Jasna Sokolovic left her native Yugoslavia in 1994, venturing to Granville Island, Vancouver. Her architecture studies in Sarajevo, the war torn capitol, came to an end, but her education resumed in Canada, where she focused on ceramics. In clay she found it possible to meld her interests in architecture and sculptural forms. Inspired by such European visionaries as Gaudi and Hundertwasser, Sokolovic adapted their interest in facade and illusion allowing her work to present itself as layers of visual and conceptual sentiment. Her long journey is often portrayed symbolically with birds representing “fragility and liberty, taking off, falling down and covering distances.”
Her art is also concerned with relationship: tender proclamations of love, naive questions of remembrance, imploring admonishments to “stay close.” The tiles reveal, as she says, “the narratives of my life. I am the storyteller, somewhere in the midst of this ricochet.” Although Sokolovic has a complete thought in mind, the tiles contain only fragments of sentences, often with individual words barely visible. She tempts us to finish the narrative. She leaves us space to participate in this process with visual and linguistic coquetry. Her symbols, often the sweet stuff of childhood, are playful and innocent. When words and images collide, there is often a subtext, in the midst of cotton candy pinks and periwinkle blues, of yearning and fragility. Her self-portrait is sutured, chairs are empty and the wire is barbed.
Sokolovic works directly on wet clay and bisque. On clay she silk screens and impresses marks. On bisque she applies glazes, underglazes, ceramic pencil, and more silk screening. Most of the tiles are cut from slabs. She considers this process analogous to journaling. Her “quick and loose style” adds a quiet vulnerability to the story she is sharing.
In 2009, Sokolovic was awarded the Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramics, which enabled her to travel to Mexico for a residency at La Ceiba Graphica. There she studied print making. Next, she traveled to Xalapa and Oaxaca to meet with local potters and artisans. That experience shifted her color palette to more intense shades. It also expanded her sculptural vision to include Milagros, deeply personal figures embracing a tradition of healing in a puppet-like form.
Recently, Sokolovic teamed up with her husband Noel O’Connell, also a ceramic artist, for a collection called These Gray Days. Throughout the process of creation, they maintain a dialogue. The pressed moulded tiles resulting from this collaboration include many of the themes Sokolovic has explored on her own, but they also emphasize architectural motifs. Tiles from These Gray Days are exhibited as Fragments and Patterns, their placement and relationship to each other being an integral part of their conception.
“I like to keep some lightness in whatever I do. I believe that such a point of view helped me through hard times in my life.” Scrawled on a piece of clay, surrounded by decorative scrolls, a small bird and an empty shirt, we read: “Open your eyes, you’ll be fine.”