Artist James Oblack

by Bill Weaver

“I took a drawing class early in my college career almost on a bet,” says James Oblack quietly. “I enjoyed it. It kind of led to other things.”

Which is kind of an understatement. For over two decades Oblack’s art has led him all over the country, eventually bringing him to the place he calls home.

Oblack, who grew up in Indianapolis, “discovered Brown County in the early ’70s and came down regularly from then on.”

After graduating from Indiana University Oblack dutifully found a job in his field of Geology but his heart wasn’t in it. “I had to wait until I got out of college to find out that I wanted to be an artist more than I wanted to a geologist,” he says earnestly.

“The whole art thing sneaked up on me. Little by little as my college career progressed I started feeling in some strange way that art fit my personality better. It was a slow process. I dabbled in a little bit of everything—oils, acrylics, pen and ink drawings. Around 1977 I signed up for some watercolor lessons with a fairly well known artist and learned the fundamentals.

“In a period of a few months I improved the quality of my work quite a bit. That was a big steppingstone for me towards becoming a professional artist. I decided to start signing up for art shows. Once I had my ducks in a row, as we say in Indiana, I decided to pursue it as a career. In 1980 I quit my job and pursued art full time.

“I think I made the right decision.”

Oblack became an art nomad, spending the winter months in Florida attending weekend art fairs, then returning north to do the same the rest of the year. “I always tried to paint something even if it was to set up on a picnic table on a sunny day and paint all afternoon and try not to get sunburned. It was a little different from the way most people live.”

Oblack paints deeply representational watercolors that some people associate with photo-realism. “People tend to say, ‘I thought these were photographs,’” he admits. “That’s a comment I take as a compliment.

“It has to do with how important light and shadow are in my painting. That’s what makes everything pop and look realistic. I have an attention to detail—maybe it’s that part of m