Avet, the Bosnian word for apparition or ghost, is a reference to Ruznic’s creative process of pulling her characters out of nothingness. Ruznic’s first exhibition at Conduit Gallery (2014) populated the Project Room space with figurative works on paper; the figures seemingly pulled out of washy pools of ink. Artificially long features and limbs wrapped and coiled around the subjects at times deeming the figure almost borderless.
Working now with oil on canvas, Ruznic’s latest pictures verge on total abstraction, yet upon inspection, figures emerge, seemingly wandering through unnamed landscapes. Ruznic describes the process of composing each image as conjuring a memory and the redeeming of essential details as she paints with “the drunken hand”, an intuitive impluse that knows something the artist may not. This looseness of intention allows Ruznic to start with the lightest of stains on canvas or the manipulation of small fabric scraps until a face feels familiar. Applying thin layers of oil pigment onto the canvas with soft bristled make-up brushes allows Ruznic to leave the weave of the canvas exposed, displaying its organic nature and allowing for a sense of breath from the substrate.
As Ruznic’s figures emerge, they are perhaps asking the viewer to be held, to be helped. An empathy which can bridge the gap between the polarity and extremes of today’s political turmoil. Ruznic states, “Painting and stitching allow me to sift through my ideas about who they might have been. I make them up as I go, wiping and staining the surface of the canvas until a face feels familiar. The scraps of fabric make up entire little individuals who dance to help me remember.”
Maja Ruznic is primarily a painter, a storyteller who conjures form and narrative from ground up mineral, smeared oil, and stained canvas. Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1983, Ruznic immigrated to the United States with her family in 1995, settling on the West Coast where she eventually went on to study at the University of California, Berkeley, later earning an MFA from the California College of Arts. Ruznic’s often-quoted personal history – a refugee who escaped the Bosnian War – is only the beginning of her journey. Ruznic has recently shown work in Sarajevo, Denver, Istanbul, Austin, Vienna, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ruznic’s work has been written about extensively, most notably in Juxtapoz, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Studio Visit Magazine, and twice in New American Paintings, including the cover as selected by curator Anne Ellegood. Ruznic is currently a finalist for the Richard Diebenkorn Teaching Fellowship, awarded in partnership with the San Francisco Art Institute and the Headlands Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA. In the summer of 2017 Ruznic was artist in residence in Brittany with MICA’s Klotts International Program for Artists.