Illustrating life

Alumna Sarah Hobbs draws from real life to create quirky, creative photographs

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Illustrating life

Sarah Hobbs

The cover photograph of Sarah Hobbs’ recently published book focuses on an empty, unmade bed with dozens of Post-it notes hovering above it. Each floating yellow note details a source of anxiety that would leave any occupant sleepless. The title of the photo: “Insomnia.”

It’s a perfect illustration of how Hobbs (AB ’92, MFA ’00) takes a common affliction, conceptualizes it in a 3-D installation and then gently pokes fun at it through her elegantly composed, large-scale photographs. In her book, wryly titled Small Problems in Living, Hobbs explores a range of psychological states of mind—phobias, neuroses, foibles, compulsions, quandaries, fixations, angst—with a signature twist of humor.

Hobbs spent two years compiling photos for the book, which was published in Milan, Italy, and is soon to launch a book tour through her gallery, Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta.

Hobbs’ book presents some two dozen depictions of interior lifescapes. Her photo “Indecisiveness” shows a room covered in color samples from the paint store. “Perfectionist” shows a writing desk almost buried in crumpled-up sheets of discarded paper. In “Short Attention Span,” a wall is covered floor to ceiling with paint-by-number projects, none finished. Hobbs’ wit and playful exaggeration counter and relieve any discomfort or emotional tension her photos create. While she works on a personal level, the simple truths she explores are universal.

Hobbs hails from Columbus, Ga., but now lives in Marietta with her husband and two children, ages 2 and 5. During an interview in her tidy studio, she talks about her art: “In grad school I started photographing an old house in the country and realized that empty spaces had psychological weight to them. That’s when I began adding things and devising narratives.”

Hobbs says her creative process typically begins with a concept. After ruminating about it, she picks the materials she’ll use in a set-up and the light she wants. She admits she exercises tight control over her finished image. It took a couple of days for her to create the content for her photo “Overcompensation,” she says. The image shows stacks of unopened gifts, all wrapped with pristine white ribbons and Tiffany-style blue paper, on a simple dining-room table.

“I use domestic spaces because they are real,” she says, “but I manipulate them to get the effects I want. The presents are all wrapped professionally and the blue color is a bit cold. It’s over-the-top lavish.”

Hobbs says she constantly frets about whether the photo being composed is clever enough to be good or just a weak joke.

She’s developing new projects, site-specific installations, which give viewers a full experience of a work, not just a 2-D representation on the wall. Her first installation, “Flight in Place,” was part of the Westabou Festival in Augusta. She redecorated a bedroom in a historic home to illustrate how a young woman who yearned to travel but didn’t want to leave home might live. She had a bookshelf of travel books, walls of maps, a collage of postcards.

She also is working on an installation in a storage unit that will examine what people want to hide away, things that have been stolen, secrets. And she’s planning to redo a hotel room for a germaphobe “with cleanliness to the max!”

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Learn more at sarahhobbs.net