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Midnight for Maja 11/1/2008

The Croatian-born artist takes a totally new direction in her latest exhibition
Anyone who has seen previous work by Croatian-born artist Maja Sorić is going to get a shock when they attend her new show. Initially it seems as though Sorić has left her past way behind and jumped into the head of a completely different artist. In an art world where we are accustomed to seeing artists, and particularly painters, make gentle changes in their work--each annual exhibition tends to be an illustration of one new step in the artist's development-Soric's latest work is a startling departure.
A resident of Cairo since 1989, Maja Sorić's previous work was much more controlled and focused, often flavored with particular hues of orange. She was interested in construction, and her canvases were often filled with images based on the various architectural forms she had seen in her travels
around the world. The work was intriguing but rather. restrained. It was impressive and showed an active mind, but it was not as exciting as her current work.
There are, un surprisingly, strong parallels between the early Sorić and the paintings of her artistic mentor, the Slovenian painter Joze Ciuha, with whom she studied every summer for many years. His influence as a teacher was clearly strong, and it seemed that Sorić had focused on learning skills from him and wasn't ready to break out of the boundaries she. created under his tutelage. After a decade-long relationship, however, Sorić decided that it was time to remove herself from his influence-though they remain friends. He had played a major part in her development as an artist, but she wanted to avoid being limited by her old work.
The result of this move could be seen straight away, as her work moved to another level of consciousness. Sorić threw away her restraints and started experimenting in different directions, using new colors, forms and materials in her work. But it is with this current show that she truly seems to have found a distinct and more mature vision. With blue and white mainly ruling the canvases, viewers are taken into a dreamlike world of enchanted nights. When gold leaf is added, this effect is intensified. These are colors we are comfortable with-they evoke scenes imagined when we used to hear and
read stories of worlds that existed once upon a time.
But it would be wrong to see the realms on Sorić's canvases as just romanticized visions of snowy nights. This painted world is not a backdrop for a story about to happen, but rather a world where everything has a life of its own. The buildings-no longer constructions but more organic, malleable structures-brim with life in their varied colors and shapes. Bizarre flora and fauna can also be found across the canvases, additions to the strange country we see (the mutant, winged creatures are particularly wonderful). Showing her command of her new visions, Sorić plays with her paintbrush, at times allowing the paint to run out of control across the painting. There are no rigid rules in these paintings and often the pictures start to melt away. There are signs of Ciuha's influence, and of Sorić's abiding interest in buildings, but they are additions to her vision, rather than its central elements. There are also echoes of different European artists, most noticeably Joan Miro, which are used to great effect.
Some viewers will have trouble with this stage of Sorić's development, finding it too pretty, seeing it as an eccentric, Christmas-card world. They may also take issue with the fact that it is almost impossible to put these new paintings in the same room as her previous works because they are so different in color and tone. But there is great richness in these paintings, especially in Sorić's command of the blue. The gold-while suggestive of iconography and a mystical world-can become overpowering, but the blues are rich, varied and incredibly evocative. This is a show that takes you into another world, and makes you want to know where the artist will go next.
Richard Woffenden


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