Paul Hoban’s delicate membranes and surfaces suggest all the powerlessness and luxury, sensuality, confusions and obligations that surround us. At the same time his paintings invite us to unburden ourselves, to lower our guard, to enjoy an unselfconscious freedom.
The artist asks: How would I surprise myself, how do I make myself the audience? His answer comes partly from his long study of Outsider and child art whose singular quality, for him, is its unselfconsciousness, that is art made for the maker alone, no audience or market in mind.
Mock objectivity is one of Hoban’s methods as he aims to make seeing the art an irresistible experience to its audience, in the first instance the artist Paul Hoban and then all of us. He paints to surprise himself as if someone else made the paintings.
He layers skins of paint using brushes, stencils, spray can, at any time, onto a sheet of plastic on the floor. Many stencils are sheets of A4 paper that happened to be around and that give a collaged appearance to these painting. Text is copied and recopied, and traces of it remain on the surface, not necessarily known words. “I make devices to distance myself from the meaning of a text – I use a paintbrush on the end of stick 3 metres long – it can only concentrate at one point – at end [it leads to] really beautiful works.”(1) “Surfaces accrete things – accidents, even self conscious marks.” “I make the kind of non-representational signs you see in pre-historic art – using spray can – like hand stencils. [There is] evidence in prehistoric art that people used their own bodies to make up negative shapes to make up the animals – elbows make part of animals, stencils of hands to make horns on goat figures. I look for superficial similarities between cultures – grids, zig zags, dots.”
Lastly, he peels the paint skins off the surface of the plastic and overturns them and puts them onto canvas – delicate, tedious, disintegrating while doing it – cutting paint skins up into pieces to fit a canvas in order to make things presentable. Hoban comments that this makes the process a kind of pickling of things. “The way I paint is to try and kind of paint backwards and try and retrieve all of those marks and I always know when I’ve finished when I end up with a big black or big white square”. That is, the surface of the painting on the studio floor is as blank as a primed canvas.
The final paintings are whatever the artist can retrieve from the processes, confusing the means of making the painting with the object of the squared canvas – and all the means of doing something – like black paint on black plastic – become invisible. “All the truth is there” - obverse and reverse – self conscious and unselfconscious - like pentimento, the changes only seen by infra red imaging in Old Master paintings.
We might ask are Paul Hoban’s skins an unselfconscious
version of Wim Delvoye’s tattooed pigs? Delvoye, a Belgian artist
recently interviewed on ABC tv, tattooed pigs with popular tattoos such
as those favoured by Hell’s Angels, then sold, framed and mounted,
the tattooed outside skin of the slaughtered pigs. Delvoye’s painstakingly
constructed art is about unexpected opposites – tattoos sold in
the guise of luxury décor (and a brush with animal rights activists
thrown in). Delvoye confronts issues of preciousness and elitism, appearance
and interpretation(2), the folly of human
achievement(3). Delvoye and Hoban come
from post Second World War French Situationists, and with Hoban we may
add Tachism. Obliquely and poetically, Paul Hoban’s “skins”
question similar issues but direct us to the margin, to the ever present
and overlooked, Outsider.