For Frank Hobbs, the goal is always to capture the sensation of a space.
Hobbs, an assistant professor of art at Ohio Wesleyan University, is a dedicated Formalist, and when he paints, he aims only to observe and recreate his subject through color, space, lines and composition. Who he is as an artist and his opinions of the subject matter or modern issues should be irrelevant to the piece.
And yet, “If you’re honest about trying to wrestle with sensation,” he says, “something gets into the painting.”
This is especially apparent in Hobbs’ portraits of Ohio and Italian landscapes. His basic subject matter is the same – grass, trees, sky – but the spirit put on canvas in an Ohio piece is fundamentally different from that of an Italian counterpart. The wintry Ohio scenes summon up the silence of our state’s countryside. They are serene portraits, perpetually locked between winter and spring or fall. In his rolling European hillsides, Hobbs’ Italy seems to be in continual golden sunset.
Hobbs, as an artist, prefers to dive headfirst into a piece. He works with oils, printmaking and sketches.
Oil is his primary medium, as Hobbs prefers his process be as malleable as what he’s working with. He doesn’t sketch ahead of time; that would impress his own take on the space over its natural form.
“If you come across me when I’m beginning to paint, it’s a total mess,” he says. “The color itself is not assigned to local objects. There may be a red apple and there will be some red scrabbled in the background.”
And if he decides not to use that red in the background, oil can be scraped off the canvas with a rag while it’s fresh. He builds the act of time passing into his process and into his work.
Abandoned industrial facilities are of particular interest to Hobbs.
“I find parts of town the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want you to know about; a remnant,” he says. “(They’re) leftovers of a societal or economic force.”
The range of color he uses on a rusting piece of equipment is just as varied as the colors in one of his wild fields. Perhaps more surprising is how much these ranges overlap with one another. The color that represents age on a metal cylinder may be the same as the trees in the shade; a highlight on metal could be the same as the clouds. This phenomenon is also at the heart of his Formalism.
“When I paint anything,” Hobbs says, “I am more impressed by how connected everything is rather than how different.”
Though he thinks they are a bit cliché now, Hobbs uses the ideas of Zen and Buddhism in his work. In order to maintain the purest expression of form, an artist must not bring any desire of what he or she wants a piece to be. Hobbs likes to be in a Zen-like state while he paints, free of all desire.
“The ideas of Zen and Buddhism deal with direct experience of something rather than thinking about it. Direct experience without mediation of thought,” he says. “Everything is intellectualized in the West.”
Hobbs is as honest as he can be with what he sees. His paintings are born out of a fascination with the formal composition of the landscape in nature. One landscape, for instance, resembles an abstract painting. Four wide horizontal stripes cross the canvas, with a tree in the center of the piece. The stripes represent the sky, background, middle ground and foreground. Only the progression of color and presence of a tree tell us that it is not abstract.
Hobbs’ work draws from the act of observation. In nature or in places abandoned by people, he discovers the most fascinating forms. As a Formalist painter, he desires “to be there and to look and to wrestle with sensation; to stand there empty, in terms of imposing knowledge on to it.”
Hobbs is a gallery artist at Art Access Gallery in Bexley and his work is often on display there.
Mackenzie Worrall is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.