Pedja Djakovic: Explosion of passion
Bosnian-born Serb brings life, color to the Prague scene
By Alan Levy
Staff Writer, The Prague Post (September 25, 2003)
Advertising and editorial are on separate floors of our downtown headquarters and we try not to overlap. But one day in 1998, I got a call from a British real estate agent who had threatened to withdraw his adverts because of our "atrocious American spelling" of the Queen's English: metres, centre and cosy kept coming out meters, center and cozy: "I say, Alan, would you please stop indulging in emotional blackmail? ... I mean: I've just told your sales rep I'm adamant about canceling and what has he done? He burst into tears! So now I have a grown man about 10 feet tall sitting in my office, sobbing. What are we going to do about it?" Savoring the situation, I suggested he renew. He did. For the record, Predrag "Pedja" Djakovic, now 39, stands a mere 6 feet 7 inches (201 centimeters) tall and, as advertising director of The Prague Post from 1998 to 2002, was probably the only ad man in town to bring pure emotion to the bargaining table. He began most of his sales pitches with two words: "Trust me." And clients did. Some even noted that he was very diligent about taking notes. Why not? He was sketching their portraits. First and foremost, Pedja Djakovic is a prizewinning painter who has been exhibited in Los Angeles, Boston, Munich, London and Amsterdam; several times in his native Yugoslavia; and many times in his adopted hometown of Prague, where he has lived 19 years and took Czech citizenship in 1999. When he left our employ -- and his only salaried job ever -- last year, it was to devote full time to his art. The first fruit of his latest renaissance has blossomed forth in downtown Prague as the final exhibition in the ground-floor gallery of the Albatros children's publishers' former headquarters (now a bank). Under the collective title of Pedja Djakovic, 14 richly colored paintings fill a large foyer with scenes biblical, biographical and mythological. And there is no better way to get to know Pedja and his background as well as his art than by sampling his show. That haunting, tender Prague Madonna with a glowing golden local background: Which church is it in? It isn't, says Pedja. It's my grandmother holding my infant father. They would be happy to know I'm here. His Jesus Entering Jerusalem wears the face and goodness of Pedja's paternal grandfather, who was a Serbian Orthodox priest. An Orthodox prophecy Born in Bosnia to Serb parents, Pedja spent the first three years of his life in the small town of Derventa. But then his wise priestly grandfather came to his parents and said: Listen, the war that's coming will be fought right here, so get out. The new imam speaks only Arabic. [Muslims] will build mosques and breed children.That was in 1967. The Djakovices moved to the north Serbia province of Vojvodina, near the Hungarian frontier, just in time for a different war. On Pedja's fourth birthday, Aug. 21, 1968, Hungary and four other Warsaw Pact nations invaded communist Czechoslovakia, their reformist ally. Yugoslavia trembled and Pedja heard the rumbling of tanks across the border. (Belgrade's dictator, Marshal Tito, had supported Alexander Dubcek's socialism with a human face and the Red Army actually drew up, but didn't execute, military plans to neutralize Yugoslavia.) Says Pedja today: That's why my family and I celebrate my birthday a day before or a day after, but never on the date itself.His maternal grandfather possessed a huge volume of Marc Chagall reproductions. The first time I saw Chagall, Pedja recalls, I was absolutely shocked by the colors. But then I saw they were the colors of the village we'd left behind -- as I remembered them. Later we took a trip to Paris, and I discovered Picasso -- the early Picasso at the turn of the 20th century, his 'blue' and 'rose' periods before Cubism entered his life. While Chagall is the first painter who comes to the mind's eye when viewing Djakovic, there is Cubism, too, influenced as much by Prague as by Picasso. Cezanne entered the picture when the boy was 7. A Czech art critic, Miroslav Klivar, has written that Djakovic's principal point of departure for his ideas was Cezanne. He wants to express himself only by means of color; the drawing is wholly in its service. He models by means of color and illuminates with a painterly light that differs from natural light. As with Cezanne, when color achieves diversity, form attains fullness. Pedja's father was an agricultural engineer; his mother, a pharmacist. Alexander Djakovic wanted their only child to follow in his mother's footsteps and enroll at the Pharmaceutical University in Belgrade (which Pedja did, though he never attended). But his mother, Tatjana, just wanted him to grow up to be the Renaissance man with a gargantuan appetite for life, art and music that Prague knows now. Not that Pedja's late father was any kind of philistine. He played jazz guitar and launched the Bossa Nova Family Band in Vojvodina with little (then!) Pedja on piano, Alexander on guitar and, for percussion, Tatjana shaking various kinds and sizes of beans in bottles: glass maracas, she called them. Sent to Belgrade for his final two years of secondary school, Pedja switched his seventh and eighth year of piano lessons from classical to jazz. When Pedja came to Prague in 1984 to study painting, he was shocked by all the art around me. And all that jazz. This is a city of music. Under communism, you couldn't speak, but you could get away with jazz because there was no text, just subtext. And it's a city of love. Very rarely have I loved somebody the way I fell in love with this city. The whole place is a playground for lovers. If you combine those three -- Art, Jazz, Love -- you get bursts of color, explosions of passion. On his fourth day in Prague, Pedja met his future wife, Lydie Cymbrylova. But she was engaged to someone else, whom she married. Five years later, when her marriage broke up, Pedja wed her and adopted her 3-year-old daughter Natalie, now 16; Pedja and Lydie also have their own son and daughter. Answering Andy Only a loving parent could have painted The Wisdom of King Solomon in Djakovic's current show at Albatros. The biblical king need not have put the two women claiming motherhood of the same baby to the test of allowing or forbidding the child to be divided in two by Solomon's sword. The real mother -- who renounces the child to save its life -- radiates compassion and torment; the other woman's face is hard, hard, hard. At Albatros, we meet some of Pedja's literary, artistic and personal influences: Don Quixote, Dorian Gray, Toulouse-Lautrec, Anna Karenina, and the most amusing entry, My Answer to Andy Warhol, a panel of four portraits of Bozena Nemcova (1820-62), author of Babicka (Grandma). But Djakovic used a contemporary grandmother in varying colors at four different times. Of all his icons, the one Djakovic looks up to most is a 150-centimeter (4-foot 11-inch) dwarf, Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), who Pedja says was the first and only artist ever hung in the Louvre in his lifetime. To which Pedja Djakovic, a big man who Thinks Big, adds: I want to be the second.