by Rod Drown
Leaving political and economic turmoil in eastern Europe for calmer waters in Vancouver has brought forth bright , colorful ,somewhat whimsical paintings for Sonja Kobrehel of German-Hungarian ancestry.
Kobrehel,whose work has been exhibited in Hungary ,Yugoslavia, Poland, Spain and Japan to both public and critical praise, will be presenting her latest works at Massey Centre's Plaskett Gallery an New Westminster during May and June.
Kobrehel's work is being noticed in the United States and in Britain. Europe is no exception.
This accomplished artist was born in Subotica, northern Yugoslavia. Since her mid - 20's she has worked constantly on her art.In 1988, she attended Sumatovacka, a private school for art in Belgrade, where she took traditional drawing and painting.
Kobrehel's symbols within her paintings often reflect her personal history as well as suggesting her European cultural heritage.The symbols she captures within this eidetic net are suggestive of some historical aspects of Hungarian culture.They are also equally suggestive of various ancient Egyptan symbols-including Amenta (the Underworld or Land of the Dead); Udjat(healing and protection) and Khet (another figure of the ancient Egyptian underworld), Kobrehel's attention to this connectin is very intense,even obsessive.
There are also signs in her work of a biological,if not environmental ,awareness.
"I used to live in a natural, healty home built from natural materials and that home worked smoothly-just like a Swiss clock!" she recalls.
In studying the evolution of her work,one notes Kobrehel's interior perceptions and attitudes steadily evolve.As the artist says:
"I am constantly searching (within and) about for something new."
The changing attaractions include script from the ancient Hungarian alphabet (called Rovasiras). Very often these new creations seem to float ,fly, dance,undulate-even swim-against a background expanse of subtly mixed colors and hues,many very brilliant.
There is what might be called "metaphorical geography" in Kobrehel's works.One piece ,Deep Blue Starfish1,especially illustrates this.At the bottom of the painting is an irregularly rising and falling expanse of multi-hued deep toned blue.Above this ocean rises a methaphorical sky in another , lighter ,range of blues.Perhaps it contains the whole of creation.In between these two instruments of finality are contained hints-a pair of golden wings spotted with white ,a small tower with an even amaller bird atop, a golden heart disguised as a kite , a horse-shoed tube with three tiny balls arrayed above it, an arrangement of little buttons (could they be console lights?) - of all creation, both human and natural.
In other of her current works, there are what might be stones, exotic snail shells,plunging seed cases, mid-canvas collections of symbolic calendars and the merest suggestions of zodiac pathways.All against backgrounds of warm reds .sunset orange horizons,soft purples and azure blues.
Written by: Kristin Kimmel
Lately, time has been flying by. With all good intentions, I took several pictures of Sonja Kobrehel's work at the University Women's Club, Vancouver at Hycroft way back in February or March. The pictures have sat in my picture files since and every time I look at them, I am reminded that I wanted to say a few words in support of her exhibition. The exhibition is over, so I'm too late for that.
It's never too late, though, to bring that attention of a good artist to my readership. Kobrehel's work is so colourful and light.
As I was minutely looking at her work during the exhibition, one of my friends came by and said, "I don't really understand what one sees in this kind of art," which stunned me. It really shocked me, I think, because I was feeling such joyousness from looking at it. It reinforced for me a) that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and b) my art education has been so profound and lifelong that I see things differently from other people. Sometimes the abstract is unreadable by the uninitiated.
"Why is this work important?" my friend continued. I promised to explain it one day, and perhaps that is what I am trying to do here today.
What attracts me to them is her use of colour and symbols. I went back to her web site:
That daunted me a bit. I read the accolades and explanations that she already has garnered and I realized that I couldn't speak to her work on that basis. At least, what had already been written there was more eloquently written than I could, not knowing about her Eastern European background and the iconography, the symbols with which she creates her images. So I encourage you to go there and read about it.
I'm going to shift gear here, so bear with me.
I often have discussions with Mrs. Stepford next door. She is also an artist and she has a fine analytical mind about contemporary art. She was trying to pin down why she likes my dabbling and why she appreciates what I do as an artist. I just do it, and have the hardest time coming up with a spiel about it that makes it intelligible to other.
She said something like this - that I devise my own game plan and then go about making endless variations on the elements that I have chosen to work with. That I come up with so many variations that sometimes don't seem to be cohesively connected and then become visible when a whole body of work is seen together amazes her.
So, back to Kobrehel:
On an imagery level, what I like is that she uses a set of icons, visual elements, that she plays with from painting to painting, arranging them in various compositions, changing their sizes and therefore their importance in one setting as compared to the next in which it might have a much diminished importance, but another takes on a greater power. In other words, she plays with them in unending variation.
The ability to work in series with similar icons or images is an important attribute. It shows that the artist is not randomly daubing paint to canvas but has a purpose, a message that bears working with.
The next reason that I find her work fascinating is that she is working with images that are not familiar to me and at the same time, there is some archetypal pull, some feeling that in the human experience, the symbols belong to Everyman. There are circles and egg shapes, a fool's hat, a cross and hook, half-moons, hearts, birds, teapots, ladders. Some are commonly understood, some are esoteric, and according to the web-site, Egyptian or Eastern religious symbols. They are used out of context. That is, the egg is not in a usual egg situation. Ditto for the moon, the hearts, the teapots and the ladders.
