By SUSAN MARQUEZ • Photography by TIMOTHY IVY
The intricate and whimsical works of artist Blair Hobbs explore the art of storytelling—with art
In the artwork of Blair Hobbs, it’s as if a magical world is unfolding on the canvas. At first glance, one takes in the colorful paintings on an aesthetic level, but soon follows the realization that there is much more to see. Each unique piece reveals layers that appear the longer one gazes at it. The work is vivid, whimsical, and provocative. Beautiful for sure but this beauty is often juxtaposed with a dark side hidden in plain sight. Hobbs’s work is as interesting as the artist herself, with each piece telling a story, sometimes in images only, but often with written words incorporated into the design.
It makes sense that her works tell a story. Hobbs is also a writer, having earned a master of arts in creative writing from Hollins University and a master of fine arts in poetry from the University of Michigan. She is currently a senior lecturer at the University of Mississippi, where she teaches creative writing. So, it stands to reason that the rich imagery in Hobbs’s creations often carry a narrative, making each work even more distinct.
Born in Oxford, Hobbs grew up in Auburn, Alabama, where her mother, Marleah Hobbs, was an art professor. “I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember,” she says. “My mama had a great studio filled with all kinds of art supplies. She always encouraged me.” While she loved art, Hobbs decided to focus on creative writing in college, with art as a minor.
Hobbs’s artistic style developed organically. “In grad school, I wrote a manuscript of poetry. Art helped me study.” During this time she also became interested in feminism. As her individual style was emerging, she began incorporating different, everyday materials, such as sequins and crafting supplies, into her creations. “I love using ribbons, broken Christmas ornaments, and other sparkly things,” she explains. “I try to honor women’s ‘hobby’ art by turning it into fine art. Additionally, while teaching ekphrastic poetry (a creative way of describing art with verse), Blair spends a lot of time in museums.
Hobbs lives in Oxford with her husband, John T. Edge, and their son, Jess. Edge is a storyteller in another realm—as founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance and the Mississippi Lab, the renowned author and host of the television show TrueSouth often tells his tales through food. The family lives in a house situated on an eighth of an acre. While it may be small, the home has two studios, one for both John T. and Blair, with a serene garden that separates them.
“The garden is an important part of my process,” explains Hobbs, noting that observing nature and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the garden provides much inspiration. Accessed by a flagstone path, the garden features a seating area with chairs around a firepit. Along the path are raised bed planters filled with aromatic herbs, and tomatoes growing in colorful pots. Native plants and interesting art fill the area as well, from a concrete chicken to a bottle tree to capture the haints. Hobbs likes to discover “weird surprises in the mundane world,” primarily, finding bright oddities in plants, animals, and the human body.
That interest took on a whole new meaning for her when she saw friend and Oxford caterer, chef, and Today show food contributor Elizabeth Heiskell, on the show one morning. “Elizabeth said she was in the best shape of her life when she discovered she had breast cancer. That was not on her radar at all.” Hobbs openly shared about this moment on her Instagram page, “Thankfully, I saw friend Elizabeth Heiskell on the Today show bravely reporting her breast cancer journey. In that morning moment, I realized I was late to a mammogram. My thereafter appointment revealed cancer. Mine is hormone fed and my lymph nodes are clean. I’m lucky. I’ll be fine.”
Hobbs’s creative process is one she has developed to achieve the depth and texture she desires in her work. “I start by painting on paper. I draw the characters and cut out everything, then glue or sew it to canvas. I also do borders on my paintings. I think of them as church windows that contain a narrative. I do a lot of layering. I sew and it feels like quilting .” Besides the expected acrylic paints, colored pencils, and ink one typically finds in an artist’s studio, she also incorporates materials such as glitter, thread, gold dust, duct tape, candy wrappers, and broken Christmas tree balls.
The result of her labor is a fantastic fantasy world that captivates and holds the attention of those who view it. She describes her creations in her personal bio as follows, “Each canvas is a box of assembled visual cues that form an imagined narrative, and those narratives range from bittersweet (or just bitter) to magical to eerie to humorous.”
The title for each piece is as fun as the art itself. “I always try to teach my students to respect the pun,” she laughs. For example, in her Rural Mythology series, she explored rural Southern landscapes visited by mythical figures. Bacchus the Bootlegger is the title of one of those pieces. The Freak Show series, which was created not to make fun of the freak, but to celebrate all God’s freaks of nature, both real and unreal, includes titles such as Lobster Roll Boy, Swordfish Swallower, Jimmy Hosta, and Peony Envy.
Hobbs’s work can be found at Southside Gallery in Oxford. “I got settled into Southside when I moved here twenty-six years ago,” she says. She has also exhibited at Fischer Galleries in Ridgeland. Coming up she will have a show in Atlanta at Spalding Nix Fine Art from November through January 2024. “I’m really excited about that show. It will hang within the gallery’s red velvet room, and my hope is to transform the space into a spellbinding jewelry box.”
To see Hobbs’s artwork, check her Instagram, @hobbsblair, or visit her website at blairhobbs.com.