Slana was born in 1926 in the gentle hill country near the town of Ljutomer in eastern Slovenia. He spent some of his childhood in Croatia with his parents, but shortly after the family returned to Slovenia, World War II broke out. Slana was a teenager when he joined the Partisan Resistance, and during his service, his artistic skills quickly drew the attention of his superiors. In often difficult conditions, Slana worked on various art and design projects for the resistance movement’s information and propaganda divisions. Among many other tasks, he was asked to portray U.S. airmen who had been shot down by the Germans and then rescued by the Partisans.
After the war, he received a degree in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts under the supervision of Gabrijel Stupica, one of Slovenia’s leading artists. After working as an illustrator for several years, Slana decided to devote his artistic career primarily to watercolors and oils.
Some of his works portrayed calm scenes of farm animals or mills on the Krka River, and these images became closely associated with Slana’s distinctive style. However, other works of his were darker, both in tone and approach. Some drew from his wartime experience, while others were affected by his first-hand experience of the 1962 Skopje earthquake; they featured ruins and suffering people. Some of them began to veer toward abstraction.
Regardless of their subject matter, Slana’s paintings became very popular. They were exhibited in more than 50 shows at home and abroad; for a time, it seemed that most homes in Slovenia contained one of Slana’s oils, watercolors, or distinctively painted ceramic plates.
In the 1980s, Slana even toured the United States. Among other places, his works were exhibited at Barry Goldwater’s house in Phoenix, Arizona, and in New York’s Automation House, which had previously featured art greats such as Robert Rauschenberg. It was during Slana’s visit to New York that he was introduced to one of the airmen whom he had portrayed during the war.
Slana eventually built a home in the Krka River Valley, not far from the mills that he had so famously portrayed in his paintings. Now in his nineties, Slana is still recognized as one of Slovenia’s most successful artists of all time.