My works from the nineties include Millennium Garden, Dark Paintings and The Dante Paintings. These works bridge between historical themes and contemporary issues. They take the body as a central iconic element while merging a dimension-less, computer technology with the tangible and sensuous world of exotic pigments and painterly processes.

Through the evolution of these paintings, I have realized a new attitude towards color, space, and drawing which has carried me beyond the historical sources that inspired the work. This attitude is informed partly by my interest in optical phenomena and partly through the generation and layering of forms inherent in the digital tools that drive my image development. I have discovered an unexpected parallel, a resonance, between the systematic layering of thought and image that unfold through the medium of my computer, and the physical layering of drawn or painted imagery and glazed veils of color in my paintings.

What may not be clear from the illustrations is the elusive, non-static character of these paintings. The sense of space is illusionistic and optical, atmospheric and ambiguous. They are constructed of translucent layers of color with iridescent pigments and glazes. These works have evolved in relation to a central principle: that the painting is not to be understood as a static object; rather, it is to be experienced as a viewer-interactive, light-responsive phenomenon. As the viewer moves from left to right, closer or farther away, the character of the color changes: copper becomes vermilion, green becomes red; the layers invert; drawn elements emerge, then fade. Because they are light-reactive, they are greatly dependent upon their installation. For the same reason, they are not well-understood in mechanical reproduction.

The Dante Paintings and Dark Paintings began with media images of the oil fires in Kuwait. Burning plumes against the blackened sky kindled my interest in re-reading Dante. As I went deeper into the text of the Inferno, I was struck by fascinating relationships to contemporary experience. This was my entree into darkness, becoming more inward and more intimate as the work evolved. These works have been described as "fleeting glimpses of man's destructive inclinations, while ephemeral reminders of subliminal darkness and inner withdrawal bleed through", as "painful images of destruction and torture", as "both psychologically disturbing and intriguing", and, alternatively, as poetically evocative of "moods of quiet discomfort and alienation", and as offering "striking revelations of male vulnerability".

Millennium Garden, with its three, large panels, "Eden", "Paradise", and "Darkness", is the central element of a body of work first exhibited at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, in St. Joseph, Missouri. The relationship between Millennium Garden and The Garden of Earthly Delights is one of inspiration and response; it is poetic rather than literal. The visual quotations from the Bosch triptych are "markers" intended to suggest historical and psychological linkages with contemporary experience. This work focuses on the human body, male and female, as an archetypal representation of the self in moments of awakening, becoming, transcendence, and loss.

Written by Alice Thompson; Published in Art in America, November 2005

Ghostly abstracted figures float or tumble across iridescent colored backgrounds in Jim Sajovic's "Dreamer-Ecstasy" series. Spanning the past five years, the 13 paintings on view here feature allover compositions, achieved by repeating and rotating the same figural motif on a single canvas. Six to nine figures appear in each work; they're all the same size and they don't touch or interact. In many works, the buoyant figures appear in a fetal position. Sajovic uses tones of purple, dark red, brown and blue for the figures, while favoring hues of pink, rose and red for the shimmering colored grounds.

In two paintings, Sideris (2004) and Animae (2004-05), the figures have a flamelike shape, inspired, Sajovic says, by Botticelli's depictions of souls as tongues of flame in his illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy. But Sajovic's flame-figures also read as strokes of a paintbrush, which is ironic--perhaps intentionally so--given that no such tool was used in making these works.

Sajovic begins with photographs of live models, posed on the floor to appear weightless. These photos are scanned into a computer and turned into the shadowy cutout figures that will appear suspended in the colored fields. Sajovic then prints out these images as monochrome "sketches" on 8 1/2-by-11-inch sheets of paper.

Moving to canvas, he rolls on a base color and a layer of iridescent pigment, then uses a squeegee to apply from 9 to 20 layers of iridescent glazes. He sprays in the figural elements using a stencil, and continues to add layers of glaze. Sometimes he spatters more color over that.

The figures are most legible in the exhibition's earliest work, Planeo (2001), in which purple-brown figures tumble against a coppery ground. As the series progresses, the figure/ground relationship becomes more blurred and mysterious. In the newest work in the show, Ecstasy (2005), Sajovic created the entire painting on the computer, digitally manipulating color and surface before printing it out in colored inks.

