Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Artist a Painter of 'Visual Novels'; Amer Kobaslija's Talent Was Nurtured after Family Moved to Jacksonville

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Artist a Painter of 'Visual Novels'; Amer Kobaslija's Talent Was Nurtured after Family Moved to Jacksonville

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton

Amer Kobaslija arrived in Jacksonville in 1997, a man without a country.

Born in Banja Luka, a city in what was then Yugoslavia and is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, he enjoyed an idyllic childhood as the son of two schoolteachers.

But civil war broke out in Bosnia in 1992. Bosnian Muslims, such as Kobaslija's family, came under attack from Serbians in a bloody, genocidal war.

His parents managed to get the 17-year-old Kobaslija and his younger sister out of Bosnia in 1993 to a refugee camp in Germany.

When he arrived with his parents in Jacksonville in 1997, Kobaslija didn't speak a word of English. But he had a transcendent talent, an ability to paint what Jacksonville artist Jim Draper calls "visual novels."

Draper, who teaches at the University of North Florida, is curator of two exhibits of Kobaslija's work that will be on exhibit for the next few months in Jacksonville. "Tsunami" opened in the Lufrano Intercultural Gallery in UNF's Student Union on March 28 and continues through July 1. "A Sense of Place," which opened Thursday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, will continue through Aug. 14 in MOCA's UNF Gallery.

While he quickly mastered English, Kobaslija began attracting notice for his painting.

In 1998, Jean Dodd, then education director at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, arranged for four of his Bosnian landscape paintings to be part of the Cummer's "Views of Distant Lands" exhibit.

She also helped him win admission to the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, where he earned a bachelor's degree in painting and print making. He then attended Montclair State University in New Jersey and earned a master's degree.

At Montclair one of his professors introduced him to George Adams, who owned the George Adams Gallery in New York City. The gallery began representing the young artist, who moved to the city.

"People began responding to my painting," Kobaslija said. "For the first time, I had money in my pocket."

After two years in New York, he found himself homesick for Jacksonville, where his parents lived and where his mother still lives (his father is deceased). He moved back to Jacksonville and bought a condominium in Berkman Plaza, where he still spends his spring break and his summers.

"Finding home is a tricky thing," the 41-year-old artist said. "Of all the places in the world, this is home for me. Somehow it feels right here. I love the beaches and the sunshine."

After the stock market crashed in 2008, the art market dried up.

Needing a job, Kobaslija took one teaching art at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Two years later, he moved to Gettysburg, Pa., to teach at Gettysburg College, a small, liberal arts college.

Meanwhile, prestigious awards were coming his way. …

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