What this accomplishes is an image with mysteriousness. Why are these symbols placed one against the other? Do they have a significance? Or, do they add up in a symbiotic whole to a feeling, a sentiment of nostalgia or of well-being, gladness, wistfulness or comfort? It is the ambiguity that draws me in, trying to come to an inner sense for me, of the work that I am looking at. Ambiguity, for me is a strong attribute of paintings.
I don't want to be told everything. It's why I am most often uncomfortable with Realism. Everything is spelled out. It only takes a minute or two to "get the picture". The technique of copying nature onto a canvas may be admirable, but it's just one element in the artists arsenal of weapons. With Kobrehel's work, I don't immediately "get the picture" (and may never ultimately do so) and so it's interesting to figure out why my initial reaction was to love it. It engages me. It makes me think, not just rationally, but emotionally too.
And when the emotional and rational evaluation of the image is done, I see that, on a technical plane, Kobrehel's work is also fascinating.
She seems to compose chiefly on the "spatial relationship" method of composition, although the other methods are working too. It's one of my favourites of all the compositional methods and by far the most abstract of compositional ideas. The icons are placed about the picture plane to draw the eye around. In one, for instance, there are three objects in the colour red on a largely beige coloured canvas. The act as an implied triangle that leads one's eye around. Then there are three other objects in a different colour, also acting as a triangle, pulling one's eyes away from the first, so that the eye travels around and around within the entire image, comfortably being able to stop at this icon or that for closer inspection.
Where large rectangular blocks of colour make up the background of a painting, she understands the visual weight of each and adjusts the size of the shapes accordingly so that the shapes are in balance.
For an artist (me) who is familiar with these principles of colour weights, the manipulation of shapes to create balance or imbalance, compositional considerations, these paintings are full of richness underneath the apparent imagery. It's as if Kobrehel is more concerned with these than the actual icons.
The last thing I am going to mention is technical quality of paint handling.
Kobrehel paints with a build-up of layers with each layer contributing to the surface quality.It provides a richness of color , a depth, even if the color on initial view looks,for instance red. That red may have yellow and oranges and cream colors underneath that alter the final quality of the block of redness.It's not flat.
The colours are fresh and lively. This may seem simple, but it's not. Too often, colours are over mixed and become as a result rather muddy-looking. Kobrehel's are clean and light. It's that quality of colour mixing that keeps these images fresh and happy. Kobrehel also knows her colour mixing so well that one colour never jars against another. It's so easy for an amateur to put a lime green against a red, but it will clash and blare like a ill tuned trumpet. When Kobrehel does this, though, the colours sit together like sensitive lovers. They are individual and opposite, but they marry comfortably and easily. This is no mean feat.
The quality of the drawing is also fresh. There seems no hesitation in the markings, but that does not make them simple. The forms, the fool's hat, for instance, is lightly rounded on the edges giving it a three-dimensional quality. The shadows lurking behind these objects serve to lift them off the page in an optical illusion. The icons live. They pop off the surface and tempt you to touch the canvas just to make sure they aren't really trying to escape.
Kobrehel is an adult who has been able to recapture that childlike ability to create her own symbols and express them as a private language. I find her work fascinating to look at.
I hope this will explain to my skeptic friend and give her something to think about when next she comes in view of a work of art that is more difficult to perceive on first view.
So thank you, Sonja Kobrehel, for making my day - not just in February when I saw the real thing, but today, as I look at it all again and am delighted by what I see.
Sonja Kobrehel uses Szekely-Hungarian Rovas in her artwork as intellectual heritage from her grand-grandfather. The strength of the cultural roots.
Sonja Kobrehel - from Vajdaság (Vojvodina) to Canada
Rovás Infó opened a section to the articles dealing with the relation of Rovas culture and arts. There, not only the rich Rovás related art of the 20-th century is introduced but attention is paid to the articrafts of the contemporary artists as well. Rovas Info asked the Hungarian origin Canadian paintor, Sonja Kobrehel:
- Where did you get in touch with the Rovas culture and since when are you using it?
I can not say that I am a Rovas professional but for sure, the Rovas has been with me in a way or in another during my whole life. I was told that my grand-grandfather had been using the script itself and in our home I could always find some books about the national script. Therefore, my interest in Rovas was quite a natural fenomenon.
- In your pictures, there are sometimes Rovas characters, is there any concept behind the use of them?
I was always interested in scripts as signs, characters, lines or just visual elements. On many of my paintings you can see characters or just lines resembling to Latin or Rovas characters. However, I do not intend to send some written message through my paintings. Therefore, I usually avoide strings of characters with definite meaning, rather focus on the visual individuality of the signs.
- What is the reaction of the viewers of you paintings, especially in Canada, where they can see Rovas probably the first time in their life?
Part of the people like to browse my pictures and they can notice the Rovas characters. As I live in Canada, obviously not many of them know what they see, so due to their curiosity a new conversation starts often. I am happy and proud to explain our Rovas culture, as not many nations have such an ancient and still alive writing system.
- Do you use yourself the Rovas - for example as signature on your paintings?
Lately, I use mostly Rovas, when I sign on my pictures but it is not only a signature in its traditional meaning, rather an organic part of the painting. Here, I attach few pictures that can illustrate what do I mean but on my home page, there is more articraft incorporating the Rovas script.