Undergraduate Academic Affairs

Story by Jenelle Birnbaum; video by Bryan Nakata

Artist and University of Washington alumnus Miha Sarani’s series “Koncentrick Paintings” asks the viewer to look below the surface. This series contains five large portraits, two of which hang in Mary Gates Hall.

At a quick glance, you’ll notice large portraits on abstract backgrounds. But, these works represent so much more — a homage to the artists’ heroes, a statement on overcoming rejection, a tribute to equality, a modern interpretation of traditional portraiture.


Photo of the painting

Koncentrik Painting I – Elohim as Barrett Strong by Miha Sarani. Image courtesy of Miha Sarani.

Photo of painting

Koncentrik Painting II – Apollo as Sananda Maitreya. Image courtesy of Miha Sarani.

In this series, Sarani, ’15, challenges the cannon of portraiture. Historically, portraits were curated to create a specific image of the subject, an image that demonstrated one’s status in society. To that end, portraits of African Americans often showed the subject in a submissive pose, symbolizing a lesser status in society.

When choosing the format and subject for these works, Sarani wanted to reverse the power dynamic. At 96” x 84”, these portraits are tall. He wants the subject to be in the position of power, the once oppressed looking down at you.

Sarani chose musicians for subjects because they have interesting stories. Over the course of this project, Sarani invited more than 70 musicians — many of whom he considers childhood heroes — to participate in his project. Five agreed: Barret Strong, Sananda Maitreya (formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby), Huey Morgan, Iggy Pop and Magnifico.

Several other artists responded, saying they were unavailable for the project. Sarani pasted these rejection letters to the canvas and adjusted his materials so that the letters would be faintly visible underneath the paint. The abstract, but nuanced, backgrounds are a metaphor for the messiness and isolation of the creative process.

The idea of growing from rejection can also be viewed as a physical manifestation of Sarani’s own experience. From not being admitted to art school in his home Slovenia to graduating from the UW with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, his resilience has allowed him to revive an old dream. Learn more about Sarani here.

Sarani’s works “Koncentrik Painting I – Elohim as Barrett Strong” and “Koncentrik Painting II – Apollo as Sananda Maitreya” are on view outside of Mary Gates Hall room 224.


Editor’s note: Unfortunately, the painting “Apollo as Sananda Maitreya” was vandalized on November 28, 2016. We are deeply saddened by the vandalism. If you have information about this, please contact the UW Police Department at uwpd@uw.edu or the non-emergency number, 206-685-UWPD (8973).

Sarani repaired the work and it is hung in Mary Gates Hall again. He also created a new painting out of the pieces torn as a result of the vandalism. That work, “Re:DUX,” hangs outside room 206 in Mary Gates Hall. The paintings in the Koncentrik series as well as “A Strong Family (Can’t Stop Us Now), Ver 2” are on view across from suite 220 in Mary Gates Hall. 

This short video details more about “Re:DUX.”