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Jocelyn Hobbie in The Montreal Review

Jocelyn Hobbie’s painting, Stream, completed in 2015, is an elongated rectangle. 22 inches high by 42 inches long. The shape is extraordinarily pleasing. Two more inches in length and the horizontal would measure exactly twice the vertical dimension – the size of two squares kissing side by side. But the painting is not quite that long; and this slight difference makes all the difference. Inside the composition, colorful imagery pulses with energy. A lithe young woman lies flat, her eyes open like moist dark wishing wells; but looking upward she isn’t seeing anything hopeful. She almost appears expressionless; yet, she is not expressionless, she’s deep in thought, consumed by her own interiority. The setting that surrounds her physical being – the place where she ineluctably, irreducibly, indomitably is – is not only the representation of a domestic space (perhaps a bedroom with patterned wallpaper) but, additionally, the setting’s bold visuality marks itself as a painting. So, the painted figure is locked inside her own head, and also she’s locked inside an artwork.


Hobbie knows what she’s doing, composing the imagery so a viewer may naturally want to compare Stream with the iconic Pre-Raphaelite painting Ophelia, completed by John Everett Millais [1829-1896] in the middle of the 19th century. There’s obvious parallels of subject, setting, composition, theme. Millais’ image shows Ophelia, Hamlet’s would-be fianceĢ, as she drowns in a wild stream. In the painting, Ophelia has her eyes open, staring upward, lips slightly parted (is she singing a lament?); she too is boxed in, surrounded by densely patterned fabric surrounded by a flower-filled forest. (The flowers in Millais’ image had been carefully researched for their symbolic relevance: the pansies, for instance, signify love in vain.)


But it’s differences in color, style, and mood that mark Hobbie’s art as early 21st century. Not a remake of the 19th century. I’m drawn to write about Jocelyn Hobbie’s painting Stream – and her work in general – because she is an artist who has received both praise and criticism. The book is still open on her. Which allows me to venture out on a limb and call to anyone who’ll listen: Hobbie’s paintings are great. Doing so, I seek to make a larger point: why. Why are there so many great paintings of women by women right now.