaving their established careers and comforts behind and starting from scratch.
“My parent’s theory is that you never know what is around the corner, so why not just do something you love, regardless of whether you are successful or not?”
The Sydney-based artist has taken a 'no-compromises' approach to doing what he loves, even if it's meant working around a full-time job to sustain his love of paint – using upwards of twelve litres per painting.
With the help of his parents, he opened an online art supply store to fund and support his practice without skimping on materials. Today, he and his parents now work in the The Sydney Art Store storefront and his ventures have expanded to wholesaling and manufacturing.
Despite never having gone to business school, Alesandro runs one of the leading art supply businesses in Australia. The secret could be to treat business like art:
"For me, running a business is almost like painting – it's always one thing on top of the other; I need to add another flower here, another layer of paint there. It is a work of art, and it's constantly evolving.”
Scrolling through Alesandro’s Instagram feed, or that of his model fiancée, Monika Radulovic, his life also resembles a work of art. What is surprising, though, is the low-key nature of their daily lives as a couple.
“We both love staying at home. With Monika’s work, our lives look and sound glamorous, but we only really go to parties or events when we have to, and we often leave within an hour to go home to the cats!”
His approach to daily routines is less easy-going due to the demands of simultaneously running a business and sustaining an art practice. “You have to have a routine otherwise you won’t get everything done.”
The long days seem to fuel his motivation. “When I get home in the evening, obviously I’m exhausted, but I’m not complaining because I feel accomplished. I’m feeding the soul every day and I don't mind getting up and doing it all over again the next because it is so rewarding.”
A few years ago, Alesandro wasn’t seen as a ‘serious’ painter by certain pockets of the art world because he wasn’t exhibiting at certain galleries. It was hard work and an ability to ignore the rhetoric that finally caught the attention of the 'right' people.
“Part of success is when preparation meets opportunity. You need to work hard all the time not knowing what is going to happen. One day when the opportunity present itself, then you have proven to yourself that you are worth it.”
The world might not see you as a ‘real’ painter yet, a ‘real’ writer, a ‘real’ artist, a ‘real’ success in whatever it is you want to pursue, but what Alesandro teaches us is that if we persevere and prepare, we can seize the opportunity when it arrives.
“One day you will be seen as real, and when the day comes, you want to make sure you are fit, in your best shape and ready to go for it.”
Basically from Monday to Thursday I’ll wake up around six. My partner Monika will wake up earlier to go to the gym, and I’ll get up soon after.
I have a shower, have a shave if I haven’t had one the night before, I’ll put on a pair of shorts and a top, and grab my laptop. No breakfast, but as I’m driving to work I pick up a coffee. It’s a very simple morning – I’m up and at it.
If I have a show coming up, I’ll be at the studio by six-thirty, but usually it's around seven.
I’ll get to work and have a quick glance at my laptop and scan through my day. Then I head upstairs to the studio above the store and I will have a look at what I did the night before and what I need to do later that day. I may not necessary paint in the morning, I might mix some colours or get some canvases out and start planning for the evening.
I also plan for the week ahead in terms of how many paintings I will do and what else I have to execute to meet any deadlines. I like to make sure I give myself plenty of time so that if I’m not happy with certain things, I can fix them up.
I've always been someone who starts the day early – both Monika and I like to be ahead of the pack. By the time the shop opens, I’m three hours ahead and I’ve already done more work than a lot of people do for an entire day. When a client calls in and asks for something or about an order, I’m already onto it rather than having to check.
"I like to be ahead of the pack. By the time the shop opens, I’m three hours ahead and I’ve already done more work than a lot of people do for an entire day."
My staff will come in and we will talk about what everyone has to do that day and then everyone does their own thing – no one is watching over anyone.
Throughout the day I’m answering emails, calling clients, advising people about what paints they need for certain techniques.
We have lots of trucks coming in because we have thirty different suppliers we order from every single month. Things are coming in all the time so it's a lot of rotating and moving things around throughout the day.
Sometimes I forget to have lunch. It’s not intentional. If I do remember, I’ll head to a great cafe up the road, or get a naked burrito from Mad Mex. I’ll try to always have something with a lot of vegetables, protein and no carbs so I don’t feel sluggish and heavy when I get back to work. That way I can head back to the shop and get straight back into it.
Part of running the store is acting almost as a counsellor to artists that come in. I’ve had many artists tell me their stories and cry in front of me about the perceived success or failure of their work, or stresses that come from the art world.
What I have learned is regardless of whether you like or dislike someone’s work, or who they are exhibiting with, everyone has got their own vision and way of seeing things and that should be respected.
My paintings are my representation of how I see things or how I want to express myself, so who is to say my interpretation is right and someone else’s is wrong? It’s important to respect their interpretation and their work. It keeps you grounded.
Towards the end of the day we start cleaning up and winding down.
"What I have learned is regardless of whether you like or dislike someone’s work, or who they are exhibiting with, everyone has got their own vision and way of seeing things and that should be respected."
We will shut the doors at six and head up to the studio.
Because I’ve spent the morning either mixing paint or really studying what I need to do, I can get straight into it. I don’t stop painting for two or three hours, so you can imagine how much I can cover – it's like a marathon.
I think a lot of people can spend all day in their studio and not do much work – it’s almost impossible to paint all day, and a lot of it is spent procrastinating and thinking. I am doing that thinking while I’m still working in the shop.
"It’s almost impossible to paint all day, and a lot of it is spent procrastinating and thinking. I am doing that thinking while I’m still working in the shop."
I’ll head straight home from the studio. Monika would have had a busy day so she'll most likely be setting on the couch with the cats.
While I’m eating dinner, I’ll usually have one of the cats thirty-centimetres away from my plate trying to eat my food! We’ll also discuss how our days were, what has been going on and what we have planned for tomorrow.
Then we will hit the bed and do it all again the next day!
On a Friday I won’t go into work too early, instead I might sleep in go around eight.
Then Friday night I’ll finish work at six and might catch up with friends or go for a nice dinner with Monika or see a movie.
On Saturday I start work at ten but I might go to the gym across the road at eight o’clock, nothing too serious, but just enough to keep the routine going.
At five o’clock I’ll go home and again we will have dinner somewhere or catch up with friends.
On Sundays we have a ritual where we will wake up at six-thirty and drive down to Cronulla. We will meet up with Monika’s trainer and others and run the sand dunes for an hour. You feel on top of the world, it's amazing. It's on another level in terms of the adrenalin rush. Then we drive back home and just sort of plan our day. Generally we will just relax for the whole day or catch up with friends. It’s a very slow Sunday and weekend.
"It’s a very slow Sunday and weekend."
“My motto is to keep things simple and work hard. You may look at me from the outside and think, “Fuck, complex – he is doing this, he is doing that,” but I keep things very simple in my work and life. I paint things that I would love on my wall and put a smile on my face.