To find artist Omer Huremovic’s home studio, just listen.
As you open the door to the basement stairs, off the kitchen, the voice of Robert Plant emerges.
As Plant and the rest of Led Zeppelin perform the classic “Whole Lotta Love,” Huremovic is twisting wires, shaping the copper and aluminum strands into tree forms, before attaching his new tabletop creations onto a rock base.
The basement is filled with the wire trees, which tend to fall into three categories: wind swept, weeping willow and bonsai.
“My mind is free. I’m so relaxed,” Huremovic says, explaining his work.
Trees are wonderful symbols of our lives, he says in an accent that remains strong more than 20 years after he, his wife, Biljana, and their daughter, Tamara, fled Bosnia and Herzegovina. Trees are shaped by their environment and roots deepen as time goes by.
It’s both a philosophical and literal approach to describing his art. But it’s understandable.
In 1992, Huremovic was among what would become 1.8 million Bosnians displaced as their country fell into a civil war. Huremovic’s family ended up as refugees in Munich for five years, before coming to St. Louis, where about 70,000 Bosnians now reside in the region.
“It gives him such pleasure to create these objects,” said his daughter, Tamara H. Schenkenberg, who was 13 when she left Bosnia. “It was amidst some very difficult moments and having to resettle and start life anew when he picked it up. It’s creating beauty and optimism. A real positive vibe to him.”
Eleanor D. Ruder, owner and director of Componere Gallery of Art in the Delmar Loop, has sold more than 470 of Huremovic’s trees since she first started displaying them nine years ago. An exhibit of new works by Huremovic opens Sunday at Ruder’s gallery.
“They just kind of spoke to me and speak to others too that he’s not just making them to sell,” she said. “They have heartfelt emotion in them. Sometimes you pick up energy from something without knowing what it is saying to you.”
Huremovic, 57, says in his promotional materials that with his trees, “I aim to create the sensual, delicate, yet strong and dynamic curves that mirror nature’s bountiful manifestations.”
He sells his trees online, shipping them all over the world, including Singapore, Israel, Switzerland, Belgium and Bosnia.
Schenkenberg, assistant curator for special projects at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, says her career track into art could be credited, in part, to her parents.
“When we were trying to start a new life with limited means, my parents were always interested in beautiful things, something that had aesthetic value,” Schenkenberg said. “A little item from a gallery, or a beautiful chair, or a pretty pillow. Or having a catalog or book with a painting on it, to help remind you these things existed even if you couldn’t afford them.”
In the last few years Huremovic has branched out to other metal objects, including wall sculptures, clocks, candle holders and vases.
They are made from scrap metal.
“Everybody just throws them away,” he said of the pieces he salvages, often from a scrap yard near the St. Charles plant where he works repairing can crushers. “I want to give them new life.”
He does so leaning on his experience as a pipe fitter in Germany, where he learned to weld. Using that skill, he leaves marks on the metal pieces giving them various degrees of texture and color.
In the promotional materials describing his work, he says the works “draw in and reflect a changing light, creating shadows and encouraging contemplation of the contrasts that surround us.”
But at his home, he explains the art a bit differently.
“There is a dark side of life and a bright side of life,” Huremovic said. So each of the pieces represents that, he said.
The dark side for Huremovic was having to depart Bosnia without his mother, who decided she did not want to leave her home.
She died three years later of a heart attack. With the war ongoing, Huremovic was unable to return to Bosnia for his mother’s funeral.
The Vino Gallery in the Central West End has been displaying Huremovic’s work since it opened 3 ½ years ago.
“Someone bought me one of his trees as a present four or five years ago,” said gallery director Matt Pruyn. He thought Huremovic’s work would be a good fit for Vino.
“It really speaks to everybody. It’s really simple. Very basic. We’ve sold a ton of his work.”
For Schenkenberg, one of her father’s trees served as a sign she had met the right guy.
She had been dating a man for a few months when Schenkenberg went to meet his parents at their Glendale home 10 years ago.
“The first thing I saw was my dad’s work on their coffee table,” she said. Her then-boyfriend’s mother had bought the tree as an anniversary present for her husband. She did not realize the artist and her son’s girlfriend were related until Schenkenberg told her.
“I can’t help but assess it some kind of significant, deep meaning,” Schenkenberg said. The boyfriend, Stephen, is now Schenkenberg’s husband.
“We were meant to be. The tree made the connection.”
SOURCE: St. Louis Post Dispatch
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