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Designers & Creators Directory

Borko Lazeski

(BOR-koh LAH-zeh-ski)

Birthplace: Prilep, in present-day North Macedonia

Heritage: Macedonian

Date born: October 22nd, 1917

Date deceased: June 16th, 1993 (at the age of 75)

Education: University of Belgrade, Serbia [1933-1941], State Academy of Art, Sofia, Bulgaria [1941-1943], École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France, [1945-1948]

Biography

Of all the artists of Macedonia of the 20th century, Borko Lazeski is unquestionably one of the most influential and impactful creative minds of the era. Adept at painting, illustrating, fresco, mosaic tile art, large scale murals, stained glass, and much more, Lazeski was a powerhouse whose impact upon the art scene of the country can still be felt today. Born in the rural town of Prilep in 1917, Lazeski showed a skill for art at a young age, he was enrolled in art school in Belgrade by his parents Maria & Nikola at the encouragement of Borko's teacher Velebit Rendić. Starting in 1933, Lazeski excelled at university, however, he found the "socialist realist" art style, championed by many professors at that time, quite constraining. While being intrigued by more modernist tendencies being practiced at that time, he was also still drawn to the traditional Byzantine artistic heritage of his homeland, a fusion evident in many of his early works. On the eve of war in Yugoslavia in 1941, Lazeski transfers from the University of Belgrade to the State Academy of Art in Sofia, Bulgaria, enrolling in Nikola Ganušev's class on academic realism. However, feeling even further stifled by the rigid artistic conformism of Sofia, Lazeski left Bulgaria to return home to Yugoslavia in 1943 to fight with the Partisans against the fascist forces.

With his artistic talents, he was enlisted within the propaganda arm of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, during which time Lazeski made heroic and sympathetic sketches of Partisan soldiers. As one source relates, "he became a chronicler of events, situations, psychological states at the time. He observes the bare truth of what he has seen, experienced and felt" (Photo 1). In addition to the Partisans, Lazeski also uses his drawings to document and capture the plight of the ethnic-Macedonian families fleeing Greek territory back towards Yugoslavia. After the war in 1945, Lazeski is sent to Paris to study art at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts on behalf of the French government. Here, his artistic inspiration is amplified by the experimentation of modern art being practiced in Paris. As such, one of his first paintings there, "Romantic Landscape", is a complete departure of his earlier styles and is credited as being the first truly modern painting created by a Macedonian. While in Paris, he also takes courses in stained glass making, as well as a painting course by André Lhote (famed French cubist painter). The influence of Lhote goes on to be some of the most influential on Lazeski's signature style.

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Photo 1: "Romantic Landsacpe", by Borko Lazeski, 1946

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Photo 2: The NOV mural at Skopje train station, 1956

In 1948, Lazeski returns to Macedonia, where he begins teaching art at the university. However, he quickly becomes enraptured at the idea of creating monumental artwork. He begins with his first memorial commission in 1950 with a patriotic painting at the Army Hall in Skopje dedicated to the 1903 Ilinden Uprising (quite large at 5m wide). Then, after this success, in 1951, he embarks upon his professional opus (quite early in his career): a 45-meter-long fresco mural in the lobby of the Skopje train station titled "People's Liberation Army" (NOV) [more info]. However, while the Ilinden painting was of a more socialist realist style, the NOV mural would be a truly modernist work, as it was becoming more accepted in Yugoslavia at this time. The project takes 5 years to complete, and, in the process, he completes two other small monument commissions, a modest mosaic monument in Slivovo (just north of Ohrid) in 1954 and another mosiac "Sentry for the Fatherland" at the Army Hall in Skopje in 1955. The completion of this enormous NOV train station mural in 1956 rockets Lazeski into Yugoslav artistic stardom, having created the largest single mural in the country. Then, not long after completing this masterwork, Lazeski travels to Baghdad, Iraq, where he spends nearly 10 years teaching artistic methods at the Baghdad Academy of Art.

