Picture a dog lolling around on his back, legs akimbo, or a cat awakening from its nap, stretching and ready to stalk. A tree in the winter, shedding leaves but not its dignity. Ania Hobson grew up in the country, painting the surrounding movement and natural color, and with that keen eye for posture and perspective, she now paints portraits of people comfortable and confident, whether lost in thought or deep in conversation. There’s beauty in loose strands of hair and the shadows of a face. It’s life and that’s good.
Gwynned Vitello: I figure most British artists work out of London, and maybe Bristol, Bath or Liverpool, but how many have studios in Ipswich in Suffolk County? My dad’s family were from the town, so I’m curious to know more about it and why you’ve chosen to stay in what’s been called the “curious county.”
Ania Hobson: I moved to Suffolk when I was five, but I spent my first years in Wyre Forest, Worcestershire where I was born. Our house was surrounded by deep, thick forest which became our playground, and here we explored and played for hours. Those childhood experiences have become deeply embedded in my psyche. This focus on animals and nature continued when we moved to Suffolk—and that connection has never left me. Suffolk is my base, with affordable studio rent, but it’s also so close to London. An hour on the train takes you straight into Liverpool Street. As much as I love Suffolk, though, I am slowly considering moving to a bigger city where connecting with other artists and exhibitions is more accessible.
The rural setting of childhood must have really informed your first expressions of art. Tell me about those first impulses. Did animals and trees just naturally present themselves as subjects? Did your parents encourage you, and did you have the luxury of alone time?
I think both my parents being zoologists was the starting point for me, and also that we were privileged to live in a rural village. They taught us from an early age about nature and wildlife, which made me take an interest. I remember sitting in our barn where my mother kept a few goats. I would spend hours sitting next to them in the straw, with their newborns curled up next to them, with the natural light dropping down through the barn windows. There was something so calming about that. Even though I was one of three siblings, we were taught how to spend time alone watching nature, which I feel has developed into me being an observer. Drawing animals from life at the beginning was a great practice which taught me to be quick with my mark making, which is something that I still use today.
Although you started sketching animals, portrait painting is considered your artistic identification. Painting people is richer with potential, but tell me about the similarities in your portrayals of man and beast (as I ask, I’m covered in dog hair at the moment).
The transition from animals to humans came slowly but naturally. Growing up on a small holding, I had learnt to be sensitive to the animals’ needs, health and moods. So I learnt what was going on. Then I started drawing figures at primary school, at the stage when we become self aware and aware of the people around us. As I got older, I became fascinated by other people and how they react to each other. Humans are alway trying to read and analyse others’ body language and unspoken ways of communication. This, for me, was magnified because I had difficulties with my hearing until the age of 4. I was constantly reading faces and reactions. I used to draw out all of these characters in my lessons and then turn them into comic strips as requests for my classmates. I feel like I have subconsciously reverted to this in my current work.
In what way did going to art school erase any early habits and what natural proclivities did it strengthen?
My university experience was not entirely positive. I felt that the vision that my tutors believed in didn’t fit where I was coming from at all. I came within two months of failing my degree and was being told that portraits wouldn’t get me anywhere, although painting faces was my passion. I felt like it truly represented me and I wanted to portray this in my art. I didn’t want to change my work for the “right route” into the art world, but to be honest and truthful to who I am and how I see the world through my eyes. Feeling misunderstood did make me even more determined than ever to continue with figurative painting, which I guess turns out to be a positive outcome of my degree experience.
How long before you went to the Florence Academy of Art? What was the most important aspect of that training, and what was a fond, enjoyable memory from the experience?
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