Mountain Home artist is the youngest to exhibit artwork in the Governor’s Mansion
Ava Obert is obsessed with power lines, dumps and alleys.
The Plein Air painter became obsessed with the way lines contrast with the lighting and shadows of the alleys in which they often find themselves at an early age.
Her favorite alley is located across from Cove Coffee in downtown Mountain Home, Arkansas. It is often found there, hidden behind the brick and mortar of Jeans Good As New paint.
Ivy climbs over the brick walls as the crisscrossing power lines in the alley move in the wind.
“There’s this thing called urban drawing,” Obert said, examining his favorite alleyway. “I received this book on urban sketches from my mother for Christmas when I was 11 years old. And I opened it up and it was Hong Kong and places like that. And it’s all these Outdoors sketchers drawing in the street, and I was like that was what I wanted to do. And so, I started looking for anything that looked like this.
The Mountain Home native quickly became one of Arkansas’ fastest rising stars despite her young age. She won Best in Show for the Junior Duck Stamp in 2014 and 2015. Her art has also been exhibited at the Illinois River Salon and the Center of Art and Education in Van Buren, Arkansas.
Most recently, 50 pieces of her work were hung at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas, over the summer, making the 18-year-old the youngest artist to ever exhibit her work at the Seat of Power of the natural state.
“I met the governor at the reception. He was really, really nice, ”said Ober. “When I had to go talk, I wasn’t prepared at all. I did not know what to say. And I thanked everyone, and he saved me. He asked me a bunch of questions and continued. I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t been there.
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Obert began taking painting and drawing lessons at the age of eight. Young Obert displayed a natural talent, often quickly learning advanced techniques. One of the first people to notice Obert’s skills was Duane Hada, another Mountain Home artist and teacher who operates out of his Rivertown Gallery.
Hada said he first heard of Obert after receiving a phone call from the Baxter County Library. Library staff were impressed with eight-year-old Obert after seeing her draw a 3D model of a hand during a children’s drawing class.
After hearing about her talent, Hada took her under his wing, instructing her in what he calls “drawing on the right side of the brain.”
“It’s pretty much teaching your hand to register what the eyes see,” Hada said. “If you want to learn to draw realistically, it’s probably basic training, but good. I think she learned a good foundation of fundamentals early on, and I was able to support her work ethic and I want to.
Obert spent six of his early years under Hada’s tutelage. Today, she helps her instructor and mentor by replacing him during her workshops.
These early years with her mentor also introduced her to several other famous artists in the region, such as John Lasater and Jason Sacran. She even caught the eye of world-renowned Italian artist Israel Herschberg during a 2017 trip to the JSS School of Art in Civita, Italy.
“Jason and I ran a group in Italy in 2017,” said John Lasater. “Ava saved money. We were advertising eight months ago, and she started saving money all summer. She picked up enough to come, spending her own money, so it was pretty impressive. The principal of the school is Israel Herschberg, and I went to study with him because I think he is the best Plein Air painter. That’s why I wanted us to be up there to study with him.
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Outdoor painting is the act of painting in the open air and was created by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Obert said his time with Herschberg was an exciting experience. She said her days in Italy were spent painting outdoors and her evenings were filled with lectures that lasted until midnight.
“I didn’t realize how much of a ‘god’ of painting he was until I got there,” Obert said. “If he needed a glass of water, like 10 people would run and try to get it for him.” While I was there I learned a lot more about how to paint shadows correctly. In Italy, they have talked a lot about the difference between color and value. I hadn’t realized until then that some artists were more focused on getting the color right and in this school it was like, forget the color, just make sure you have all the correct values.
In 2019, Obert moved into his aunt and uncle’s house and set up his art studio called The Art of Ava in half of their barn. Since then, Obert has focused on selling her work while helping other artists paint murals in the area as she finished her final year of high school.
With high school now behind her, Obert enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She said she planned to get her fine arts degree before buying a motorhome and taking it on the road as a mobile artist.
“My plan is to travel. I want to have a traveling art studio and do it until I’m fed up, ”Obert said. “I like to go for a drive and try to find things. I usually have 10 pieces in progress at the same time. I will work on it and if I block I will come back to it. I never tire of painting, but I can paint the same subject over and over again. I think it’s really beautiful how this moment will never exist again.