Sadly, it is during his time teaching in Baghdad that Skopje suffers a tragic earthquake in 1963, a tragic event which not only kills over 1,000 people in the city, but also destroys many buildings that contain Lazeski's early works, such as the Skopje train station and the Army Hall. Upon returning to Skopje in 1969, Lazeski sets out upon a new trajectory of stained glass art production for Macedonia. In 1971, he unveils a massive 12m wide abstract stained glass titled "Fervor" along the front facade of a new Stopanska Banka in Skopje. After this, between 1972 and 1975 he creates what is unquestionably his most famous stained glass work, which is a series of four abstract skylights (25m sq each) in the ceiling of the Ilinden Monument (aka: "Makedonium") in Kruševo, Macedonia [profile page] (Photo 3). Over the next few years during the late 1970s, he creates several more stained glass works across Skopje, such as the Academy of Arts & Sciences and at the National Bank. Then, in 1978, Lazeski is bestowed with the October Prize by the SR of Macedonia for lifetime achievements in the arts.

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Photo 3: One of Lazeski's stained glass windows at the Makedonium in Kruševo

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Photo 4: Lazeski recreating the NOV mural at Prilep

During the 1980s, Lazeski spends several years traveling across Mexico, putting on exhibitions and working on mural projects. He puts on his first show in Mexico City at the Center for Economic and Social Studies of the Third World (CEESTEM) (today the "International Conference Center"), where he also painted a mural dedicated to the Non-Alignment Movement. Lazeski was the first Yugoslav artist to ever exhibit in Mexico and his show was a tremendous hit, so much so that it was re-hosted at the Palace of Fine Arts after it was finished at CEESTEM. Sources relate that Lazeski was the first foreigner ever allowed to exhibit murals at the Palace of Fine Arts. Upon returning to Macedonia in the mid-80s, he follows up with a number of other monumental murals, such as at the Memorial Museum in Kruševo in 1988, but by 1989, he has a new grand plan as his final artistic triumph. This grand finale involves re-creating the lost 45m NOV train station mural destroyed in the 1963 Skopje earthquake, but this time painting it in his hometown of Prilep. Lazeski and his team of his assistants choose the "Marko Cepenkov" Cultural Center as the location for the mural (Photo 4). However, because of the immense size of the fresco, it was not able to be executed in one full section. As a result of this constraint, Lazeski painted the mural in two sections on the upper walls of the two lobbies adjoining the cultural center's performance auditorium. This work was done between 1991 and 1993. It was unveiled on October 11th, 1993, the 50th anniversary of the uprising in Macedonia. Lazeski passed away just three months shy of its final unveiling. His final wish was to establish a fresco painting school in Prilep, however, he passed away before he was able to accomplish this.

Lazeski's career was a life of invention and creation, initiating a bevy of new artistic styles and tendencies across the region. He was a deep lover of public art and large-scale murals. In analyzing this penchant for massive art displays, one source relates: "The monumental way of painting attracted Lazeski for two reasons. One of them tied him to the great tradition of fresco painting in Macedonia, while, the other main reason was his realization that art should be for everyone, and this is only possible if the works are performed in public places". However, in addition to creation, his artistic story is also one of loss, as he suffered numerous works being destroyed through the decades, not only in the 1963 earthquake but also in modern catastrophes, such as the fire in 2013 that destroyed his three massive murals in the Post Office Counter Hall in Skopje. Up to the present day, Lazeski is remembered as one of the country's most innovative and pioneering artists. His legacy lives on in numerous Macedonian artists working today. However, while he is certainly well-remembered by many who curate the artistic heritage of Macedonia, his works can often be found in a marginalized condition. As researcher Jonathan Blackwood observes in a 2018 paper: "Works that in another cultural setting would be evidence of an internationally significant artist, are treated in the Macedonian context with an often surly indifference."  In 2018, a retrospective exhibition dedicated to Lazeski was held at the National Gallery of Macedonia in Skopje to commemorate his work and his life.

Works by this Designer:

This is a listing of a number of memorials, monuments, public art and other notable Yugoslav-era works (both existing and destroyed) by Borko Lazeski. This list is not comprehensive and will hopefully be added to as I find more information. Clicking on some images leads to more information and profile pages dedicated to the works.

