Art beat: Stone, steel, wood and magic

Zoran Mojsilov sculptures come to Kenwood

KENWOOD — The sculptor Zoran Mojsilov was raised in Belgrade, Serbia, but as a boy he spent summers about 200 miles away in tiny Vlasi, a mountain village set among steep cliffs and rocky outcroppings.

Mojsilov stayed there with his grandmother, who was, he said, what some might call a witch.

“In my language, it’s more like ‘healer,’” Mojsilov clarified a moment later in Serbian-accented English.

He described her as a teacher and keeper of folk traditions. But to those who visited her, her powers were no fantasy.

“Thank God I stayed on her good side,” Mojsilov joked.

Both his grandmother and the landscape of Vlasi were inspirations for Mojsilov’s “Grandma’s Mountain,” a large piece of carved granite installed for the summer at the corner of Penn and Franklin avenues near Kenwood Community School. A second, smaller granite sculpture hunkers at the other end of the block, near the intersection of Penn Avenue and West 21st Street, and is visible from the Bockley Gallery, where recent Mojsilov works in wood, steel and stone, are on display through mid-July.

Gallery owner Todd Bockley has noticed children, in particular, are drawn to the smaller, saddle-shaped sculpture.

“Kids instinctively know what to do with it,” Bockley said. “They ride it like a horse.”

Down the block, the much-larger “Grandma’s Mountain” also invites sitting. Its three seats offer varying degrees of envelopment within the smooth folds of the sculpture and, possibly, through touch, a kind of physical intuition of Vlasi’s mountainous landscape.

Mojsilov moved to the Twin Cities in the 1980s. He now resides in Southwest and maintains a studio in the Grain Belt building in Northeast.

His public artworks are hard to miss in Minneapolis; in addition to several pieces created for the Camden Gateway Sculpture Garden, there is “Cobalt,” a stone monolith with chipped edges that stands outside the Northeast Lunds and “Loop,” two stones hanging like a seedpods from the stem of a curling metal pole, just across Glenwood Avenue from International Market Square. To eat at the Greek restaurant Gardens of Salonica in Northeast is to visit a veritable Mojsilov mini-museum.

Mojsilov studied art for four years in the late ’70s at the University of Belgrade, an institution that then had an old-school focus on life drawing. He also trained in Greco-Roman wrestling for 13 years — from adolescence into his 20s — and he brings not only the physicality of a grappler to his art but a keen understanding of anatomy, by both touch and sight, that reveals itself in subtle ways.

In the Bockley Gallery exhibition, there is the human-scaled “Totem,” a jagged mass of wood incised with saw marks. On one side, it is crisscrossed with bolted-on scraps of corrugated steel; on the other pierced, round stones hang from steel rods; and the whole thing balances nimbly on two small points, like toes.

There’s a similar tension in “Grandma’s Magic,” a tripod of hewn logs suspending a wooden basket filled with railroad spikes, a favorite material of Mojsilov’s that he collects from the tracks running behind his studio. The basket is held in place by steel rods that have been bent and twisted like paper clips under high heat.

The wood is blackened with scorch marks, evidence of a struggle.

“It’s a fight between the materials and me,” Mojsilov said. “We fight, and hopefully I win.”

“It’s bad and it’s bad and it’s bad, and then you keep working until it’s good,” he said at another point. “Then it’s done.”

The artist Scott Seekins, a longtime friend Mojsilov, said he admired the “real physical work” of Mojsilov’s art making.

It is not dainty, certainly. It does not go through conceptual somersaults, either.

“Me and him get along because we’re not academics — I like to say ‘pseudo-intellectuals,’” Seekins said.

The two are also trout-fishing buddies.

He continued: “The call comes in the morning: ‘Scottie, what the (expletive) are you doing? Let’s get going.”

Mojsilov brings that same boisterous attitude and directness to his work. And ingenuity.

In Vlasi, he said, people did not buy the things they needed; they made them, and made them with their hands.

Mojsilov said he approached sculpture in the same way, relying on intuition to find the tools and materials he would need. “Same as the caveman,” he said. “Nobody taught him, either.”