Two exhibitions of the works of Bosnian-born painter and professor Amer Kobaslija have been organized by the UNF Department of Art and Design: one showing at MOCA, the other at UNF’s Lufrano Intercultural Gallery.
Born in 1975, Kobaslija escaped his war-torn country in 1993. In 1997, he and his parents immigrated to Jacksonville. He earned a BFA in printmaking at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, and an MFA from Montclair State University, where his education flourished due to the university’s close proximity to New York City’s galleries and museums.
Kobaslija now divides his time between his studio in New York City, Gettysburg College, where he is a faculty member, extensive travels to locations as diverse as Switzerland and Japan, and Jacksonville, which he considers home.
Kobaslija’s ascent in the heady atmosphere of the New York scene has been impressive. He was awarded the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant in 2005, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2006, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 2013. In 2015, he celebrated his tenth year of association with the prestigious George Adams Gallery with the publication of a handsome monograph that explores his major bodies of work. These include depictions of artists’ studios, an ongoing series reflecting the devastation of the tsunami that ravaged Kesennuma, Japan, on March 11, 2011, plus more recent Florida paintings that confront the contradictions of the state’s lush beauty and its fragile and endangered environment.
A Sense of Place: UNF Gallery at MOCA
One of the most compelling series in Kobaslija’s oeuvre is the subject of artists’ studios; ranging from his own to those of such luminaries as Jackson Pollock and Balthus. These private studio
spaces are often chaotic, cluttered and messy. Allusions to process are present – from paints, solvents, palettes and brushes to empty frames. Kobaslija’s vantage points, drawn from photographs, direct observation and memory, yield diverse and fascinating perspectives. The viewer seems to be hovering close to the ceiling, looking down from vertiginous lines of sight. Often a ladder is present, as in Sputnik Sweetheart of New Orleans and the End of the World (2007), or as a tantalizing fragment cut by the frame in Painter’s Floor with Chair and Ladder (2006).
Of these studio paintings – rich in detail, with surfaces enlivened by thick and confident applications of paint, Kobaslija observes, “The studio becomes a metaphorical reflection of the inner world of a painter, a visual diary, a chronicle of state of mind.”
What do the objects in the studio say about the crucible of creativity? He is fascinated by the evidence of the absent occupant and cites the writings of philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) who writes that our memories have refuges in the spaces we have inhabited.
Through an incredible bit of serendipity, Kobaslija met and befriended Balthus’s widow, and
was granted rare access to the late artist’s studio in Rossiniére, Switzerland, where he died in 2001. Nothing had been moved; it was kept as a shrine of sorts. Kobaslija found it to be a “quasi-sacred space” with several unfinished works still on easels and the “crimson red sweater, worn by Balthus on the morning he died.” In Spirit of Place (Balthus’s Studio, Rossiniére), poignancy permeates the once active and intimate space.
Kobaslija’s series, Florida Diaries, includes several paintings of Ichetucknee Springs in North Florida, which he describes as a “refuge and an oasis.” Ichetucknee, Midpoint (2013) captures the limpid quality of the water, and the dense forest and vegetation that flanks the stream. In contrast,
there is Plein Air Painter, referring to the practice of painting in the open air. Instead of viewing a scene of beauty, the artist appears to be standing in a dump looking over a landfill rising over the flat expanse of Florida’s characteristic landscape. Yet, Kobaslija doesn’t condemn. Rather, he presents these topographical anomalies with a certain air of irony.
Tsunami: The Lufrano Intercultural Gallery
Although the UNF Gallery of Art exhibition at MOCA contains several of the paintings completed in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the northeast coast of Japan five years ago, the exhibition at The Lufrano Intercultural Gallery on the UNF campus is comprised of eighteen works painted in response to the cataclysm. The exhibition, titled One Hundred Views of Kesennuma: Paintings of Japan’s Altered Landscape (2011–2015) is a subtle homage to the great Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), and his One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (1834–1840).
Article written by Debra Murphy