It was with a heavy heart that I learned of my friend Jack Ozegovic’s (and his wife Ann Carlin Ozegovic’s) passing last month. I was lucky to have known Jack for more than twenty-five years. We met by chance in 1992 at the Lawrence Lithography Workshop, in the space that John Brown’s Underground occupies now. Jack had received a grant to work with Master Printer Mike Sims and I was one of Mike’s slickers (assistants), a work-study job I had while floundering in the MFA program at KU.
Angled over a chunk of limestone, looking more than a little like Ernest Hemingway, the print he was working on was one in his Great God Automobile series. It was a tightly composed maze of primary colored symbols alluding to our worship of car culture, and was energetic like board game with a twist of social commentary, his take on the idea of human “progress.” A true modernist, as longtime art writer Leslie Von Holten called him in her remembrance, skilled at re-contextualizing the cultural icons we take for granted, he also made beautiful landscapes, was a hardcore cross-country skier and wrote a sweet book of essays about his earlier life as a professor and winemaker in Michigan.
After that meeting at the lithography shop, Jack and I ran into each other now and then at coffee shops or art openings over the years, until 2009 when I had the thrill of curating a retrospective of his work at the newly opened Percolator. The response was incredible. A packed house for the opening with more visitors and sales than I think the Percolator had ever seen for a show. Jack was blown away. And it was during the run of his show that we started our regular lunch hangouts.
Often we’d meet a La Parilla, where over quesadillas (and occasionally tequila…) we’d talk art and politics. I deeply appreciated his perspective and wisdom. I never told him as much, but he was a true mentor, someone who freely shared his knowledge and experience and didn’t spare his opinions. His faith in art and belief in humor to weaken the powerful helped give me the confidence to double down on the time I spent making radical posters for social movements.
When we talked politics, and in the last six years it was often about the tyranny in Topeka, Jack often referenced his Croatian background and how that had made him a keen watcher and sharp critic of despots, demagogues, and dictators be they human or machine. Jack also walked the talk. He marched, he wrote letters to editor, and once at a mock funeral for the arts at the state Capitol he offered to be the first to get arrested by the police, since he was oldest, he said.
He was a passionate supporter of our local arts community, participated in countless benefit shows, collaborated with folks like Dave Van Hee on wild creations, was a regular at final Fridays and always went with Ann to see what was new at the Nelson in KC. He was hungry for art and was thrilled when he discovered an artist he didn’t know, especially a young person.
Here’s a quick email he sent to me awhile back, “Have you seen the elementary kids art show at LAC? Some pretty wild things are there. I was really jolted by it all. Cheers, Jack O.”
My thoughts go out to Jack and Ann’s friends and family.