Illustrating life

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

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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