Slobodan Peji? (19 June 1944 - 25 August 2006) was a Bosnian sculptor and painter who lived for most of his life in Slovenia. He is best known after having transformed a 300-year-old oak tree that fell in the storm in Tivoli Park in Ljubljana into the sculpture Coexistence in 2000, proposing with the act the beginning of a sculpture garden (forma viva) in the park. He painted numerous frescos in Bosnia and Croatia. In addition, he invented a new technique in sculpture, based on moulding and gas expansion. He was for many years the Ljubljana correspondent of the Tanjug press agency.
Peji? was born during a bomb raid of German forces in World War II, on a field, in Balatun, located north of Bijeljina in what is now Republika Srpska. His father was a well-known architect, and his mother was a daughter of Bosnian worthies. As a boy, Peji? was educated by the Austrian painter Karl Matzek, with whom he studied for almost ten years, and who was the only father Peji? really knew. Matzek also married his mother, but then moved to Australia in 1958 and the family retained only written contacts, including art books and art magazines regularly sent by Matzek to Peji?. Apart from Matzek, the young boy was most influenced by the Drina River, where he was spending his youth. He was also marked by the works of the Bosnian poet Mak Dizdar, and some of Dizdar's verses became his life motto. In his home village, Peji? was ascribed magical powers, and helped people as a healer.
Immediately after having graduated from high school, Peji? moved to his own. He studied in Belgrade and earned his living as a clarinetist in a jazz band and as a scenographer in the National Theatre. There, he moved in the company of the best known Yugoslav theatre directors, actors and journalists, participating in their lively discussions, especially in the old Triglav Café. Later, he moved to Germany, and then to Ljubljana, where he studied journalism. He remained there for the rest of his life. Peji? worked for years as a special Ljubljana correspondent to the Tanjug press agency.
Only fragments of his later life are known. He was discriminated on numerous occasions due to his Bosnian descent, disappointed in personal life, and had to struggle ever harder to survive. Despite this, he sporadically created new works of art. He was particularly affected by the Bosnian War, due to which he lost many of his best friends and peers from all the involved sides. In this time, he produced a series of paintings of the Mostar Bridge, and finished it about a week before it was destroyed. In 2006, he fell terminally ill, but nonetheless continued to create almost until his death later that same year.
Peji?'s works were presented at exhibitions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Slovenia, he exhibited three times at a group exhibition of the Slovenian Sculpture Association in Ljubljana. He had sole exhibitions in the Avtotehna company's headquarters, in the Boss Club, at Workers' Hall (Delavski dom), and twice in the Garden Centre (Vrtnarija) part of Tivoli Park. At least four churches and monasteries in Bosnia and one in Slavonia are decorated by the frescoes he created in cooperation with Matzek. His sculptures are found in Slovenia, Bosnia, Austria and Serbia, and his paintings are found in Germany, Great Britain, and Australia. Many of them are owned privately.
Slobodan Peji? was the beginner and an unofficial proposer of a sculpture garden ("forma viva") in Tivoli Park north of Tivoli Pond. In 2000, he created a sculpture, named So?itje ("Coexistence") from an oak that fell in a storm, and from bronze, and dedicated it to the citizens of Ljubljana. To preserve the wood, he worked in harsh winter conditions at -15 °C (5 °F), and to achieve better effect and deep personal connection with the tree, worked only with chisel. In August 2006, just after his death, an exhibition of his work was held at Ljubljana Town Hall and later at visiting exhibitions. A memorial retrospective exhibition of Peji?'s work was held at the Ljubljana Town Hall in August 2007, where the new monography entitled "Slobodan Peji?" was also presented, just off the presses.
The material Peji? in his sculpture works preferred most was wood, particularly oak wood, which he formed with water, fire, hammer and chisel. The contours of his works are pure, ascetic and often highly stylised, e.g."The Upright Man" and "Look at me! Here I am!". They're often based on old pagan legends and folk culture, and on personal, societal and historical circumstances (e.g. Faronika). All his works radiate intensive emotions that are absorbed by the viewer and difficult to forget. The marble statues - The Girl, The Longing, and The Touch - are elegant and tender. His terracotas - Untitled, The Ship of Fools, The Fragment, The Leader - are expressive and semantically rich.
The paintings of Peji? are much darker and full of symbols than his sculptures. Through years, his works became ever more expressive. Colours gradually became purer and more intensive. He centred his work on a fight against the loss of human virtues and the dehumanisation of man. Peji?'s paintings were much influenced by his sculpture work. There is no single redundant stroke there. Colors were squeezed directly from tubes and mixed on canvas. He started the images with brushes and finished them with fingers and hands.
In May 2006, when Peji? was terminally ill, he invented a completely new method of sculpture. In collaboration with the expert in metallurgy and the casting master Jakob Mostar, he outlined the basic shape of the final casting in wax and planned in advance the self-formation of the sculpture according to the physical and chemical characteristics of the materials used and their expected behavior in the planned environmental conditions. For this purpose, he used fresh clay mould, into which the melted mass was poured directly, allowing in this way also to mix metal, glass or other basic materials on the spot. This leads to certain anticipated temperature- and gas-expansions that form the sculpture as outlined. Peji? termed the method the Big Bang Method, and the sculptures born in this way as "self-born sculptures". He finished three such sculptures before his death, and another four he had prepared in wax and mould for casting, were finished posthumously in collaboration with Mostar.