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Solo exhibition, Lauba – House for People and Art, Zagreb, Croatia. February 2018

Solo exhibition, Lauba – House for People and Art, Zagreb, Croatia. February 2018


Paintings often demand that the audience stop in their tracks and focus in still admiration on the author’s intentions, trying to discern what lies behind the creations on display. Woods by Ana Ratković Sobota urge passive audiences to become active agents, and turn viewers from observers to walkers, both mentally and in reality. The large-sized paintings in this series impress themselves on the field of vision, taking on the role of props for a transposition to almost fantastic surroundings.  Attentive observation separates the viewer from the world as it is and provides paths into the unknown, travelling through a space inhabited by certain original forms of life.

The largest work measures almost six meters in length, inviting the viewer to actually walk the distance it occupies. Magnificent as a whole, like most of the works in this collection of paintings, the work is intended to be viewed as a series of details. By enforcing a peripatetic mode of experiencing a painting, the author creates an exterior scene broken down into details that reflect the nature of things. All works had undergone three stages to maximise their intensity and density of detail. The procedure offers a fragmented experience, analogous to that of walking in the woods. The first stage involves painting the background in acrylic, followed by a carefully applied but much lighter layer of oil paint. Finally, thick paint is scratched into the background to get sharp lines and dots in the surface.

Woods are a sort of tapestry, a controlled chaos, crammed with a variety of structures and dynamic details that one expects to encounter in a virgin natural environment. From close up, the paintings seem abstract and expressionist in style. From a distance, however, one notices thickly applied paint, fluidity, and realism.  Perceived from a distance, this realism is to some extent disrupted by a post-impressionist sort of subjectivity, relying on the choice of colours that do not imitate nature but flow from the painter’s own imagination. It is this intervention that makes the Woods paintings more than just a testimony of observation and technical effort. They are an artistic vision beyond landscape documentaries, where the artist builds a personal bond with her audience.

Woods may readily be classified as landscape paintings. However, the immanence of such classification is often superficial because here we are not witnessing a set of pastoral images but, rather, their symbolic content. The scenes of nature are intended to conjure up the eternal, to bring us back to nature of which we are a part, and to prevent us from sliding into destructive egoism. In her earlier work, influenced by the Japanese artist Hiroshige, the painter celebrated the beauty of nature and her healing effects. Now, she introduces a new technique and style, rather than a new philosophy.  The ideas behind the painting remain the same, only their implementation has changed. All scenes in the Woods series suggest that the author feels most comfortable surrounded by greenery which is treated very subjectively, so much so that her trees are allowed to be purple and orange. Her spaces evoke feeling rather than objective reality. The large dimensions of the paintings impress with the individuality of vision that is bound to nestle in some niche of the viewer’s mental gallery, not to be quickly forgotten. The undefined forms and soft outlines correspond with the painter’s anima. They make up a dreamy, organic atmosphere that is an antithesis to the uniform, mechanical consumerism, easy to digest but not very nourishing.

It is not wrong to say that art should console the disturbed and disturb those enjoying easy comfort.  The Woods paintings offer consolation to all, for they are universal, grand, and positive. They are an inclusive invitation to undertake an excursion into contemplation and take us back to our roots. The existential burdens of modern life may act as a catalyst that urges us to look for the forests and paths like those in the paintings. When questioned as to the inspiration and genesis of her work, the painter often states that nature and man deserve to be the subjects that, again and again, need new readings through a positive lens. Or, to quote the Hong Kong artist Lee Jun-fan who summarised her art as, ‘What you think makes who you will become’.

Leo Vidmar, from the foreword to the exhibition Woods, Lauba, Zagreb, 2018