The Collegian
Sunday, September 25, 2022

Richmond art scholar receives VMFA fellowship

Junior Irena Stanisic became the first University of Richmond undergraduate to receive a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts undergraduate fellowship on Jan. 23.

Stanisic, a studio art and Latin American and Iberian studies double major, is one of six students per year to attend Richmond on a full-tuition Richmond Artist Scholarship. Her cultured background - she was born in South Africa and has lived in Macedonia and Virginia throughout her life - has stimulated her artistic thinking.

"My experiences traveling throughout the world as a cultural chameleon have inspired my artwork," Stanisic said. "Art is a way of pouring the soul out and dealing with issues."

This year the VMFA awarded a total of $202,000 toward 35 professional, graduate and undergraduate artists' fellowships in recognition of their work. VMFA officials chose recipients by reviewing a selection of submitted artwork from each candidate.

Erling Sjovold, associate professor of art at Richmond, taught Stanisic in a figure painting course last spring.

"[Stanisic] immerses herself in the subject and shows how the figures interact with each other in space," Sjovold said, adding that Stanisic also had good skill for manipulating paint.

As a sophomore, Stanisic applied for the fellowship but was not granted any money. This year she submitted both an artist statement and eight abstract mixed-media pieces, for which she was awarded a $4,000 fellowship. She said she planned to use the grant to cover the cost of art supplies.

"It delivers a powerful message to students," said Tanja Softic, associate professor of art at Richmond and a 2009 VMFA fellowship recipient. "Opportunities don't come knocking on your door. You have to look for them, and that is was [Stanisic] did."

Softic said she applauded Stanisic's artistic talent, and that it had been clear she had come to Richmond knowing she wanted to be an artist. Stanisic focuses on mixed-media art, which combines various art techniques.

The pieces she submitted to the VMFA embodied the impact of meaning by combining oil paintings and etchings to depict how forms and humans interact in

the environment, Stanisic said.

Both Sjovold and Softic congratulated Stanisic for her work and the fellowship award.

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"She is a mature artist," Sjovold said. "She paints questions as much as she paints statements."

Softic said she hoped that more Richmond students would apply for the VMFA fellowship and that she thought Stanisic had set a great example.

"This award reflects the bang-zoom international migration she and her family have taken," Softic said. "I hope [Stanisic] has broken the dam, and I trust more UR undergraduate students will receive the award."

Contact reporter Dryden Witman at

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