Monumental works within former Yugoslavia:

Skopje, MK

Slivovo, MK

Ilinden-1.jpg

Name: Ilinden, 1903 [fresco mural, 2.7m x 5m]

Year: completed 1950, destroyed in 1963

Location: Army Hall [ruined in earthquake]

Coordinates: n/a

Slivovo-1.jpg

Name: Mon. to Kosovo-Mac. Brig. [mosaic]

Year: completed 1954

Location: center of village

Coordinates: N41°24'17.1", E20°50'39.7"

Skopje, MK

Train Station2-1.jpg

Name: NOV [fresco mural, 45m x 5m]

Year: completed 1956, destroyed 1963

Location: Train station, [ruined in earthquake]

Coordinates: n/a

Kruševo, MK

20160428_143549.jpg

Name: "Makedonium" stained glass [100m sq]

Year: completed 1974

Location: Ilinden Monument

Coordinates: N41°22'38.4", E21°14'54.1"

Skopje, MK

Stained Glass, Stopanska Banka, Skopje, 1971-2.jpg

Name: Fervor [stained glass, 3m x 12m]

Year: completed 1971

Location: Stopanska Banka lobby

Coordinates: N41°59'44.8", E21°26'00.2"

Skopje, MK

bank-1.jpg

Name: Abundance [stained glass, 3m x 3.5m]

Year: completed 1975

Location: National Bank, 4th floor

Coordinates: N41°59'37.4", E21°26'33.1"

Skopje, MK

Light in the Minaret, Mac Acad Sci, Skopje, 1975.jpg

Name: Light of the Past [stained glass, 10m tall]

Year: completed 1975

Location: Academy of Science & Art

Coordinates: N41°59'46.3", E21°26'28.9"

Prilep, MK

Prilep-2 [Boro Lazeski mural].jpg

Name: Oct. 11th [fresco mural, 3m x 9m]

Year: completed 1982

Location: October 11th Museum

Coordinates: N41°20'42.1", E21°33'08.6"

Kičevo, MK

Kicevo-1.jpg

Name: Boot of the NOV [mural, 3.5m x 6.5m]

Year: completed 1980

Location: Mus. of Western Macedonia in NOB

Coordinates: N41°30'45.9", E20°57'49.9"

Kruševo, MK

IMG_20180509_152442.jpg

Name: Macedonia 1941 [fresco mural, 6m x 8m]

Year: completed 1988

Location:  NOB Museum

Coordinates: N41°22'32.0", E21°14'44.7"

Skopje, MK

Sentry-1.jpg

Name: Fatherland Sentry [mosaic, 4m tall]

Year: completed 1955, destroyed 1963

Location: Army Hall [ruined in earthquake]

Coordinates: n/a

Veles, MK

Sutjeska, Veles-1.jpg

Name: Sutjeska [fresco mural, 2.5m x 5m]

Year: completed 1971

Location: Memorial room, Alekso Mil. Base

Coordinates: not accessible to public [info]

Skopje, MK

Skopje-1.jpg

Name: Liberation War [fresco mural, 4m x 8m]

Year: completed 1975

Location: National Bank, lobby

Coordinates: N41°59'37.4", E21°26'33.1"

Skopje, MK

Post office1.JPG

Name: Epic of Freedom [5 murals, 5m x 5m]

Year: completed 1981, destroyed 2013, fire

Location: Post Office Counter Hall [in ruins]

Coordinates: N41°59'54.1", E21°25'47.4"

Bitola, MK

Bitola.jpg

Name: My Bitola [fresco mural, 3m x 7m]

Year: completed 1991

Location: Bitola Post Office

Coordinates: N41°01'47.9", E21°20'13.2"

International Works:

Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City-2.jpg

Name: Non-Aligned Movement [fresco mural]

Year: completed 1983, destroyed in 2000s

Location: present-day Int'l Confer. Center

Coordinates: N19°19'28.3", W99°13'50.1"

Mexico City, Mexico

Mural of Peace, MUTEC, Mexico City.jpg

Name: The Desire for Peace [fresco mural]

Year: completed 1985

Location: Museum of Technology [MUTEC]

Coordinates: N19°24'49.7", W99°11'41.6"

Re-Created Works:

Kruševo, MK

Hotel Montana.JPG

Name: Ilinden 1903 [fresco mural]

Year: completed 1991 [of 1950 destroyed work]

Location: Hotel Montana

Coordinates: N41°21'52.5", E21°15'11.7"

Prilep, MK

Train Station6.jpg

Name: NOV [fresco mural, 2 sections]

Year: completed 1993 [of 1956 destroyed work]

Location: "Marko Cepenkov" Center

Coordinates: N41°20'42.8" E21°33'02.5"