The effect of this increased reliance on the computer is to bring the feel of the work much closer to medical imaging technology, opening the door to new associations with bioengineering and other forms of laboratory tampering. The haze of red in which the "Dreamer Ecstasy" figures are submerged has an aggressive miasmic quality, made all the more sinister by the microbial blobs of irradiated blue which nestle against their bodies and blot out their heads. If this is bliss, it's of a hallucinatory variety.

Written by Leesa Fanning; Published in Jim Sajovic: Evolution 1989-2005, on the occasion of the exhibition at Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Octobler 2005-January 2006

In Jim Sajovic’s art the human body is a continual theme, an archetypal carrier of meaning representing the self, psychological states of being and the human condition. The body is interpreted here, as different modes of meaning: a biological reality, a psycho-sexual entity, a cultural product, an always evasive “other” that exceeds cultural prescriptions, and as an image expressed variously in the visual arts. The body is the source of human symbolism, the wellspring of and originator of all meaning. It is the locus where moments of spiritual significance become manifest, and the place where psychic conflict makes itself visible. The psyche passes so centrally through the body, that the two are really one. In art, it is not only the figural form through which meaning is made, but through the body of the artist and spectator. The body of the artist/spectator is a corporeal entity of knowledge—not associated with rational thought, but with feeling, emotion, intuition, and subjectivity. Gestures, markings, undulating rhythms, colors, and forms are mediated by the artist and then experienced by the spectator/participant as sensation and emotion felt through and with the body. Roland Barthes writes that meaning “is occupied by a sole object… the human body.”

The omnipresence of the figural form of Sajovic’s art—contemporary men and women, skaters, gymnast, kouroi, Adam and Eve, the nude, and more—suggests the implicit awareness of the body as an entity which informs human experience. These are tragic, vulnerable, idealized, and erotic bodies. The paintings in this exhibition share certain characteristics: the quest for understanding the human condition, layering and appropriation of imagery rooted in postmodern sensibility, frequent references to non-narrative and poetic literary and art historical sources. Fusions of the ancient past and immediate present, a continual interest in depicting or creating movement, and the invention of multiple, complex layers of technique increasingly mediated by computer innovation. Sajovic’s figural forms embody conflict, terror, and angst, as well as sublime joy and eternal hope, challenging us to discover and elucidate the body’s silent language. Moreover, Sajovic’s paintings express the vibration of the artist’s body that propels art into being.

Motion Pictures represent archetypal pairings of male and female. The juxtaposed men and women are clearly separate, yet suggest the desire for intimacy and belonging that is forever delayed, tentative, and unstable. These complementary but contending dualities of unity and polarity are as ancient as humankind. Artemis’ dilemma presents—as if they are discrete “film frames” —a seductive nude woman reminiscent of a pin-up, a contemporary nude man mirroring the pose of the adjacent Kritios Boy, and the large-scale head of a woman looking assertively toward the viewer. Non-narrative, these postmodernist representations of the human body encourage the free-play of associative meanings. The women are seductive and assertive. The vulnerable nude man is subsequently identified in the title of another painting as reluctant. Kritios Boy, also seen in Web of Belief, provides a link to our ancient past, but now, hollow-eyed and fragmentary, suggests the loss of and nostalgia for Arcadia. The men and women in Artemis’ dilemma and Web of Belief remain hermetically isolated in spite of their shared humanity and presumed desire for meaningful connection.

In The Reluctant Apollo, a nude man steps in the direction of a fashionably attired woman, who willfully turns her attention away from the man toward the viewer. Her blurred features and dark sunglasses conceal her identity and mask her thoughts. The man’s nudity and tentative step betray his vulnerability in the presence of the seemingly oblivious woman. Does her apparent swift movement suggest evasive intentions? In Hephaestus’ dream, a well-dressed man furtively glances at two views of a seductive woman emerging from a shimmering pool. Her curvaceous body echoes the pool’s undulating edges. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus, the lame god of the forge, is married to the beautiful and adulterous goddess of love, Aphrodite. Hephaestus’ existence, perhaps like the contemporary man in Hephaestus’ dream, was one of perpetual frustration and distrust.

