Hortus Conclusus (enclosed garden) is a series of prints that was conceived and produced, off and on, during all stages of the pandemic 2021-2022. The concept of the enclosed garden, an eternal image in art and literature, connotes ideas of protection, refuge and sanctuary. It is a curated place, a collaboration with natural generative processes, a site of contemplation.
In the spring of 2020, I was sifting through my archive of images of cellular structures of plants, animals and human tissues for a series of larger drawings. In between working on larger projects, I was also slowly developing an idea for an independent series of simple etchings, depicting and interpreting these microscopic images and combining some with the forms of plants that grew in my greenhouse and garden. After decades of incorporating microscopic natural forms into complex, layered larger compositions, I wanted to address them on their own, honoring the accidental compositions that exist in a microscopy slide, a sense of looking at a slice of time: a very brief, particular configuration of molecules on their way to something else.
The interest in microscopic images goes back to my early childhood in Sarajevo, in former Yugoslavia. My father, an oncologist, had a microscope in his study, and I often watched him take the glass slides with tissue samples out of tidy black boxes that smelled like rubbing alcohol, and slide them onto the stage of his microscope. He would observe them very slowly, take notes, compare one to another. He treated me to a look through the eyepiece every once in a while, and I knew of no better way to spend an afternoon than reading on the rug by his desk, waiting for another glimpse at a particularly interesting, magenta-colored cellular landscape. There were mysterious entrances and exits, asymmetric relationships, sometimes there were whole maps of drifting cellular continents. This series honors that time of wonder, when I was looking at cancer-suspect tissues before knowing what they were; before that life, that country, that room became memory.
I worked in the quietude and relative isolation of my studio, during the pandemic, and during my sabbatical. I tended to my garden outside of the studio. Time became measured in drawing progress on the copper plate and greening and spread of ferns and mosses. My enclosed garden was my refuge from the sorrow, rage, political malfeasance and conflicts raging in the world. As I focused on these small worlds, my thoughts, memories and existential questions were given space to expand.
The print were color-proofed, Bon à Tirer and five Artist Proofs were printed in the summer 2022 in collaboration with Kathy Caraccio, master printer, a longtime friend and mentor and Mimi King, my friend, former studio assistant and a young lioness of print, in my Richmond studio. A series that started in quiet contemplation was completed in the mind-expanding, collaborative, chatty
creative whirlwind that any project directed by Kathy is—and prints are enriched by the creative and technical conversation among three printmakers.
About the Artist
Tanja Softić lives and works in Richmond, Virginia, where she is a Professor of Art at the University of Richmond. Born in Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina), Softić attended the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of Sarajevo and earned her MFA in Printmaking from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia (1988, 1992). She is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Grant, National Endowment for the Arts/ Southern Arts Federation Visual Artist Fellowship and Soros Foundation—Open Society Institute Exhibition Support Grant. She participated in 12th International Print Triennial in Cracow, Poland and won a First Prize at the the 5th Kochi International Triennial Exhibition of Prints, Ino-cho Paper Museum in Kochi, Japan in 2002. She completed print projects at Flying Horse Press, Tamarind Institute and Anderson Ranch’s Patton Print Studio. Her work is held in numerous private and public collections, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Austria; the Ino-Cho Paper Museum in Kochi, Japan; the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia.
Hortus Conclusus: stem, 2022, Color etching and aquatint, 14.75 x 22.25 inches