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Freak Show, Not Your Typical Art of the South: Opens Oct. 4th at the Southside Gallery

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Blair Hobbs does paintings that evoke strong feelings.
All photos by Sarah Beth Wiley.

Blair Hobbs comes by it naturally — being creative.
Born in Oxford, Hobbs’s family moved to Auburn, Alabama, when she was 3 years old. Her mother was an Art professor. Although Hobbs’s Mom taught design, her daughter found inspiration in her paintings, that she describes as “Wonderful.”

From that place of wonder, Blair built her own artistic vision, creative writing. While attending Auburn as an undergrad, she became interested in poetry through Auburn’s literary magazine, The Circle. She then finished her education with an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan. So, masters in hand, she returned to Auburn for the next natural progression – painting.
Sculptor James Surls once said, “If you live in New York and you look out your window and you create art from what you see – buildings or air conditioning ducts or whatever – for some reason it’s called world-class. But if you live in East Texas and you look out your window and you create art from what you see, its’s called regional.”
During the time she made a name for herself, regional or “Southern” art was on the rise. Much of its growth was due to the rise of Howard Finster and the Folk Art movement. Although nothing about her background jives with the description of a Folk Artist, the label seemed to be applied to her work. She joked, “Ever heard of a Folk Artist with a Masters in Poetry?”
Despite feeling the need to separate herself from this category, Hobbs’s instincts told her to embrace some of the visual similarities, but do it her way, keeping the spiritual connection.
She reflected on the careers of some of the accomplished artists who were around in her childhood, pioneers such as Agnes Taugner, a colleague of her mother’s (Marleah Hobbs, now 91 and lives in Oxford). Hobbs’s work, and also Taugner’s, embraces mixed media and textiles with canvas. Hobbs’s work does not feature your typical regional/southern visuals of landscapes peppered with cotton fields, farms and religious figures. Hobbs saw a connection in Taugner’s work considered Fine Art, as well as in Folk Art, that encouraged her as an artist – representation of figures do not have to be perfect, in proportion and high-end. And in fact, can even border on the absurd or weird. She even shops for her materials in a place not usually associated with ‘fine art’ – craft aisles.
unnamed-6Utilizing beads, glue sticks and the various supplies found in those aisles, Hobbs creates her own magical world of characters. Her current series, Freak Show, features some of the zaniest cast to date: The Freak of Mother Nature, The Bearded Lady (painted with a pet monkey because she looked lonely according to Hobbs) and the Swordfish Swallower. All join in the parade, celebrating being outcasts within their clever puns and glittering curiosities.
Her previous show was a bit more indicative of her creative writing background, featuring quotes by William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Conner. By her own admission, the research required for that show was “A lot of work!” For her, it made the choice clear for this show, be a little less studious and have a little bit more fun.
In case you’re wondering, she never let go of her bookish ways and love of poetry. In fact, its what brought her to Oxford 18 years ago. While living with her sister and painting after graduate school, she got a call from the university offering her a teaching job. And she still teaches at Ole Miss – Intro to Poetry and Fiction Writing – putting together her art shows around her school schedule.
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Her studio reveals a little of the artist’s method.

unnamed-4And its a good thing she took that call and moved to Oxford. A few years after relocating here, she met her husband John T. Edge, who is now the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and a freelance food writer. Hobbs disclosed that it was while brain storming with her husband on a recent family trip (they have one son, Jess, 13) that elements of her show emerged. What is the expected? Sword Swallower. The unexpected? Swordfish Swallower.
Going for the unexpected is what might be considered Hobbs’ M.O. Her work has not only been compared to Folk Art, but also to Greek Orthodox, Mexican, Indian and even African textiles. The eclectic mix draws you in to her world in a weird and wonderful way.
Take a look at some more of Hobbs’ work.
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Both Blair and her husband have spaces in their backyard, this is John T.’s office from the outside.

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The colorful yard reflects the artist’s sensibilities.

Sarah Beth Wiley is creative director of HottyToddy.com. You can contact Sarah Beth about this story at SB.Wiley@HottyToddy.com.

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