Ichetucknee, Midpoint, Oil on Mylar, 2013
Art and Art History Prof. Amer Kobaslija’s early memories include long summers enjoying blue skies above the river Vrbas in Bosnia. “My first artistic impulses were born in that environment,” he said in an interview published in a book about his work. “I think that a sense of awe and subliminal wonderment about the fleeting spirit of those days—and an urge to respond and somehow capture those impressions—is what led me to pick up a brush and start painting.”
Representational painting dominates Kobaslija’s work, which encompasses subjects from studios he’s worked in to the landscapes of places he’s traveled. Kobaslija came to the United States in 1997, having fled war in his home city of Banja Luka at the age of eighteen four years prior. Today, he divides his time between Florida, where he immigrated, Gettysburg, and New York.
David Rampersad ’17, an Art Studio major, recently interviewed Kobaslija about his most recent project, called Florida Diaries. The artwork, along with the interview, will be on display at an upcoming exhibition at Schmucker Art Gallery titled Conversations: Studio Art Faculty Exhibition from January 31 through March 10, 2017.
Rampersad: What drew you to Florida? What was contextually interesting about it?
Kobaslija: Every summer since I immigrated to the U.S. I have gone back to Florida to recharge after a year of work in the studio. These rare, unspoiled landscapes are places of refuge for me. At the same time, Florida is the place where real-estate development never ceases to slow down and where suburban settlements are always expanding. The juxtaposition of untouched natural beauty and the impending, aggressive development onset by humanity is ever-present. In an ecosystem as fragile as the lowlands of Florida this rapid growth – along with the agrarian abuse of land – creates a huge threat to the environment.
Riverscape with Landfills, Oil on panel, 2015
Land Surveyor, Oil on panel, 2016
Shipyards Condominiums, Breaking Ground, Oil on panel, 2016
What is the purpose of the works? What reaction to the landscape do they convey?
The idea is to convey the sense of natural wonder in these paintings—and what it feels like to be there: the phenomenon of being in that place. And then – considering that these oasis-like environments are silently vanishing – there is this other evolving narrative of loss and the troubled relation between our species and nature. I am also reacting to Florida's own haunted history. There is more to this place than meets the eye. Centuries ago, the Europeans came and conquered, brought their duplicitous laws and a distorted sense of morality—and did much harm in the process. We are also aware of the recent events such as the murder of Trayvon Martin—not an accident but an episode symptomatic of greater obstacles haunting the state of Florida and the rest of the nation many decades after the Civil Rights Movement.
House Burning, Lake George, Oil on panel, 2016
Stray, Oil on panel, 2016
Southern Migration, Oil on panel, 2016
Used Cows for Sale, Oil on panel, 2016
How does one interpret these paintings, as they factor into/react to the greater historical narrative of the United States/the South?
When a colleague of mine looked at the painting Lowe’s Tubes, she mentioned how it made her think of Billie Holiday’s iconic song Strange Fruit. The song tells a story of the Deep South in the years of segregation, and someone, through the windshield of their car, seeing a tree in the distance with what they thought was “strange fruit” hanging from it. But as the car approaches the tree, the driver sees people lynched, hanging from that tree. This song I was not familiar with when I made the painting. But then again, it is about what the viewer brings to it. The context defines the narrative. There is much that is brewing beneath these otherwise calm Florida waters. All that affects how one reads my Florida paintings. These works portray states of mind. They could be interpreted as “mindscapes.” Paintings are portals. They are also mirrors, revealing as much about the seer as the seen. Not unlike what we see in traditional Chinese painting, what is shown as well as the subject matter are means to convey the inner spirit of the scene in question.
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Posted: Fri, 2 Dec 2016
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