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Josip Račić gallery, Zagreb, Croatia, 2022

Josip Račić gallery, Zagreb, Croatia, 2022


Taking a step back, leaving the comfort of the familiar breeds doubts, and requires humility and boldness. Openness to using, and sometimes crossing the boundaries of different visual media has resulted in the current existence of pluralism of techniques, as well as expressions. In this sense, Ana Ratković Sobota’s focus on hand-painted fabrics in her latest works is not surprising. From very early on in her formal development, painter Ana Ratković Sobota has gravitated toward the processes of printmaking techniques that influenced her experiments, as well as the appearance of her works. These processes require anticipation, precisely elaborated stages of the application of paint and control of the artistic process, which mostly results in uniformity. This is evident in the way she approached the creation of the Lakes series, which she has been executing in various techniques during the last few years. The series is inspired by the artist’s interest in our attitudes towards untouched originality as found in the natural environment of the Plitvice Lakes, which has been devastated as a result of the development of mass tourism. Fabrics painted using the batik technique show elaborations of the same aforementioned motifs and the faithful transfer of the experience of one visual medium into another, which is mostly used in this case and belongs to the field of applied arts. In her earlier works in oil and tempera, Ana Ratković Sobota treated nature by first delineating it, or imprinting its structures on large formats, and then as if “passing it through” coloured filters, thereby achieving, to some extent, the effect of a negative. In the new series, however, the atmosphere of the same natural environment is conveyed exclusively by the synthesis of accentuated lines and the flatly applied paint; very legible drawings of linear rhythms that emerged through this ancient lengthy wax-painting procedure which originated in Indonesia. Predominantly one colour (green, red, grey, blue) consolidates the image, and despite the dominance of surface and linearity, as well as pictorial scarcity, the artist conveys scenes that appear nocturnal and draws attention to the atmosphere of softness and tameness. Contributing to this is the material, that is, fabric, the back of which also reflects the image.

On the other hand, it is logical that the work process itself contributed to the fact that in some parts natural forms appear like ornaments due to the reduction of volume; for example, in depictions of the sky made of spirals, circles, dots or the outlines of mountains. The landscape is simplified, not only because of the technique, but also on account of the characteristic scenery. We therefore witness its disappearance, dehumanisation and man’s alienation from it. Still, in her paintings inspired by photographs from the beginning of the last century, Ana Ratković Sobota retroactively revives the past albeit in washed-out depictions. Her astonishing long-term focus on the same motifs and creative process suggests that man should consider his responsibility when it comes to problems of environmental degradation, how not to be a destroyer but a creator of values, and above all that an impetus for this can again be found in nature. Our landscapes keep changing, yet people stay the same. We have taken control over natural resources and turned them into market resources. In the name of profit, we are witnessing the process of deforestation, bee decline and natural habitat loss, extinction of plant and animal species, loss of biodiversity. Let us for a moment observe the challenge that Ana Ratković Sobota dared put before us. The canvases she worked on in this series confirm that the material can “absorb” and finely manifest natural forms on its surface. The fabrics have absorbed textile dyes and as they passed through changing states, they managed to convey the atmosphere of nature that is disappearing and has been neglected as a consequence of human greed. Formerly an oasis of peace, untouched nature and clean drinking water, in recent times it has been marked by excessive tourist visits and is today an example of neglect and pollution of surface and ground water. In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke instructs the young poet to stay close to nature and adds that “Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult: everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition.”[1] By changing techniques, Ana Ratković Sobota develops her own approach to landscapes using photographs of the now distant past, which she turns into personal visions of the vanishing landscape, and which we now read in the language of simplified forms reduced to signs that remind us of the need to actively face reality.

[1] Pisma mladom pjesniku (translated by Dragutin Horvat), Zagreb: Divič, 1997, p. 50

Nevenka Šarčević, galerija Josip Račić, Zagreb, 2022