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Gabriella Nikolic IMPRESS IMPRINT



December 12, 1991 – JAT announces the departure of the flight Belgrade-Toronto … we are asking passengers to check-in. What was not announced then – that was the last intercontinental flight of Yugoslav Airlines, in the final decade of the last century.

As a passenger on that flight to Canada, I left the fourth year of the Faculty of Applied Arts and Design, all the clay and glaze of Belgrade, ceramic pottery of childhood, ceramic sculpture of adolescence, and with that one-way ticket I was going away from the wars, devaluations, hatred and frenzy. Like Alice in Wonderland, falling through space and time at some foreign faculty, where I was studying the same thing I left behind, I fell into the arms of the strangest man, right into graphic atelier Novak Graphics Inc. The man is “one of us”, but WE at that moment were in war with THEM, at least that’s what CNN was saying. While in that atelier there was an atmosphere we only read about in the thick books from art history. Ok, I was thinking, I have a text book fromSchoolofDesign, professor Nena’s print making course, I know everything, but now I’m working on color separations for Jean Paul Riopelle, I’m preparing screens, mixing colors and printing!

What a trip and it was only a beginning on my journey through the world of graphic art! Driven by absolute improbability and creativity.

For twelve years, I was managing this strange atelier, owned by an even stranger man, where everything was possible, as impossible was unacceptable.

Imagine, IMAGINE, John Lennon! For a person, whose first words were neither mom nor dad, but O-bla di, O-bla da, that was a quantum leap outside my own self! Rock n’ roll in the real sense of the word!

Once you are living and working according to the principle of absolute improbability, printing someone else’s work, while only thinking about sculpture, it frequently happens that you come up with a wonder, something completely silly. That was the case in 1996, when American artist Joe Geshick, Native born from Ojibwe tribe, came to the studio – I had an amazing idea to print a relief serigraph! Sounds great, Joe was overjoyed! To make the irony greater, the title of the artwork is Healer! I worked the hardest I have ever worked, but there was no turning back.

* Life lesson number one – Do not make your life more complicated than necessary!

I quickly Healed myself from the three-dimensional ideas and applied myself to the two-dimensional beauty of the print!

Famous Dutch artist with the status of a rock star, Rob Scholte arrived in the studio in 1997.

You need to love people you are working with,  more than you love yourself, so that you would avoid temptation to become a serial killer. Intolerable conflict of characters, haughtiness of Robi’sself-pity because he is not whole like he was (he lost his legs in the car explosion), whereby working hours would begin, whenever Robi wanted and that would usually be around midnight. All and all, it was one the worst experiences in collaboration, yet the outcome was a great series of serigraphs!

* Life lesson number two – In order to do this job, you need to love mankind - A LOT!

Regarding work, Golden Age started in 1998, as I collaborated with Lary Middlestadt, Ian Baxter&, Liu Jian, Baddana Zack, Boris Bućan, Kića Nešić and Rada Krstić and a group of indigenous artists of the First Nation, such as Roy Thomas, Richard Bedwash and Carl Beam.

This collaboration would grow into great friendship with Beam family and for the following several years, more precisely since 1999. until Carl’s death in 2005, I would only work on their projects.

*Life lesson number three – Everything is possible until you realize that it isn’t!

Silk screen press I was working until that moment was 110x150 centimeters. Carl brought the press that was 120x180 centimeters. And what did we do then? We made a new table for printing, we borrowed mechanism for manual printing from Kića Nešić (who at that moment just moved and did not know what to do with the device of that size) and we started printing large formats. That year, Carl won the award by the Ernst&Young Foundation for the best print, which was done in our atelier, we got all the praises and I got a teacher, spiritual leader and a most valuable friend.

He used to call me Eagle of the South and when he would appear, he would shout: EAGLE! and the world would become magical, the explosion of friendship and colors, along with guitar, amp, blues, good whiskey …. It was a time when we worked at 474 Bathurst St. South in Toronto, that was our miraculous Boing 474 or Golden Heart, until we moved to Hamilton.

At the beginning of the new millennium, Toronto became a great construction site, something like Belgrade Waterfront, new buildings were springing up everywhere, scaffolds, construction workers, closed streets, more expensive rent and new bylaws – ban for using printmaking inks, acid, diluting liquid – in short, graphic printing activity, forced us to move our atelier in the industrial zone of Hamilton, a town with heavy industry.

The city of ghostly architecture of decay, smell of melting steel, all in all – horror, but we were not surrendering.

