Tomova bridges past and present in ‘Crossings’

Joan Sullivan
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Solo exhibition opens at Red Ochre Gallery today

“When I wanted to join the circus” — Submitted photo

“Crossings” is a solo exhibition from Veselina Tomova, and includes 30 pieces, about evenly divided between prints and mixed media. Neither term really does justice to Tomova’s style, which is full of texture, narrative, and dashing verve. At their base they are often like ancient maps, where nether regions were studded with amazing creatures — Here There Be Monsters — and labeled Ultima Thule — beyond the known world. There is a fantastic cartography to Tomova’s work, which is very much set in a place, often a lived-in one, but sometimes somewhere simply remembered. And that is just the first layer; from there she builds and builds.

Her process includes calligraphic markings, embossments and applications of a variety of precisely cut scraps, and energetic pushes and eddies of lines and tones. These shape landscapes and portraits and animal studies (like the pair of vivid little horses in “Red Pony, Grey Pony, Change Islands”) that are all rendered with such animation, such life, not just in their subject matter but also in their very lines.

They look so loose and free, but they are also ornately compacted. “Mapping the New World” is, one could argue, a kind of visual synecdoche, where part of something is used to refer to the thing entire. A curl of harbour suggests the whole body of water, two thrusting bows of ships seem a fleet, and the outlines of houses evoke a city. Other pieces are just happily fanciful. “My Ship is Coming In” blooms with flowers that are gigantic and organic, both otherworldly and delicate. “Navigating the Narrows” and “The Giant Squid Exposed” are all ecclesiastical architecture and rumoured creatures, respectively, each a briskly outlined mythology. The colours in all these are gorgeous, with lots of russets and aquas and silvers and violets.

The series of portrait-prints are truly tactile and striking. “The Betrothed”, “She Was So Young and Beautiful”, “When I Wanted to Join the Circus”; by their posture and fashions these originate from old family photos, a launching pad that allows Tomova to introduce thick creamy fabric boutonnieres and a purple elephant, and unicycles and stagelights in dynamic pinwheels, and a dress of printed appliqué and a tree that is partly bunched patterned paper and partly drawn limbs, and anything else she likes and imagines.

Throughout there is a richness and liveliness, a play with the foreground and background and different areas. A play that is far from frivolous, but also has embedded intention and connotations, from the composition of a fancy headdress to the configuration of a grandmother and grandchildren. Like in “Have Some Cherries”, which includes a number of balancing visual fields, with collaged sparkling red dots and bouquets and circles and windows of attention and activity, like two children sharing the small red fruit. In this piece and all the others, everywhere you look there is something to take in, and yet the works are not over-busy.

Tomova has written that this show is “a bridge” between her childhood home in Bulgaria and her new home in downtown St. John’s. “Two such different worlds. Yet there is always the open sea and the all-forgiving fog … ” Such elements help her “find (her) bearings”, with a compass that unfolds so marvelously here.

“Crossings” opening was postponed by poor weather Thursday and will now take place 5 p.m. today at the Red Ochre Gallery. It continues until March 14.

Organizations: Red Ochre Gallery

Geographic location: Ultima Thule, Change Islands, Bulgaria

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