Art in the Narrative Form
By Elizabeth McDaniel Tettleton | Photography courtesy of Blair Hobbs
Oxford’s Blair Hobbs shares her Southern stories through vibrant mixed media artwork.
Although Oxford, Miss., is known for strong literary culture — boasting the likes of Faulkner, Barry, and Grisham — some of the town’s talented authors are crafting stories with more than just a pen.
Artist, poet, and essayist Blair Hobbs is celebrated for more than the creative writing courses she teaches at the University of Mississippi and her pieces in Oxford American and The Georgia Review. Hobb’s art has become a North Mississippi favorite, with fans of her work likening it to the robust colors and imagery of Russian Orthodox religious art and Oaxacan art. Most notable is Hobbs’ ability to craft a narrative within a series of work. She often begins with an overarching title for the series and then lets the process take her on a journey with each subsequent painting.
“I’m always interested in a narrative, a story,” says Hobbs. “When I was in the MFA program at the University of Michigan, I always had a collage in process, even as I was working on my poetry thesis. I took a year-long course in critical theory and my professor encouraged me to make art a part of my final paper.”
Hobbs has a framed piece she created in that class that hangs on her and her husband’s —Southern food writer John T. Edge — den’s wall.
Hobbs’ proclivity for art came at a young age. Her passion was fueled by her mother, who was an art professor at Auburn University, where Hobbs also attended and received her bachelor’s in English.
“I’ve always been surrounded by art,” Hobbs says. “My mother allowed me to dive into her supplies and kept a butcher paper-wrapped stack of large drawing paper for me. I spent hours drawing dollhouse interiors and dolls.”
To this day, Hobbs’ work incorporates the human form in a similar fashion.
“I like beginning with drawing, and I sort of think of the drawings as paper dolls, and I arrange them on canvas until they tell me a story,” she explains. “Then I lay gesso and acrylic paint on the canvas.”
Hobbs keeps a unique cornucopia of materials at her disposal: handmade papers from Japan and Thailand, broken Christmas tree balls, fabric, Duct tape, sequins, glitter, oil pastels, doilies, and even tacky placemats.
“I have a studio full of supplies. I like to have lots of things to reach for,” says Hobbs. “I also like to sew embroidery thread into the work.”
Travel has played a strong role in her artwork. Her series “Rome Sweet Rome” was inspired by her two trips to Italy with her husband where she drew upon imagery and colors from their photographs. The pieces are all mixed media collages.
Hobbs’ art has been compared to pieces created by native artists in Mexico, with many encouraging Hobbs to visit the country for muse.
“An art professor once told me that I should pack up and move to Oaxaca and just soak it up,” says Hobbs. “That was in my early 20s.”
She and her husband made the trip to Oaxaca a couple of years ago.
“I’ve never seen such saturated color,” says Hobbs of Oaxaca. “The trip was profoundly inspiring.”
Hobbs faces ruts from time to time like all artists, but she pushes through them with the help of friends, her love of the South, Mother Nature, and the painter Marc Chagall.
“He’s the only artist I’ve mimicked,” she says of Chagall. “I love his color palate, his love of Bella, his wife. I love that there is no such thing as gravity in his paintings — everyone and everything is free to float.”
A friend of Hobbs made a suggestion which blossomed into her series, “Places I’ve Never Been,” which imagines “herself” in many fascinating situations: shoved into a teapot, attending a beach party in a Funyuns bag, and as a guest at a squirrel party, to name a few. The collection has collages with mixed media ranging from paper cut-outs and gold leaf, to sequins, glitter, and dried flowers. The collection can be viewed on her website.
The South is an ever-present component in Hobbs’ art and regularly serves as a subject for her to revisit.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking of the Alabama landscape of my youth and my Mississippi landscape now,” she says.
Currently, Hobbs’ art is featured at Fischer Gallery in Jackson and Southside Gallery in Oxford. Hobbs is toying with the word “Ground” as a verb and noun for a collection to be displayed at Southside Gallery at a future date, hopefully later this year after being postponed due to COVID-19. She is inviting quilting artist Cathy Fussell of Columbus, Ga., to join the show.
Last summer, she created several collages for the Mississippi Book Festival based on Eudora Welty’s stories and photographs.
“It was fun to create works that blend my job as a literature and creative writing teacher with my visual artist self,” she says.