* Life lesson number four - Once life gives you lemons, make a lemonade with lots of sugar!

In 2001 atelier was working again, I opened Steel City Gallery and the first project was COLLABORATION with Carl. We agreed on everything, he and Anne would arrive in a few days and ahead, they would send me new screens before their arrival, which were made but not used before. Okay, I’m thinking, everything is under control…. The freight transport agency called me to inquire whether I had a garage and what were its dimensions, I explained everything, confirmed delivery date and without knowing what Carl had prepared for me?

Ten-meter truck arrived and I was wondering what’s it for, but I did not say anything, perhaps Hamilton is just a temporary stop and they loaded Carl’s stuff as well …. Two guys came out of the truck, they opened it and brought out silk screen 3,5 meters high. It already contains images of Jennifer Lopez, killer whale, Portuguese ship and a title FOOL MOON OMEGA LEAP, which was size of 280x320 centimeters. Carl insisting on printing only from one pull with squeegee blade …. NO PANIC, I remember the sentence from the book Hitchhikers Guide Through Galaxy by Douglas Adams …. Okay, I figure it out ! We would create suspension mechanism, I would lie on the board and hold a squeegee blade on the middle and or as much as I could, in order to have stable equal pressure…. Okay, I think we might pull it off. And we did!!! According to the principle of absolute improbability, it did. The results are magnificent Carl’s works on canvas and large-format paper,  Quantum Leap, Whale of Our Being, Hot Zone that was opened in Steel City Gallery in May 2002.

* Life lesson number five - Never format yourself and your potential – and always remember lesson number two – Love the people you are working with.

That same year, a great painter Jean Paul Riopelle died and I was left with the memory of working with him and our friendship, one print, one Gauloisescigarrete that was a gift that I still keep.

Carl’s sudden death in 2005. left me with big void, feeling empty, deeply sad, also that was the end- not just of my professional engagement in graphic atelier Novak Graphics Inc, but also the end of my marriage with its owner and end of an era,  leftdeeply imprinted on my character and artwork.

After twenty years spent in Canada, Austrian Airlines brought me back to Belgrade via Vienna in 2010, together with my life lessons on the path to Canada. While along with books, paintings and prints, I brought memories of collaborating with great Canadian artists in the 20th century. At the end, this was just a new beginning.

This project is a tribute to great Canadian artists, I collaborated with, at a certain time, in a certain country, as a sign of gratitude for 150 years of Canada. That is the country of limitless space, where everything is possible, indescribableand I owe incredible gratitude to my second patria, the country which formed me as a humanist and artist!

I want to thank my dear friend Ljiljana Stojanović, who made me write this project and her skillful vibrations of selfless goodness and intention, initiating a carousel of memories on highs and lows in printmaking, moving loads of papers, countlesspapercuts scars on my hands, ink stains, but still they form the unforgettable time!

I owe eternal gratitude to my parents and my sister, for their love,  generous support, hard work in the atelier, and above all,for accepting everything that came from magnificent screens of creative madness at the studio!

                                                                                                                                                   Gabriella Nikolic, Master printer



Gabriella Nikolic, born 1967 in Belgrade.

Studied Ceramics at Faculty of Applied Arts from 1987-1991, but she graduated at OCAD, University of Toronto, Canada in 1994 Postgraduate studies at Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, USA.

From 1994 till 2006 she was co-owner of one of the most prestige printmaking studios in Canada, Novak Graphics Inc., where as Master printer, produced editions for Jean Paul Riopelle, Carl Beam, Iean Baxter&, Rob Scholte, John Lennon, Group IRWIN, Braco Dimitrijević, Boris Bućan, etc.

In 2006 she was a guest professor at Printmaking Department, Institute of Arts at Shen Zhen, China for large format silkscreen prints.

One of the founders of Hamilton Print Studio where she was teaching silkscreen, but the Award for best lithograph bears her name.

In 2013 she was invited by Museum of Anthropology, Department of Humanism, Peace and Conflict Studies, Colgate University USA, to lecture about her multimedia exhibition from series ONE DAY, on subject of Holocaust.

Her artistic multidisciplinary approach in video installation, performance, experimental and independent documentary filmmaking brought her work in numerous international Museums and their permanent collections in Canada, USA, China, Israel, Belgrade, Pančevo, Smederevska Palanka, Inđija, etc.

Member of ULUPUDS and awaiting DOKSERBIA. She was awarded several times for her achievements.

Lives in Belgrade.