By Cady Kuzmich
Round Lake — Deep inside an unassuming brick building in Cohoes that once served as a bailing mill rests larger than life paintings and sculptures made out of repurposed materials by Round Lake artist Natalie Boburka.
Much of her work consists of recycled material — reused packaging like bubble wrap as clouds, scraps of wood and frayed wires from computers jut out of pieces hanging on the studio’s walls. “I’m very environmentally conscious,” she said.
Growing up, Boburka often went camping with her family and always aimed to leave the woods cleaner than when she found them — picking up litter along the way.
Boburka’s mother was a housewife and her father practiced law. Art wasn’t a regular part of her upbringing, though her family’s love of the outdoors and frequent camping trips have left an imprint that shows in her work today.
It wasn’t until high school, during her junior and senior year at Scotia-Glenville, when Boburka truly discovered her love of art. She was inspired by a teacher named Phil Spaziani, who she said left plenty of room for experimentation and encouraged her to tutor other students in art.
After high school, Boburka studied art education at Buffalo State College. “The great thing about studying art education is that you’re encouraged to do everything. You get formal training to do everything,” she said.
She began teaching art in Schenectady 26 years ago. Boburka spent 13 years teaching elementary art, six teaching in the middle school and seven years in the high school. “I needed the transition each time,” she said.
She credits some of her commitment to recycled art to her experience teaching. “Teaching in an inner city, you’ve got to scavenge for resources.”
“I used to try to separate teaching from studio work but you can’t separate yourself like that,” she said. In a few years, Boburka will be able to retire from teaching and hopes to apply for an artist residency at state parks.
She said she enjoys working on pieces that “revive” her, including an art form she’s pioneered which involves joint compound, wood and layers upon layers of acrylic paint. Each layer of color takes about an hour, according to Boburka. There’s more to it than just brushing paint on, Boburka uses alcohol to “lift” paint off the compound as well. “Every piece probably has 10 to 15 layers of color,” she said.
There are three major themes in Boburka’s work: feminist, anti-war and purely aesthetic work which she likens to playing. Boburka struggles from time to time to justify and validate that third category, which requires her to clear her mind completely and just celebrate beauty, while her other work is often tied to more thought-provoking themes. Much of her work is political. Many of these political pieces are inspired in a place of anger and deep frustration paired with feelings of hopelessness.
“I work out my anger when there is something bigger than me that I can’t change,” she said.
Boburka layers childhood toys, plastic soldiers and cartoon images of men in arms atop dark, stormy scenes of despair and atop American flags. She recalled the fervent patriotism surrounding her growing up, and how she eventually came to be disillusioned and disgusted with the American Dream. She’s disturbed by her country’s willingness to go to war and expresses that through various visual mediums. “I’m angry that we bring up boys to become soldiers,” she said. Some of Boburka’s work, that which focuses on war’s human and environmental tolls, is a nod to Anselm Kiefer, a German painter and sculptor.
An example of her feminist work involves the figure of a woman interwoven with branches from a willow tree and parrot feathers. A nest rests where the woman’s head would be.
One of her paintings, titled “Venus’s Head Trip,” touches upon the double bind women face when trying to walk the thin line between society’s expectations to be both pure and sultry.
“We’re the creators. Why aren’t we more revered?” she asked.
Boburka has introduced feminist art to her students. One of her students created images of women who have lived through domestic abuse as survivors rather than victims.
She has a 31-year-old son and two grandchildren. Her husband, a drummer, also works in the studio — a setup she said often leads to crooked frames on the walls.
Q: If you could meet anyone, who would you choose?
A: I always thought it would be cool to sit at a bar with Tom Waits. If you could get Lou Reed on the other side, that would be even better.
Q: If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
A: The coast of Spain.
Q: If you had an extra hour in the day, what would you do?
A: Write poetry and perform.