Motion Pictures are certainly about male desire, yet interpretation of the paintings is more complex than 1980s and 1990s feminist and critical theory might allow. These approaches claim that the male artist’s aesthetic gaze takes pleasure in women as visual objects. This aesthetic regime depersonalizes women by relegating them to the passive position of the viewed object while excluding them from the active subjectivity of the viewer’s position, the position of power and value judgment. Motion Pictures do depict the discrete juxtapositions of male and female bodies. They reiterate binary oppositions and the construction of gender through bodily comportment, and distinctly male of female attire. In this series, however, male desire is subject to counterbalance and role reversal. In Artemis’ dilemma, the nude bodies of the seductive woman and Kritios Boy have both been shaped by the cultural process of idealization; the present-day male is vulnerable and the assertive gaze of the woman is about the strong woman who “looks back,” claiming her own sexuality and perhaps frustrating male desire. Her defiant expression suggests hubris and she may be associated with the goddess Artemis, a fiercely independent woman who excelled in the traditionally masculine sport of the hunt. Artemis’ quandary was the result of her arrogance, demonstrating that strength of will and extraordinary powers may not prevent tragic consequences. Falling victim to pride in response to a challenge, she unwittingly fired an arrow that killed her cherished male companion, Orion. In Artemis’ dilemma, the emphatic presence of the monumental assertive woman complicates a singular reading of male desire.

Motion Pictures appropriates the cinematic, slow motion blur; a hallucinatory device potentially rich in symbolic meaning. Blurring signifies the movement of time and the elongation or loss of a moment, physically experienced as a psychic sensation. Fleeting memories emerge like images flashing from within the haze of time. In the blur, details are forgotten. Obliterating details and especially facial characteristics masks identity and assures anonymity. Masking identity reveals vulnerability and the need to conceal our inner self. Blurring is the vehicle of ambiguity. The viewer’s probable response to Motion Pictures is the perception of a sudden encounter or transient revelation. Reiterated through subtitles—dilemma, reluctant, question, and dream, we are left to ponder.

Motion Pictures are the result of Sajovic’s emphatic decision to create a new personal aesthetic; a style made in defiance of the extreme painterly techniques of the Neoexpressionists, who dominated the art world of the 1980s. Questioning the expressive gesture as the sole carrier of content and hallmark of great art, Sajovic developed techniques wherein the process of making is not evident and the hand of the artist is withdrawn. He squeegeed layers of glaze over the surface and airbrushed soft-edged figural forms onto the prepared ground. With photography as the source —these are mediated images—Sajovic’s subjects are already once removed, and additional layers of glaze further veil the figural forms. Patterns set down by squeegee marks formally integrate dissimilar imagery and unify the composition. A cool, neutral color palette—blue, rose, and gray—imparts emotional reserve. The subtle and carefully controlled techniques used to Motion Pictures reinforce the ambiguity of mood and displacement of meaning. Setting himself apart from the mainstream with these cool, detached works, Sajovic confronted viewers with paintings they were unaccustomed to seeing.


The Dante Paintings and Dark Paintings express a mood of profound introspection and acknowledge tragic and destructive forces present in the human psyche. The series was inspired by contemporary disasters occurring on a worldwide scale, which kindled Sajovic’s interest in re-reading Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Inferno. The Dante Paintings and Dark Paintings also include Sajovic’s quotations from Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli’s illustrations published in The Drawings by Sandro Botticelli for Dante’s Divine Comedy. The sixth circle, for example, quotes Botticelli’s drawing of Dante in Hell observing tortured souls burning in sepulchers.

The title Gates of Dis refers to a city in Inferno. In Gates of Dis, “Hell on Earth” manifests in the barren desert of the Kuwaiti oil fields, where oil wells set on fir rage with unrelenting vengeance, emitting plumes of smoke that blacken the sky. Above, Sajovic appropriated two figural forms from news photographs of a man drenched in gasoline and set ablaze in Suweto, South Africa. Crouching in agony, orange sparks explode from his body like the life force rushing to make its exit. In Gates of Dis, Kritios Boy reappears. With his back to the viewer he observes the conflagration. Transported to the present from ancient times, Kritios Boy serves as a “witness,” reminding us that the tragic component of human nature is ongoing.

