While isolating at home with his family, Amer Kobaslija has discovered inspiration in the experience. Between juggling teaching responsibilities and childcare duties, he is still painting away in a self-described "fever state" expanding on his recent series of figures set in the Florida landscape and revisiting an old subject: his own studio. As he started to send us images of the new paintings, we asked him to share his thoughts on the direction his work is taking, what's been on his mind and where his new subjects are coming from.
Q: Florida is an important place to you, it’s been the subject of your work and it’s where you are currently. In the current situation, do you see the politics of the state or your relationship to its environment finding their way into these paintings?
A: One way or another, the circumstances of my daily experience inevitably seep into the work. I think it is about looking closely and responding with a sense of urgency. Not imposing views but implicitly reflecting. Paint your own village and you will paint the world, Tolstoy said that.
Q: You first started painting studios while you were still in graduate school, over twenty years now, but they haven’t been a focus of your work for a while. What made you come back to them as a subject or do you feel that you’ve never abandoned it/them?
A: At this time, returning to the subject of studio, as so many of us are working / surviving in isolation, seems appropriate. The studio paintings are about introspection – they are allegorical self-portraits, revealing physic states. They are also about containment and confinement, an experience resonant as we find ourselves living in the age of corona.
Q: Your studios have always been a reflection of the self, though the subject feels particularly relevant in these current circumstances. Does painting your space act as a form of record keeping or diary to you?
A: Over the last two and half decades, ever since I left war-town Bosnia, my life has been nomadic. I have lived in a number of countries, too many places to remember them all. When I think about it, it’s like a blur, a dream. Too much happened in too little time. In a way, by painting my studios as I move from one to another, I am making this chronicle, a visual diary, and exerting control, however small, over my life.
Q: One of the new studios you call “Poetics of Space” which is a title you’ve returned to in the past. What does this phrase mean to you and what about it keeps bringing it to mind?
A: The painting that you are referring to is about exercising restrain while aiming to construct image that is visually impactful and evocative. Absence with evidence. Relying on as little visual data as necessary – in this case a view of ceiling, a light-grayish site uncompromised by illustration or decoration, bereft of body yet charged and open to interpretation. The rooms that we inhabit are containers of countless memories, to paraphrase Guston Bachelard. I see these studio paintings as meditations on past and present in a Proustian sense – the two states of mind coexist and influence one another.
Q: You mentioned Morandi earlier, working in Bologna during WWII, how do you view the similarities in your experiences?
A: In the age of great global turbulence and suffering, Morandi found refuge and meaning through his daily practice of painting, isolated in the Bologna studio, rearranging the same set of objects and finding surprising visual poetry in his still lives. Living under quarantine in the age of a pandemic, I work with self-imposed limitations and paint only what I find in the studio. I try not so much to rearrange my subject(s), instead I move myself around the room and look at it from various vantage points, internalizing the space as is at the time and transcribing that experience on the sheets of Aluminum.
Q: The last show of yours was predominantly figures (portraits, in an idiomatic sense) - we even see a couple of these in the studio paintings. Do you see the still lives as an extension of this series or a new direction?
A: My daughter Amina's Disney figurines are my new models. She brings them into the studio and I paint them, placed along the edge of the studio window and with a sprawling Florida townscape receding into distance, as observed through the window. I find these inanimate objects quite interesting given their cultural significance. When I place them at the edge of the Orlando studio window, they start looking like my previous “monumental” Florida figures – they are a direct extension of that series. Just like with my older paintings, there is a landscape in the back, only this time seen through the window glass. Strangely, now that I cannot go outside and interact with other people, Amina's toys have replaced my earlier figures – having these new paintings operate as both still-lives and portraits. Furthermore, I am incorporating carefully rendered insects into these new compositions - flies, some placed on the outside of the window glass, some on the inside - bringing to mind the Dutch still lives where the artists painted flies along with fruit, bread, meat, fish... Context defines the narrative, which is why painting these disease carriers I find of particular interest.