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  Paul Hoban

What is research? How are the results of research best expressed? Research implies a scientific process, an exploration based on a stated structure or system. But maybe that type of research takes place in universities in the name of pursuing knowledge that can be proven with empirical data. And indeed that may not be the only way of pursuing knowledge or gaining information. Paintings by Paul Hoban, however, are examples of research which doesn’t rely on any specific methodology or have any definite aims in mind. Or, if that methodology has a name, it is curiosity and if it has an aim, it is seeing what lies at the end of it.

Between 1977 and 1990 Hoban spent time documenting bands that played in pubs throughout England. Hoban would take about 20 photographs of the band then paint a watercolour of them, based on the photographs: ‘I painted the bands I thought the market would forget.’ Some of the photographs he took were blurry or too dark – such is the atmosphere in which a pub band performs. These photographs would in turn be used in later works as collages (‘I don’t like to waste stuff.’). This re-use of materials is one example of the continuity between Hoban’s works. In others, patterns and accidental marks from one painting become the source for the next work. The watercolours of bands (60, in total), along with his hundreds of photographs of graffiti from all over the world, are examples of his documenting of popular culture. The small paintings of bands and the photographs of graffiti by relatively anonymous artists are recordings of the uncelebrated aspects of modern culture.

Hoban’s figurative paintings contrast with his more recent abstract paint skins, which have traces of ‘research’ into more distant cultures – both in terms of time and place. His works are based on knowledge, as opposed to pure intuition. The ideas represented in his paintings do have direct, concrete outside sources. And because of this it is easy to say ‘Hoban was influenced by such and such’. Hoban is doing something more than just being influenced by outside cultures, outside sources. Hoban’s work engages with the patterns and practices of ancient and contemporary cultures. The ancient may include the cave paintings in Lascaux and Gargas or the earliest paintings by Aboriginal Australians. While the contemporary covers the graffiti artists and ‘outsider’ artists in Europe or Australia.

And in Hoban’s paintings there are traces of these cultures and they seem to be incorporated randomly. What is interesting in his works – or, what I like about them – is that this one canvas can become the meeting place of these vastly different cultures and traditions. They do not have to be combined coherently or in an orderly fashion, what matters is the awareness and knowledge that they exist and that they are a part of one’s consciousness. And all of this is evident in the work of an artist with a strong interest in postmodernism – a movement frequently accused of an indiscriminate rejection of history. And, what’s more, Hoban’s work is a site for cross-cultural dialogue, and indeed Hoban hopes that art can continue to mean something and that it can reach into some ideas about a universal spirit of humanity. And all of this is sounding more and more contradictory to the apparent nihilism and anti-truth of postmodernism. The paintings borrow ideas from other cultures, other people’s ideas, and by doing so the consciousness, the sources for the artist’s creativity are as good as boundless.

Research takes place in many ways. The results are not predictable and the ways in which these results are articulated are varied; conclusions can be deferred or unstated. Such are some of the lessons of Paul Hoban’s works. Each painting by Hoban examines connections between images of disparate and distant cultures. For the viewer, she or he discovers a world that becomes curiouser and curiouser.

Andy Fuller
September 2004

Paul Hoban 2006 Exhibition
Paul Hoban 2008 Exhibition
Paul Hoban 2008 Exhibition