In these paintings the dark, glowering power of Hell is expressed through color and the physical materiality of paint. Variations of orange and red are the colors of radiant embers and shooting flames. Exuding heat, these images of Hell smolder from within. Blackish-brown tones resemble soot and smoke. Using a thick gritty substance, micaceous iron oxide, Sajovic creates passages that take on the appearance of coal dust. Color and texture conspire to awaken the viewer’s olfactory sense to the “vile stench” of burning oil and human flesh.

The Dante Paintings and Dark Paintings are noted for their complex layering of multiple techniques. Computer generated and digitally manipulated airbrushed figures are interspersed between layers of glaze squeegeed onto the canvas. Other figures, such as Botticelli’s turquoise winged-demon in Dante in Sarajevo, are linear drawings made with a small sable brush. In Phlegyas’ bark and Dante in Sarajevo, figures of gymnasts, appropriated from Eadweard Muybridge’s early-twentieth century photographs are depicted with a stipple technique using interference paint. This polymer emulsion with titanium-coated mica flakes creates a highly refractive surface. As the viewer moves relative to each figure, its color vacillates between gray and magenta. In this flickering movement—wholly dependent on optical phenomena and viewer interactivity—the inert matter of the human form seems momentarily animated with life. Furthermore, in both Baptism (the way money burns) and Sleeping in Cocytus, Sajovic, using a wooden potter’s tool, incised figural forms into richly applied swaths of white and pink impasto. The x-ray image of a hand in Sleeping in Cocytus and the “digital” representation of a striding speed skated in Baptism, which registers the red/hot, blue/cold thermographic readings of his body, acknowledge Sajovic’s interest in rapidly changing technologies and the body’s virtual existence in cyberspace.


The monumental paintings of Millennium Garden—Eden, Paradise and Darkness—were inspired by and poetically correspond to the three panels of Heironymous Bosch’s triptych, the Garden of Earthly Delights (1510-15). In Eden, gender distinctions and tensions characteristic of Motion Pictures have dissolved. Here, the undulating contours of the bodies of Adam and Eve suggest perpetual metamorphosis in the realm of Arcadia. The complicated layering of the bodily forms in Eden was made possible through computer-generated studies. Sajovic airbrushed the figures onto the canvas using templates and sub-templates. Working quickly with a wet sponge, he meticulously removed areas of wet paint to create highly ambiguous forms. Emotionally moving, the dispositions of the bodies suggest states of awakening, hold pent-up energy, and express the immanent possibility of unfolding into rapture. Above Adam and Eve, joyous, floating/dancing figures commingle with quotations from Bosch’s triptych. Hope reigns in Eden. In Paradise, stippled figural forms virtually dissolve into the rhythmic flux of the iridescent color field, oscillating ephemerally between presence and absence. Darkness quotes one of Bosch’s most horrific creatures, the Prince of Hell. The bird-headed monster simultaneously devours and excretes humans. Bodies are tumbling downward through vast emptiness beneath a simple ellipse signifying the threshold of Hell. The entire composition is immersed in a darker, more ominous shade of red. Millennium Garden seeks to reawaken distant echoes of unconscious memories—the ecstasy of paradise as the original state of bliss—and the tragic sense of despair, loss, and separation from it. Millennium Garden’s iconic gold and triptych format carry spiritual connotations.

In Millennium Garden, sensuous veils of iridescent gold and diaphanous pale green are glazed over red to create a shimmering body-like membrane, perceived by the viewer as “color atmosphere.” Red, green and gold are a juxtaposition of chromatic differences that throb in a third dimension. Mobile, fluctuating surfaces of color are emphatically excessive and abundant in their sensuality. Color, when used in large, relatively undifferentiated fields on monumental canvases such as these, envelops the artist and later the viewer. Color is a mode of regression, returning the viewer to the archaic moments of our beginnings; to pre-Oedipal, pre-cultural, pre-linguistic origins where color, as the first thing we perceive, precedes form and representation. Our experience of color acquisition is a composite layering of unconscious psychic associations linked, or cathected, to our bodies from our earliest moments. Color is rooted in the life of the body as instinctual memory. It also translates instinctual drives into paintings, conveying meaning apprehended on a bodily level by the spectator.

