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  Paul HOBAN

A warm spring morning…I’m sitting here at my table in the apartment in Via Carlo Farini, typing this into a laptop so I can send it to you on the other side of the world by means of a strange and wonderful new invention called the internet (look Ma, no wires!). I know, ‘for a fact’, as we might say in two languages (‘so per certo’), you’re doing the same – writing an essay for my exhibition here in Milano. An unpredictable exchange. I was expecting your essay today but I know it’s been the hottest two weeks on record in Adelaide so I’m not surprised it’s late. Two weeks above 35C, that’s hot - I hope you’re sitting under the stars with a cold beer right now…I’m smoking though, and that’s bad.

Enough about you and me (‘enough about you, let’s talk about life’… Alannis Morisette). Milano ain’t Adelaide – just as Tlingit ain’t Urdu. So why mix them up? What’s with the dots? Miscegenation is supposedly against the law of nature. And by the way, I’m using the photo of your studio with the paintings stacked around the wall as my screensaver – pic attached.

I really don’t remember much of my colour theory – not that it was ever my strong point in teaching art students. But I do know it’s either/or both a) a complex set of codifications of subjectively experienced perceptual phenomena; b) an objectively determined set of codifications founded on Newton’s experiments using a prism to ‘break’ light into what we now all call the colour ‘spectrum’.

Goethe had his own views. I wish I had my postcard of his colour wheel in front of me. ‘There is no experimentum crucium’ for Goethe’s theory of colours, according to Wikipaedia. As I remember though his wheel is quite unlike the Newtonian wheel with its strictly segmented primaries, secondaries and tertiaries, arranged tonally. Goethe’s wheel is symmetrical, with six colours rather than seven – with only blue and yellow being ‘pure’ – the rest are ‘degrees’. According to Goethe, colour exists ‘within’ light’ – and we do not see colours in nice segments as refracted through a prism but as arising at light-dark edges. Goethe’s theory was based on close observation of perceptual phenomena – not inferred concepts.

So how many colours are there? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions? An infinity of colours? Do all these colours - potentially infinite in number but specific in character - exist independently of the language that might be used to describe (name) them? I suppose this is an aspect of Derrida’s grammatology. I’m now wishing I remembered more of my colour theory – I’ve forgotten the name of the Frenchman responsible for the major classification that held sway until the appearance of this thing I’m typing into – with its pixilated screen pulsating in CMYK and RYGB. Pursue Wikipaedia colour links and what do you get? Computers. Still, Wikipaedia is my style – small chunks of information - it’s a chunking age.

Where was I? Goethe’s theory leads away from science and toward spirit – as least as interpreted by others such as Rudolf Steiner. Colour is as mysterious as it gets – the more we’ve come to know about its properties, the more we have come understand that it’s the ‘qualities’ that matter. This may not be science so much as sociology, anthropology – culture – psychology – in fact it’s anything but science and everything to do with nature.

You have a theory too, about something that might be described as ‘cultural constants’. Is this some sort of reference to subjectivity being hard-wired to manifest within certain vocabularies of forms? I’ve tended to think of my own work in terms of ‘cultural pathology’…maybe this is connected…maybe we’re onto something.

The other – much more contemporary reference that comes to mind is Damien Hirst’s dot paintings – which have names like ‘valium’ and ‘LSD’. The latest Sotheby’s catalogue of contemporary art offerings (Feb 2008) listed a big one – then I recently saw in the International Herald Tribune that it’d been passed in - didn’t make the reserve. He says his mum has one on the wall and every time he goes there he wants to change the colours. This is not your problem – or rather it’s a problem your system takes care of. Nevertheless, your paintings too have a very trippy quality…

…Anyway, back to the question, what comes first – a colour or the words we use to describe it? In your case, the question is sidestepped - words ‘produce’ colours. Words become the systemic means by which new subjective experiences are themselves produced. A logical system in which logic is ‘overthrown’ (your word, not mine, which I wish you hadn’t used because searching the net I find about three thousand references to it – branching out in all directions like Milan’s streets). You have invented new colours. This is quite an achievement, both in theory and practice - because there’s no denying the effects (and their capacity for affect) of your…dots? Circles? Holes? You talk about holes as being a problem for topography – which I assume means there will never be a good map of space (but weren’t early star maps created using pinpricks in the surface of a dome?). But there’s no denying the sheer optical intensity of your paintings – or their dazzling prolixity. The push and pull of these ‘visual objects’ piled on the surface (not enough somehow to just call them ‘dots’) is very strange and overwhelming. Pain and pleasure of course are not at opposite ends of the scale, as every fetishist knows – and somewhere here – slipping across an invisible border – your paintings are located.

Resonances and associations jump the grid. I read on the ABC site that Adelaide tram drivers are being cautioned to travel slowly for fear of buckling the tracks in the heat. I think the tracks have definitely buckled.


Joao, Marz 17, 2008. Via C. Farini # 35, Milano


Ps – have now also found the image of Goethe’s colour wheel – attached. If you follow his logic it makes perfect sense. Its turtles all the way down young man!


Dr John Barbour
Artist and writer
Research Degree Coordinator
South Australian School of Art

Paul Hoban 2004 Exhibition
Paul Hoban 2006 Exhibition
Paul Hoban 2008 Exhibition