Dejan Bogdanovic

The life of a painter in Florence

Leah Eades
January 31, 2013

Although there are many who dream of dropping everything and living through their art, few actually take the plunge. Dejan Bogdanovic, however, is the embodiment of that Florentine dream. Arriving in Florence from the former Yugoslavia on a SACI scholarship more than 20 years ago, he still hasn't left the city and continues to live and work here as a professional oil painter.


Bogdanovic's life as an artist in Florence hasn't always been smooth sailing. Although he had already been settled in Italy for several years when the devastating civil wars in his home country, the former Yugoslavia, broke out, this was still an emotional time for him-especially since, being the child of a Serbian father and Croatian mother, he was literally caught between the two warring factions. Unable to focus on his artwork, Bogdanovic instead turned to the other ‘big passion' in his life: gastronomy. For 15 years he managed a restaurant, a bar and a nightclub, whilst continuing to paint, taking creative breaks and decorating his restaurants with his works. Four years ago, however, in 2008, he made the big decision to leave the world of fine food and wine and focus all of his energy on his art. He has been living predominantly though his painting ever since.


With the sheer number of artists flocking to Florence, you'd think this would be an artist's paradise, but that's not exactly true, as Bogdanovic knows well. ‘Florence is a great city to study art, to be a painter, to create ... but to make a living out of your art, by selling it ... here in Florence, that's where you start getting problems!' he laughs.


He estimates that 99 percent of his work sold over the last two decades has been sold to foreigners and has ended up overseas. ‘It's very hard to sell your artwork here to the local people,' he explains. If they want to stay afloat, artists must look outside of Florence to sell their work and enter or organise shows.


However, Florence's small art market can be an advantage when networking and making a name for oneself in the city. Bogdanovic cannot overemphasise the importance of connections: ‘You have to know the right people at the right time. I mean, you have to be good, of course, but if you don't have any of the right connections-forget about it. You have to keep going to shows and talking to people.' Any other advice for aspiring artists? ‘Don't be afraid. Just go for it, and keep going.'


After living in Florence for more than two decades, Bogdanovic has witnessed firsthand the changes caused by the growth of tourism. ‘I don't want to say we're losing the anima, the spirit, of the place because it's still here. But ...' he trails off, then begins again. ‘In so many parts of the city, they're doing everything just for the tourists. We look at it and we say, "It's not like Firenze anymore."' It'll take more than that, however, to scare this expatriate artist away. ‘Florence is a beautiful city. You love it and you hate it. You start to love it, then after a while you hate it, but then you leave Florence and you miss it. There's something that keeps you coming back here.' Although he still returns to his homeland to visit family once a year, his heart is now firmly rooted in Florence, his adopted city. ‘This is my home,' he explains simply.


To learn more about Bogdanovic and his art, visit his studio at via delle Caldaie 14r (just off piazza Santo Spirito) or see his website:





Best place for a cappuccino?

Volume. It feels like a bar you'd find in Berlin, and it's really relaxed. It's cool. It's always full with locals and students ... it's a nice mix. I like it very much.


Favourite restaurant?

I have a couple. The Trattoria Gargani is one; it costs a little more, but they have fantastic food and the best customers. And Portofino is absolutely the best fish restaurant.


What would you do with friends who are only visiting Florence for one day?

I really love the City Sightseeing bus trip. I've had a number of friends visiting over the years and I've always gone with them on it. I think it's absolutely great.


Where can you find the best art in Florence?

The Vasari Corridor is really worth a visit. It has an amazing art collection.


Favourite church?

San Miniato, up on the hill. It has something special.


Favourite Florentine, past or present?

Actually, I'd have to say Giuliano Gargani, known simply as "Garga." I knew him for years and he died only a few months ago. He was a great personality, a philosopher, a poet, a painter, and a butcher, too. He was a sort of spiritual father to me because I learned so much from him about Florence, about art, about people. He's probably my favourite Florentine.


Favourite Florentinism?

Grullo! Che tu fai? It's not as strong as calling someone an ‘idiot'-more like pointing out that the person doesn't know what he wants to do. Like, ‘What the heck are you doing, man?!'


Is there somewhere you're embarrassed to admit you still haven't visited?

I still haven't been to the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo to see the original Baptistery doors, which have been recently restored. I'm not that embarrassed though: I know Florentine people-true Florentines who live here and were born here-who've never been to the Uffizi!



This article was corrected to reflect an error that was published in the print edition of TF 176. In the quickfire section, mention of Giuliano Gargani as the owner of Trattoria Gargani is incorrect. He was the owner of Trattoria Garga.


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