Jouissance, as related to Millennium Garden, describes a state of ecstasy, and the multiple meanings are simultaneous—Jouissance is at once sexual, spiritual, physical, and conceptual. According to Julia Kristeva, a literary and cultural theorist, linguist and psyschoanalyst, the primary vehicle of Jouissance is color. Color ravishes the eye, eroticizes the body, and returns us to fleeting moments of our origins. Millennium Garden is a luminous spatialization of color, the ultimate language of Jouissance wherein one revels in the plenitude of pure color. Penumbral as these canvases may be, they gestate a chromatic glow, which no amount of visual inhalation will ever deplete.

For all of their sensuous beauty, Millennium Garden expresses not only ecstasy, but also loss and despair. These paintings embody the painful separation from the ecstatic state of our archaic beginnings, and in so doing, diffuse, assuage and mourn the reality of it. Beauty is a poignant antidote for loss. In Eden, Adam and Eve—such glorious bodies bathed in glowing light and caught in shimmering veils—are poignantly beautiful. Poignancy means painful and deeply affecting, piercing, touching, moving, being to the point, and pleasurably stimulating. Poignancy is thus a mode of Jouissance—a complex conjunction of sensuality, pleasure and pain. Beauty is poignant because it is ephemeral, and Sajovic’s membrane-like veils of color are so fleeting and fragile, they cannot help but evoke complex emotions. How moving, through the creation of art, to be able to suggest such fleeting psychic values. Sajovic’s canvases evoke a lavishness of pleasure, implying that beauty, as a mode of the erotic, replaces and compensates for the wound of loss. Beautiful paintings help us move through despair because they bewitch us into their world and we momentarily overcome loss. Millennium Garden captures the unattainable desire to re-attain wholeness.


Sajovic’s most recent series Dreamer/Ecstasy asks—What is joy, bliss, paradise, enlightenment, and spiritual transcendence, and can they be experienced here and now? Dreamer/Ecstasy directly evolved from the joyous, floating/dancing figures in Millennium Garden’s Paradise and borrowed form Boticelli’s illustrations for Dante’s Paradisio. The figural forms in Dreamer/Ecstasy parallel Botticelli’s heaven-bound putti and stylized patterns representing tongues of flames suggest spirits, souls, and eternally twinkling points of starlight. Dreamer/Ecstasy depict bodies coiled into fetal forms rapturously floating in atmospheric fields of confectionary yellow, orange, turquoise, and pink. Weightless and suspended in as many as a dozen or mor layers of shimmering glaze, the bodies float in “amniotic bliss.” Titles such as Ecstasy and Xanax reinforce content. Formally, the corporeal forms of Dreamer/Ecstasy ambiguously vacillate and shift on the threshold between realism and abstraction. Although each exists within its own field of being, Sajovic composes the bodies in relation to one another with repetition, harmonic interrelationships, and musical rhythms in mind. The undulating forms mark the first time in Sajovic’s career that he has worked with “pattern and repetition.”

Dreamer/Ecstasy is rich in associative meaning. Patterns of human form evoke the microcosm of molecular biology with its cellular and genetic components, and conversely, the macrocosmic flux of the universe. The floating cosmic bodies of Planeo evoke the heavens in title and form. Animae suggests patterns of movement within the universe. Each body has its own rotational axis but is part of an implied elliptical rotation around the two central figural forms. Small, circular points of turquoise and pink paint activate the surface and mimic twinkling starlight. Intuitively derived, the light-filled sparks are configured in linear trajectories as if belonging to an overarching cosmic pattern. Dreamer/Ecstasy expresses a mythical relationship with the heavens and yearns for transcendent experience.

Spanning fifteen years, this retrospective marks Sajovic’s artistic evolution and the numerous ways he has defined a pictorial, conceptual, and technological territory unique to himself. The artist has moved beyond the cynicism of Motion Pictures, the angst of The Dante Paintings and Dark Paintings, and the hope and despair of Millennium Garden, arriving at the rapturous Dreamer/Ecstasy series. His most recent digital paintings, such as Ecstasy, are entirely computer generated, and then output in pigmented inks on canvas using a large format, ink-jet printer. Untouched by the hand of the artist and created in cyberspace, these depict truly virtual bodies. Sajovic’s art has developed through a complex process of layering, interweaving, and reworking of themes and motifs that encircle and intersect one another, all mediated by the presence of the human body. A life and works of art—are the two not the same? Sajovic will no doubt continue to create profound paintings that encourage us to examine our own, inner self.

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