Zoran Mojsilov leans on one of his tree ring artworks, part of a solo exhibition at The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. Photo by Shari L. Gross

Dust covered drills, hooks, chains, saws and everything else in sight in Zoran Mojsilov’s cavernous northeast Minneapolis studio near the river. Across from the studio parking lot on a wintry day last month, various snow-covered rock sculptures, including a pillar stitched together Frankenstein-style, rested on the ground, as if part of some sort of pebble community.

Inside Zoran’s studio, he turned on a compressor, with a jackhammer and booster tool attached to it, and started blasting air onto his latest sculpture, “Poseidon,” assembled from the rejected gravestone of a Greek friend (Lazaros Christoforides, owner of the Gardens of Salonica restaurant), discarded stone from the Metropolitan Building in Minneapolis, sandstone from the Minneapolis Great Northern Depot and a hunk of granite. Eventually, it will live in the courtyard at the Museum of Russian Art (TMORA).

Carving stone is an incredibly slow process, but for Zoran it’s become meditative.

“By now after many years, I learned to be patient with this,” the 69-year-old said. “The stone taught me that part, too. It’s not like a drawing. I can make a drawing in 15 minutes, half an hour, but this is day after day, months after months, and you have to keep, somehow, going.”

It is, in fact, very Sisyphean, but Zoran laughs it off.

“When people ask me what I am doing,” he said, “I tell them, ‘I’m for life in prison, breaking the rocks — and I am innocent!'”

Mojsilov’s work is everywhere. He came to the Twin Cities nearly 40 years ago with his wife and creative partner, Ilene Krug Mojsilov, whom he met in Paris in the early 1980s at an artist residency after leaving the former Yugoslavia.

His show, “Zoran’s Surrealist Sculptures: Dry Neck of the Pig and Other Curios,” is an exhibition of his smaller, indoor-friendly sculptures and his first local museum show in nearly 10 years that’s on view at TMORA through May 26. “Zoran,” a short documentary about his life, directed by fellow Serbian creative Aleksandar Ćirić, screens in the “Shorts Program 01: Living Art” at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival on Saturday.

If indoors isn’t your jam, there’s plenty of outdoor Zoran to go around. His sculptures, mostly of rock but sometimes wood, are at Surly Brewing Co., Icehouse, Target Field and more than 20 other sites around town, including Can Can Wonderland’s mini-golf course in St. Paul. Some of his works look like bulbous structures of rocks wrapped together or a seashell turned inside out, while others offer spaces to rest.

Zoran Mojsilov stands alongside his artwork, “Tree of Re-education”. When he left Yugoslavia in 1983, he took this artwork with him to Paris. It is part of his solo exhibition at The Museum of Russian Art, on view through May 26.

Seeing sculpture

TMORA Curator Maria Zavialova felt taken by Zoran’s curly wood sculptures, which he created out of a tree in Bloomington that had been struck by lightning. Instead of leaving the tree to be turned into wood chips, Zoran took it home.

“They gave the tree to him and he sliced it like salami, he took out all the rotten stuff, and then polished it, and what you began to see was how the tree healed itself, like closing up the gap that the lightning created,” Zavialova said.

Several works in the TMORA show feel more personal and emotional, referencing Zoran’s memories from the former Yugoslavia. “Stone Soup,” a wooden pot filled with nails, references a village creating a meal together. In “Tree of Re-education,” which he started in 1983, three figures are seen in various states of meltdown because of the Socialist regime. It was nominated for the Oktobarski Salon first prize but a party boss objected because it “violated communist ideas,” according to the TMORA exhibition.

This incident caused Zoran to leave the former Yugoslavia for good. He packed up his art and took a one-way trip to Paris. He worked on outdoor sculptures, roamed Paris and met Ilene. From there, he continued west.

“Zoran’s art is very affirmative, optimistic in a way, and very powerful because he takes these parts of stuff — chunks — and then combines them in a very rough way,” she said. “He’s a Minimalist and also a Brutalist in a way, but he doesn’t want to be called a Brutalist artist.”

Zoran had no intention of landing in Minneapolis, but it’s worked out.

“I love Minnesota, I love fishing, the people,” he said. “I was born where we had four seasons, snow and stuff. … This is nothing. People said, ‘Are you not cold?’ I said, ‘Cold? I was more cold in Belgrade. My mother was a janitor and my father was dead from liver cirrhosis, the drinking, and when I was 5 years old, so we were poor in a poor country. That’s cold, when you don’t have much heat and [crappy] shoes and clothes. That’s really cold!”

Thematically, Zoran’s work oscillates between memory and the present. In 2018, he had a solo show at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, and he’s shown in France, Serbia, Taiwan, New York and even nearby at Big Stone Mini Golf and Sculpture Gardens in Minnetrista. He’s won a McKnight Fellowship, a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study grant and others. But it’s the things he’s learned along the way from mentors that have shaped his work.

When he was a young sculptor back in Belgrade, he worked with “an old man sculptor,” he said, just cleaning his studio, cooking, occasionally showing him his own work. When Zoran asked the man when he’d become a sculptor, he said, “‘You are gonna become a sculptor when you start seeing the things. We are all looking but we are not seeing, you know?'”

That’s happened for Zoran, even in a wooden sculptural piece of figures doing yoga.

“I am doing yoga for 10 years or more, so I am seeing them all the time, and then that’s how it started,” he said. “After 10 years of looking at the babes in yoga, I finally started seeing the things other than just seeing and looking, you know?”