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A Sarajevo native explores time and its effect on the natural world.

Patina of History


A palimpsest is an archaic term for a parchment, the surface of which has been prepared for writing that will be wiped off and written upon again. In that description lives the imagined surface such a tablet would possess with remnant inks and erasure marks accumulating as each consecutive text is added and subtracted from the page, thus giving it a patina of its own history, a veiled tracing of all it has known. Tanja Softic''s works on paper, now on view in her solo show at the University of Richmond's Marsh Art Gallery, have a similar tarnished mystery, texture and historical depth of plane. In her prints, and most especially in her drawings, is a rich ground of subterraneous particulate infused into the backdrop of each work. It establishes an infinite place within which the artist gently renders her transitory relics and keepsakes. Softic''s encompassing subject is memory. Now a resident of the United States, Tanja Softic' was born and lived her childhood in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. While she was in graduate school here, earning her MFA from Old Dominion University, war broke out, permanently altering the identity of her homeland and the course of her life. The work she has developed in the years since that event contemplates the changes that time in the greater picture effects on all living things. Softic' looks mostly to the natural world for her symbology. She shows it to us in her charcoal and acrylic pigmented drawings and etching and chine collé prints. It is nature stripped of its flesh — as seeds, hulls and rib cages, empty vessels and fragments of buildings. It is executed in the quiet color range of winter, except for a blood-red element that visits periodically. The story is imprinted in positive and negative space. In these complex, intricately assembled and highly structured documents of passing time, organic and geometric forces controvert with each other. Softic' reveals her early training and conviction toward modernism: for the formal interests of art making. This inclination is evidenced in the dense, monolithic shape that presides over many of her nature studies as well as in the grid layout. But meanwhile, Softic' has delicately incorporated the fluid pictorial form of a heart ventricle or a pendulant orchid bloom. Sometimes a void and other times revealing a slight leaf and vine design or architectural diagram, the recurring monolith runs interference among the silent orderly litany of botanical forms, relocating them from the floor of the sea and the forest to the scientist's table. Softic' regenerates these leavings by making them sources of the not-yet-known. Even as vacated shapes, however, the artist's hollowed pods and shells are never really understood as death. They are much too vigorous with permanently sprung and searching tentacles or patterns that propose continual motion. Her single sculptural piece in the show, "Us and Them," — part pod, part pomegranate, part sea anemone — congregates its troops in opposition to a charcoal-surfaced shadow replica of itself. The largest, loudest, seemingly most aggressive of these shapes face off against their adversary, while the gradually smaller ones fill the ranks behind to form a complete square from two triangular battalions. The desperation, omen and sad irony of the work's statement become rather quickly obvious, even while Softic''s manipulation continues to engage the mind, thereby defeating the singularity of the meaning. In doing so she has given her composition of little antagonistic creatures, as she is wont to, a second

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