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A Conversation with Artist Kyrin Hobson

If you missed our talk, please watch the video below.




Executive Director of SSCAC, Monique Brinkman-Hill in conversation with artist Kyrin Hobson to discuss her special edition print created in collaboration with our Chicago Printer’s Guild Fundraiser, her multifaceted art practice, and how women and symbolism play a role in her work.

A Los Angeles native, artist Kyrin Hobson enacts her various roles as protector of children, steward of community and keeper of histories through painting, drawing and conceptually engaged social practice focusing on arts education. Hobson’s Chicago studio is a base of operations for art explorations which build upon experiences as a museum professional and scholar of the African Diaspora. Primarily self-taught in painting, the artist has a BA in Fine Art from UCLA and a MA in Museum Studies from NYU. Additional fine art study has included the Women’s Art Institute at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and studio intensives with Steven Assael, Stanka Kordic, and Karen Offutt.

Kyrin is a grantee of the Sustainable Arts Foundation, The Minnesota State Arts Board and AS220. She has been in residence at the Millay Art Colony and published in The Edna Journal and Delicious Line. Recent exhibitions include Between Line and Space (South Side Community Art Center), Secondary Meanings: Figural Diptychs (Zhou B Art Center), Reclamation (Helen Day Art Center, Vermont), Visions of Venus/Venus’ Visions (Zhou B Art Center, Chicago), Black Creativity Juried Exhibition (Chicago Museum of Science and Industry). Hobson’s paintings and commissioned portraits feature in collections in the United States, France and Germany, notably including the University of California, Los Angeles, Tina Knowles Lawson and Dr. Elaine Schmidt and Steven Bennett.


According to Hobson:

My drawings and paintings are acts of intercession—the sharp point of a trajectory of memory. I carry forward a family history of clairvoyance used in ritual; in creating, caring for and sustaining life; and in the resourceful exercise of influence. I am the first in my line to deploy this gift as an artist. A strong commitment to interdisciplinary research in history and cultural studies supports my gift of vision.

Hobson adds:

My art gives shape and form to what it has meant to be a Black or mixed-race person in America. The work is body based, emphasizing gaze and gesture of the figure. The physicality of memory also finds form in symbolic depictions of the limbic system, and other bio-imaging. My imagery combines threads of inherited trauma, rage, caregiving and the instinct to survive and even find pleasure in a brutal world. I frequently center a young Black heroine (or hero) in an imagined landscape, often with the tools of her own agency (medicinal plants, folk charms, weapons) and attended by fantastical animals or natural motifs. Beauty is claimed emphatically as both a necessary element of survival and a lever of femme power. At the same time, these works confront the perilous exploitation of the enslaved female body. The drawings and paintings that depict my visions stand as documents of a pragmatic purpose—to reclaim the humanity of marginalized people.



Works in EMERGENCE are diverse in their subject matter and media, but a few themes reappear throughout. Working in abstraction or in the traditionally peaceful genre of still life, artists like William Carter, Allen Stringfellow, and Jonathan Green express themes of interiority or sociability, history or modernity. Notably, Stringfellow and Ralph Arnold both experimented with media and materials and worked extensively in collage, which allowed them to combine abstract design, figurative imagery, and on occasion political ideas.

Viewers typically expect Black artists to focus on particular aspects of their social and political identities within their work. Where might those expectations come from? Still life, abstraction, and collage may express many different things about artists’ interior lives and their visual and social observation, whether connected to public manifestations of identity or not.

William Carter’s mid-century still life Untitled presents a group of vibrantly colored bottles that invite the viewer’s gaze, set against a similarly colorful background with floral elements like grapes and leaves. They give evidence of conviviality and might be interpreted as symbols of social gatherings, but they could also just be a collection of pleasing forms. We might put Carter’s still life in dialogue with that of Jonathan Green, who became close friends with Carter while living in Chicago. Green’s close-up view of an eloquently simple composition presents oranges, a pear, and a lemon in front of two vessels. Works like this piece call the viewer to examine the objects the artist chose to include, to consider how they interact with each other like bodies in space, and to reflect on their meaning within the traditional genre of still life painting.

Collage might suggest the piecing together of identity from different components that might not usually coexist, giving room for more expansive imaginations of meaning than a straightforward representational image might allow. It could also just be an inventive way of combining colors, shapes, and textures. Allen Stringfellow’s Untitled, a collage from 1962, brings familiar motifs from still life—fruit and flowers, desserts and glassware—together with imagery of artist’s models and performers. Layered with paint and tissue paper that frustrate the viewer’s attempt to get clarity on the subject matter, the bursts of form and colors hint at the splashy abstraction of Stringfellow’s untitled, textured painting made from house paint and particulate on cardboard. Here the artist tests commonly found materials to create new textures and plays with the creation of colors and finishes that diverge from “Western” academic painting methods.

In The Waiting, Arnold constructs a large collage from different paper components, lace, and paint. In the piece, elements of European and African art are placed in dialogue with one another, while some figures appear alone and isolated, others in large groups. Without giving easy answers, Arnold implies questions about social issues. Who is waiting, and for what? In his Love Sign II, which bears the words “Love is Universal,” Arnold asserts the equal validity of all types of romantic affection and love, utilizing collage to convey a more straightforward political message.