The Luminous, Dangerous, Sexy World
of Aaron Hobson
by John Wood
I first saw Aaron Hobson’s work in 2010 when I judged the Clarence John Laughlin Prize, for which Hobson was one of the top finalists. I admired his work so deeply that I offered to write about it should he ever want me to. His was work I kept going back to again and again because it had the authentic pull of art. Hobson’s work won’t let you alone. It haunts you. It makes you keep coming back—to look at it and to think about it. His work is visually intense: intense with color, intense in its composition, intense in its drama, and intense in its strange beauty. No one would call it pretty, but I don’t think anyone could deny its beauty.
Much of what is so compelling, so haunting, about it is that his imagery exudes sexuality and danger, those two narcotics we never seem to be able to get out of our systems. It is as if they are the drugs we fear but need in order to keep at it, to keep going, to do the work of our days. Aaron Hobson’s photographs are not scary. They might make you shudder, but they don’t put you off—because his work has at its heart a dangerous thrill about it. It invites you into it: into the brink where a man waits to plunge, perhaps to his death; on to the snowy, forest road where a naked, hooded, and bound man stands; into a rough love scene in what could be a crumbling basement or ruin of some sort; onto the bed of a naked hunk who might be languid and easy or just might also beat the hell out of you; up the path of steps at dusk with a cowboy in “Steeltown”; or in a blue room with beautifully pealing paint and a young woman who appears to be sewing something, perhaps for the owner of the man’s hat that’s on the floor—who might be the cowboy walking up the steps, or the hunk or the rough lover or the tied and hooded man—or even all of them!
And that’s one of the most exciting things about Hobson’s work: there is no single correct way to read it, no one proper narrative that leads to its understanding. With sex and danger as his guiding themes, Hobson’s work rides on the waves of our own desire and fear. They invite our personal scenarios of nightmare and pleasure. His work might bring to mind Cindy Sherman’s film stills, but Hobson’s “cinemascapes,” as he calls them, are less static, far more laden with the potential for plot, and to my eye far more interesting than Sherman’s highly touted clichés. What Aaron Hobson shows me I have never before seen—but in my most disquieting dreams.
Should the disquieting things we see in his work trouble us? Not at all, if we are comfortable with who we are. We look at his work and recognize bits of ourselves moving from cinemascape to cinemascape, and our reflections upon that movement, that progress, validate the I that we have come to be. And there is comfort, even if it might be disquieting, in that validation—in the recognition that Aaron Hobson has caught something of our own deep unique. But what if we are uncomfortable with Hobson’s insight, his revelation of our secrets? What if we are bothered by what he makes us see?
Well, it may not be a comfort, but it is always a gift when art shows us the complex and sometimes confounding depths of our own luminous, dangerous, and erotic humanity. I know few better contemporary guides to those places than Aaron Hobson.