Maja Ruznic


“Painting gave me a place to find comfort and magic without needing to be verbal”

AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging to art?

MR: I was born in former Yugoslavia (the part now known as Bosnia & Herzegovina). My mother and I left in 1992 when the war started. I began making art when I was around 9 years old. We were living in Austria in various refugee camps, and I remember finding comfort in painting. My mother always made sure I had basic art materials—no matter how bleak our situation was. I think my love for painting developed due to the language barrier I encountered when we arrived to Austria. Having to learn German and make new friends was difficult, so painting gave me a place to find comfort and magic without needing to be verbal. Not having to use language to communicate complex feelings was incredibly profound for me—even at such a young age.


AT: When did it become serious?

MR: I became serious about my work at the point I decided to go to grad school, which was around 2007.  I knew that at that point, there was no turning back. I remember taking a class at CCA (California College of the Arts) and one of my teachers said to us “Look around the room…in 5 years from now, only about 5 % of you will still be making art!”. It was supposed to be a sobering moment for all of us, and it was. Without hesitation I thought to myself: “I’ll make sure to be in that small percent…no matter how hard it gets!”.


AT: Are there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?

MR: I had amazing teachers at CCA and three in particular left a deep impression on me: John Zurier, Jordan Kantor and Rajkamal Kahlon. Aside from being great teachers, all three are also incredible artists. Jordan was tough but I could tell that he liked my paintings and the intensity came from a nurturing place. John was all love and encouragement. His passion for oil painting was infections and deeply felt. Raj encouraged me to keep making small work on paper, which was essentially what gave me my first push out of grad school.

My Noiseless Entourage, Conduit Gallery, Dallas, 2020.

AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?

MR: I am primarily a painter, although I draw a lot in the mornings. I also make soft sculptures using scraps of clothing and poly fil. My practice is very playful and relies on process rather than ideas. All my ‘ideas’, if we can call them that, come from my hands–by playing with the materials. I rely heavily on intuition. No matter what the medium, I allow the materials to communicate with me while I work. To borrow one of Bracha Ettinger’s terms, I call this process ‘co-emergence’—the piece and I work together to make it. It’s almost like allowing yourself to go into the deepest parts of the ocean without a boat or safety vest but knowing that you will not drown. That’s what painting is for me.


AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?

MR: A tender feeling in the viewer. A deep sadness. A deep longing. A sweet memory.


AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?

MR: I only use Filbert brushes!  No flats, no rounds, no fans. Filberts are best for scumbling—especially when they get a little beaten up. They fan out and get all puffy like a make-up brush. Brand new ones are tough to work with….but after a few weeks, they are perfect. I use safflower oil as my medium for oil paint. No Gamsol or Turpenoid because they are toxic. I am pregnant and have to make sure that my entire process is toxic-free. I also only use pigments that are non-toxic. Unfortunately that means no Cadmiums or Cobalts, which is really hard and I can’t wait to return to my full palette once I have my daughter in July.


AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?

MR: I try to never think about the final result. I try to not even have an image in my mind’s eye. Any idea becomes a prison for me. Instead, it is most important to stay present and in the moment. When I can focus deeply on one single mark at a time, I make my best work. Also, if I’m dancing, it means the painting is going well!

“Invocation”, oil on canvas, 84×74 inches, 2019.
“Her Arrival II”, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 100×76 inches, 2020.

AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?

MR: The work is finished when it kicks me out or if I start feeling like I am decorating a cake. John Zurier said that once you start doing that, you are no longer painting.


AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?

MR: The inspiration comes from the process itself. The ideas are generated by what is appearing on the surface.  That said, I love to read and my reading often influences how I think about my work. At the moment I am reading “Descent to the Goddess” by Sylvia Brinton Perera which looks at the Sumerian myth about Inanna and her descent to the Underworld where she meets her dark sister Ereshkigal. The conflict Inanna faces on her journey to the Underworld reminds me of what we are going through collectively with COVID-19. A great decent is happening on a global level—something most of us have never experienced (unless you were around during the Spanish flu). I believe that like Inanna, who finds herself regenerated as she makes her journey back up, we too, will find new veils lifted as we exit the Quarantine. Although all transitions are painful, I believe that death, when looked at from a mythological perspective is a generative source, part of the nature’s great cycle. Like a snake that sheds it’s skin in order to grow and renew, we too will need to shed a lot of our bad habits in order to grow as humanity.


AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?

MR: I love Cathy Wilkes, Marlene Dumas, Munch, Vuillard, Bonnard, Peter Doig, Louise Bourgeois—so many good ones. Why? Because they don’t make me think of factories. All make super charged, emotional work that seems urgent, necessary and timeless—things I live for! Art that looks like it was made on a conveyor belt, is not for me!

“The Called”, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 67 1/2×53 1/2 inches, 2020.
“Weeping Woman”

How important is the role of social media for you?

MR: I love using Instagram. I have discovered some amazing artists and galleries there!


AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?

MR: The best part about being an artist is making stuff with my hands and if I’m lucky, affecting people on a psychological level through my work. Making art is like creating a portal where intimacy is possible. Art can be a doorway for both the maker as well as the viewer into something that feels like truth with a capital “T”–which for me, is Beauty. Beauty as Truth. I hope that people, when looking at my work feel like they are softening; psychically softening and merging with the space around them and their memories. I hope that their sense of self diminishes and that all they are left with is affect—a purely sensorial relationship to the world around them. The most challenging part for me is protecting studio time. Between emails, administrative stuff, ordering supplies, photographing your work, sometimes I find myself not even painting at all. I hate this part and it makes me wish I had an assistant or a studio manager. Perhaps finding one will be my priority after Corona.


AT: What do you do besides art?

MR: I am a very physical person and enjoy being outside. I love running, hiking and going out to eat with my friends. I also love taking little day trips to Santa Fe with my husband and artist, Josh Hagler. One of our favorite places there is the Folk Art Museum. The food in Santa Fe is great too, so it’s a special treat for us to take the three hour drive—something we really miss at the current moment.


AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?

MR: I want to keep reinventing myself and pushing my work. Most importantly, I want to make art into old age.  I am not an artist who likes to teach, so I hope to stay a full time artist. In the next few years, Josh and I hope to find a home somewhere near Santa Fe, where we’d like to have enough land to build our studios and connect them to our house. We imagine looking out and seeing mountains—which we call the Great Grandmother. Yes, that image gives me peace.

My Noiseless Entourage, Conduit Gallery, Dallas, 2020.
Maja Ruznic (b. 1983) is a Bosnian painter currently living and working in Roswell, New Mexico (USA).

Ruznic is predominantly a painter, drawing on personal and collective memories to create works that deeply connect with human psyche. Allowing for figures to emerge from the thin layers of oil paint she applies to the canvas, the characters seemingly coalesce with their environments. She describes the process of painting as trying to remember a dream, touching on Bracha L. Ettinger’s theories of ‘matrixial borderspace’: the space of shared effect and emergent expression, across the thresholds of identity and memory.