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 Nils Eric (N. Eric) Oback  (1920 - 1979)

About: Nils Eric (N. Eric) Oback


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Lived/Active: California      Known for: watercolor landscape painting-environment, teaching

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BIOGRAPHY for Nils Oback
1920 (Arvika, Sweden)
1979 (Palo Alto, California)


Photo submitted by Johnny Oback

Often Known For
watercolor landscape painting-environment, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Everyone knew Nels Eric Oback as "Eric." Professionally, he usually signed his name "N. Eric Oback."

Eric was born on September 30, 1920 in Arvika, Sweden. The family name had been "Olson," which is as common as Smith or Jones in Scandinavia. Eric's father, Gus, legally changed their name to "Abach." In English, "Abach" translates phonetically to "Oback." The name was chosen as a remembrance of the family farm in Sweden, "Abachen," which roughly translates to "hill by the river 'Oh.'"

Eric immigrated to the United States with his parents, brother, and sister in 1927. The family settled in Chicago IL, where his father opened a successful automotive repair business. In 1942, at the start of World War II and at the age of 21, Eric was still a Swedish national. Uncle Sam gave him the option of being drafted or deported. Eric chose to serve and was inducted into the United States Army Air Corps. During the war, Eric met his future wife, Ruth McDaniel. Ruth and Staff Sergeant Eric Oback were married shortly before he was honorably discharged and naturalized as a US citizen in 1946.

After the war, the entire Oback clan transplanted themselves to California and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. Eric went to college and studied art at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. After receiving his Masters of Fine Arts, he began working as an art professor in 1950 for the newly opened San Jose State College (later renamed San Jose State University).

Between 1948 and 1967, Eric and Ruth were blessed with 10 healthy children, two girls and eight boys. In 1971, Eric began to experience flue-like symptoms that would not go away. The doctor diagnosed heart disease. Eric went to Stanford University Medical Center and had open-heart surgery, included grafting of multiple artery bypasses and implanting an artificial valve. The operation was not successful. In the following months, Eric suffered the debilitating effects of congestive heart failure. Just in time, Eric received a new heart. The transplant was Stanford's 50th. Eric lived seven productive years with his new heart that was borrowed from a young lady, a Las Vegas dancer killed in a shooting.

N. Eric Oback worked as a Full Professor for San Jose State until his passing in November 1979. He is best known for his watercolor landscapes, including many with Environmental themes painted in the 1960's. He liked to show lonely collections of farm buildings, bridges and highways dwarfed by vast fields, mountain backdrops, and sky. He often mixed pigmented clays with watercolors in many of his paintings. His style varied between abstract, realism, or a fractured mix of both.

In his later years, Eric was a popular watercolor instructor. He taught upper division and graduate art students, only. He was also in demand as an art show judge for various competitive exhibitions, including several years for the California State Exhibition (Cal-Expo). He was gregarious and enjoyed the social interaction of University life. He sold many paintings over the years, but he did not seek commercial success. To this day, many of his works reside in various museum, private, and corporate collections.

Eric showed his work at many exhibitions, mostly in California. These include shows at the Legion of Honor and DeYoung museums in San Francisco, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, among others.

The artist died in November, 1979, of complications from a heart transplant.

With permission of the artist's son, John Oback

Biography from California Watercolor:
N. Eric Oback (1920-1979) 

Born: Sweden; Studied: California College of Arts and Crafts (Oakland);

Member: American Watercolor Society, Society of Western Artists. N. Eric Oback's family emigrated from Sweden to Chicago in 1927. He was awarded US citizen in 1946, after serving honorably in the US Army during World War II. After being discharged, he moved to Oakland, California and began to professionally exhibit his watercolor paintings in the late 1940s.  In 1950, he accepted a teaching professorship at San Jose State University's School of Art.

In 1971-72, N. Eric Oback suffered heart failure. As a result, he received one of the earliest heart transplants performed at Stanford University Medical Center. He continued to teach art at San Jose State University until his untimely passing in 1979. He is survived by his wife, Ruth, 10 children, and numerous grandchildren.

Biographical information:
Interview with son John Oback, 2009

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