Uroš Vagaja was born on 30th of October, 1920 in Kranj, Slovenia. After finishing primary school, he enrolled High school in Ljubljana in 1932, where he graduated. In 1941, he enrolled at The Faculty of Engineering, Department of Architecture (Technical High School, School of Architecture) in Ljubljana.
The Second World War interrupted the flow of life and previous education. Occupation finds himself as an activist in organization dedicated to the uprising and “Oslobodilne Fronte” . As “the underground” , he was once arrested and then sent to captivity in Florence. During the internment there, he had the opportunity to read a large number of classical Italian literature books and therefore learn the original language. After the capitulation of Italy, he was again free to rejoin the “Oslobodilne Fronte” . Since the autumn of 1943, he started to work in partisan printing company Doberdob of Primorska (region Primorsko in Slovenia). Since he possessed excellent artistic skills, he was employed as a cartoonist, linocut artist, and Slovenian proofreader. In this very place, Vagaja struck up an acquaintance with Svetozar Križaj, with whom he later founded the group “Bunker”. The nature of his work was such that it required Vagaja to become acquainted with graphic design, which became his lifelong fascination.
After liberation in 1945, he re-enrolled the studies of architecture, but this time at the Charles University in Prague. Together with his friends Oton Jugovec and Ilija Arnautović, Uroš enters Academy of Arts, Architecture and Construction, Department of Architecture.
Prague became his inexhaustible source of inspiration and creative fascination. It was an exceptional center of overall cultural events that the region offered. During this period he dealt with painting, reading, attending concerts, exhibitions and theater performances. All this had a profound effect on his artistic formation.
After The Resolution of the Cominform (Informbiro) in 1948, he returned to his country together with his colleagues. He continued his studies in Ljubljana, at The Faculty of Architecture, in the class of professor Edvard Ravnikar. He graduated in 1956.
The first important creative period begins in 1950, when Vagaja and his friends, Oton Jugovec, Svetozar Križaj and occasional collaborator Franc Šmid, founded “Bunker” group, which was also known in the literature as “Collective B” . The tasks which they were resolving were primarily in the fields of architecture, then later in the industrial and graphic design.. e.g. exterior restoration of the fortress in Niš, 1951; the cover design for Architect magazine in 1953. That same summer they participated in the competition for the expanding of the trade company Nama v Ljubljani, and for the poster of company Dom. Vagaja’s most important authorial contribution during this period was industrial design for typewriter Emona, for the typewriter factory Tops, Ljubljana. More of works: 1950/51 spatial planning for the sales and exhibitions center of Autokomerc in Ljubljana; interior and graphic design of invitations and tickets for Journalists dance, Union, Ljubljana in 1952…
In the summer of 1953, Bunker group has participated in the contest for the poster Dom Slovenija-folklor. They sent several drafts, got the first prize, and two of purchases. Despite the fact that their poster did not reach artistic quality of professor Ravnikari’s draft (which won third prize) , there could still be felt Ravnikari’s artistic impact. Uroš Vagaja, Oton Jugovec and Eli Likar for the central motive take Polish scarecrow and oats, with stylized art objects of the sales company Dom. The poster was also characterized by a certain dose of humor, which Vagaja often used to decorate his design.
Graphic design became a major field of Bunker group, in which Vagaja was most interested in. The group existed until the mid-summer of 1953, when most of the colleagues received offers for permanent employment. Vagaja then became a freelance artist. After a successful artistic achievements in the competition for the poster Borovnice iz Jugoslavije, (with co-author Aljoša Janušić) , he received the award, and the following year became the first independent artist in the field of graphic design.
A special chapter of Vagaja’s graphic design represents Cockta-Cockta poster.
The story of the Cockta drink begins in the early 1950’s. It was then that the management of the company Slovenijavino came up with the idea of producing an original refreshing Slovenian beverage which would be able to compete against similar drinks from abroad. The chemical engineer Emerik Zelinka, an employee of the Slovenijavino research labs, created a refreshing drink. She was the main initiator who suggested that students of architecture should be at the contest for Cockta’s marketing campaign. Together with his colleague, Sergej Pavlina, Vagaja gets a chance to compete in the contest, and then his work represents the very modernity of that time. The motive of poster was a young, suntanned, flirtatious girl, with a hairstyle in a pony tail, with blue eyes, holding a bottle of Cockta in her hand, under the shade with the inscription of drink.
After the great success of the poster Cockta, he continues to produce works of art of the same quality: Vedra Ljubljana poster is based on certain selection of colors, Posetite Ljubljanu poster was collage artwork, and the others such as Moda 64, Planica 66… In the Elan hoarding, he introduces colorful compositions of the current pop-art.
The analysis shows that the motives of his work permeated art scene, which spanned a variety of ways around the various aspects of abstraction at the end of the 1950’s. There is also work with photos, which is not much different from painting. The principle of an entry cut-out display photo illustrations of people, as a particular artistic whole, becomes very interesting to Vagaja, and he continues to use them for designing book covers.
I have to mention Vagaja’s contribution in the field of scenography. He wrote to his friend, Bojan Štih, about his overwhelming theater love. His work for the theater was accidental, for he had many friends from the “theater circles.” The first one who engaged Uroš in this field was the director Žarko Petan. Then the cooperation was followed by Mile Korun, Melita Vovk, Sveta Jovanović, Dušan Mlakar, Janez Vrhunc, Dušan Jovanović, Darja Vidic, Ivan Mrak, Miran Herzog, Jože Babič and others…
Vagaja’s creative contribution represents the very best artistic aspirations in the age in which he was creating. Devoted to his papers to the last breath, this silent and bohemian nature, modest, cheerful, witty, good fellow and collaborator, had a lot of reliable friends and acquaintances everywhere.
He died on the 5th of July, 1971 in Ljubljana.