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Dragan Sekaric Shex needed a vast and spacious area to both create his evocative oil paintings, and display the large works.
The space he found was close to home — in fact, it was his home. Together with was wife Gordana Yovanovich, Shex created his studio and gallery in his own redesign of the couple’s modest bungalow.
Originally a 600-square-foot house with two bedrooms and a small bathroom, they bought the central Etobicoke residence 10 years ago for $ 530,000.
The renovation cost $ 600,000 and today the home includes 3,500 square feet of space, with five bedrooms and five bathrooms on two storeys.
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“Dragan put his heart and soul into this house,” says Yovanovich. “He needs large spaces to create his art and our home gives him the freedom and scope to do that.”
Shex paints in his airy, light-filled studio on the main floor, but his art — including canvases of 183-by-112 centimetres — fills the entire home that serves as a functioning gallery, allowing guests and visitors to see how a work might look, say, over a sofa or by a window.
A trained architect, Shex, 60, earned his degree in architecture in 1981 from the University of Sarajevo, in Bosnia. He drew the designs and plans for the renovation, then rolled up his sleeves to help with the physical labour, including building the stone walls and patio. As well as saving money, “it’s also easier that way to get exactly what I have in mind,” he says.
Flow of light and movement were important elements in Shex’s design; they include the 20-foot ceiling in the front foyer. On a smaller scale, but with the same intent, is the wider first step that juts out from the others on the staircase: “That will draw you, take you upstairs,” Shex says of the climb that leads to his gallery.
Second-floor rooms are furnished not with traditional bedroom furniture but with paintings. Sfumato is Shex’s signature style, a mode of Renaissance art used, for instance, in the face of Mona Lisa by master Leonardo da Vinci. The technique involves a fine shading to blur a transition between colours and tones, and create the effect of illusion. He also paints abstract compositions.
In several canvases, various soft shapes and colours of umbrellas cover muted figures. “In these paintings, I am protecting those in them from everything in the past, as well as the present,” says Shex.
“Artistic talent is sine qua non,” Yovanovich, 61, says of her husband, using the Latin phrase that means something absolutely indispensable or essential, “but fortune also has to smile on you, and lead you to people who recognize your talent.”
After leaving Bosnia in 1992, Shex moved to Rome where he painted landscapes and sold them to tourists. While there he was introduced him to a community of artists that, in turn, introduced him to art studies and what has become his signature sfumato style. He moved to Montreal in 1996 and, following an initial and successful exhibition in the U.S., Shex began painting full time.
Yovanovich, a professor and graduate co-ordinator of Latin American and Caribbean studies at the University of Guelph, currently on sabbatical, works with Shex to help organize and publicize his exhibitions — such as his participation in the upcoming Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair, Feb. 23 to 25, at the Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place. It will be his 10th year with the show, and he plans to have 15 canvases at the show.
On the main floor of their home, in what would typically be a living room, is Shex’s studio. Atypical, still, is that it is orderly — like the painter himself, who creates not with a brush but with a palette or painting knife. Hardwood mahogany floors that cost about $ 13,000 to buy and install are treated with the respect of a home over a studio. “If I see anything on the floor I immediately clean it,” he says.
The family room and dining room also serve as working galleries, to observe the day’s different light play on canvases. “A painting can look amazing in one light but has to be viewed in others,” says Shex.
“The disadvantage of working at home is sometimes it’s lonely. The paints — oils — have powerful odours but I don’t open the windows when I am painting. A curtain blowing or a breeze would be an unacceptable distraction.”
But it’s not all paints and palettes for the couple, who enjoy entertaining friends and customers in their open-concept kitchen and family room.
“The kitchen is designed to open onto the family room, to the back garden, to give the person in the kitchen contact with other members of the household,” says Yovanovich. The backsplash is a single pieced of grey quartz and the counters are white Carrara marble. “The angle of the countertop is designed to draw people in.
“The whole kitchen is white … but the floor through the whole house is dark brown. Contrast is dynamic and gives more energy in the house,” she adds.
Shex does most of the cooking for their entertaining get-togethers. “If you are artistic you can play with everything,” he says.
THE ARTIST PROJECT
More than 250 contemporary artists from around the world will exhibit their works. The show includes Art Chats seminars, Art Battle timed competition with 16 artists, and Nathalie Sanche’s 100-foot-long sculptural piece made from paper.