Housed in a brick warehouse beside the Zetland Hotel, just before the juncture of Botany Road, Bourke Street and Green Square, is The Sydney Art Store. The walls of the shop space are stacked to the ceiling with rainbow sets of fine acrylics, oils and watercolours. There are rows of paintbrushes in various shapes and sizes, easels, stretched canvases and porcelain paint palettes. On the day we visit, the store’s founder, Alesandro Ljubicic, appears from behind a tower of coloured tubes and pots. An artist himself, Ljubicic is preparing for his upcoming exhibition, The Scent of Painting, at Michael Reid gallery in Elizabeth Bay.
“I majored in painting at the National Art School,” Ljubicic says. “We also studied sculpture, ceramics and photography, and I enjoyed those things because I like working with my hands. I’m not the sort of person who can sit behind a desk and work. I’ve always been on my feet. But painting is my passion.” At the back of The Sydney Art Store are some of Ljubicic’s freshly painted canvases. These are large-scale bouquets and bundles of flowers – still life, but thick with colour and astonishingly vibrant and affecting. The remainder of Ljubicic’s works are stored in his upstairs studio.
In his studio, Ljubicic’s love of paint is plain. In the sunlit room, stacked canvases line the walls, caked in his signature drag-and-scoop slabs of oil paint. A table in the centre is covered with tubes and brushes and mixing boards. It is a still scene, but, much like Ljubicic’s paintings – absolutely bursting with energy and life. “My paintings are about positivity,” he smiles. “They’re about taking you to another place. “
Ljubicic’s career is a rare case of moving from art student to entrepreneur while maintaining a successful art practice. “[At art school] I was using a lot of materials – a lot of paint. I started to wonder how I could exist in the art community, be surrounded by creatives, but also not have to worry about paying my bills,” he explains. “So I started The Sydney Art Store online during my third year at the National Art School.”
After receiving a $3000 cash prize in an art competition, Ljubicic reached out to a paint supplier and cashed in his first lot of oils and acrylics. With an active audience among his art-student peers, the idea took off, and soon Ljubicic was supplying paints to the school itself. “I never worried about whether or not I could make money out of it,” he recalls. “It was more about the fact that I got a lot of paint out of it, and at a good price.” As his business took off, Ljubicic left his honours course and set up his a bricks-and-mortar shop. “Let me tell you, the first three years were a struggle. Artists are very loyal to where they go. Since that time, I think I have proved to myself that I am an artist, this is my passion and this is what I do.”
The Scent of Painting involves 25 works on linen and 30 colour studies. There’s also a set of collaborations designed to broaden the standard exhibition experience. Ljubicic has worked closely with florist Sean Cook, and developed a set of limited-edition handmade scarves printed with his artwork. The exhibition will feature a unique magnolia fragrance, available for purchase. “The scent has 27 ingredients, the main one being the magnolia flower. It’s unisex, and quite strong.” For Ljubicic, The Scent of Painting is deeply relatable. “Everybody has a relationship with flowers in some way,” he says. “And the whole show is about experiencing the work on many levels.”
The Scent of Painting is on show at Michael Reid gallery until February 27.