A prompt, a parameter, a choreography, Black One Shot (b.O.s.) has been our ongoing concentration on the art of blackness. We value the complications, ambiguities, and ambivalences on which the art of blackness thrives. As we’ve said, our physics of black study amplifies the critical resonance of objects (centripetal) over the insistence on what objects must do (centrifugal). X = Object love + art of blackness criticism ≅ disassociate, distend, demand, refract, rejoice. Solve for X in no more than 1000 words.
b.O.s. will run the course of summer 2022 for five consecutive weeks. We invite you to follow and share hard. Thanks to all the contributors and special thanks to Alexandra Kingston-Reese and Wiktoria Tunska.
—Lisa Uddin and Michael Boyce Gillespie (Editors)
Images of a woman tending to her children, preparing meals, and managing her own work life aren’t unfamiliar. But in Carving Out Time, painter and printmaker LaToya M. Hobbs deploys an impressive and poetic physicality in her depictions of these mundane acts. The woodcut series illustrates a day in the life of Hobbs and her family as she carries out the tasks associated with being an artist, wife, and mother in her home/studio. She presents images of a very busy day over five scenes, with each taking place across a 96×144 inch cherry wood panel, comprised of three attached 96×48 inch panels. Unlike a more improvisational visual form, imaging this over-life-sized series involved a meticulous planning process of photography, drawing and drafting. This woodcut series requires a maker plan what to do before they begin execution. At fifteen 96×48 inch panels total, the work is an endurance sport.
The storyboard-style portraits of the artist and her family are a deceptively simple intervention into an art historical field in which images of Black women tending to other people’s families are abundant. In Hobbs’s visual world, the family and art lineages work together conceptually and materially on the surface and in the grooves of the work. Depicting Jean-Michel Basquiat, Elizabeth Catlett, Kerry James Marshall, and others as home decor is less a fantasy of art collecting than it is an intentional politics of citation.1 This is a kind of canon. In Carving Out Time viewers can imagine her family and their artmaking in conversation with a history of Black artists because Hobbs has imaged them on the block together, rendered in black.
In the first panel, “Morning,” she awakes in bed next to her husband, with their children crawling on top of the bedspread as she stretches her arms overhead with her eyes closed. The wall above the bed displays framed art by Elizabeth Catlett and Alma Thomas.
In the second scene, “Homeschool and Housework,” Hobbs sits at a table with one son as they work at a laptop computer and the other son plays with toys on the floor in the foreground. She homeschools her children surrounded by toys and a basket of partially-folded laundry in a room whose walls are adorned by bookshelves, a framed degree, a calendar, and artwork by Margaret Burroughs and Catlett again. Here, Hobbs manages to capture on wood both the texture of her sons’ hair and the shadow cast by Catlett’s sculpture that suggests a light “off screen.”
In the third panel, “Dinner Time,” Hobbs is in the center of the frame. Wearing oven mitts and holding a baking dish, she brings to the dinner table in the family’s kitchen. Her husband tips a pitcher toward a cup one seated son is holding while their other son washes his hands at the sink on a step ladder. The family’s table is next to a wall featuring Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Club Couple) and Valerie Maynard’s Senufo.
Scene four, “Bedtime for the Boys” shows Hobbs and her son on the bed facing the viewer, reading a bedtime story. In the foreground her husband is on the floor giving another son a horseback ride. Even the children have been enshrined in art history. Their drawings hang on the walls in their room among artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat and their father, Ariston Jacks.
Scene 5, “The Studio,” depicts Hobbs in the center of her studio. She sits on a stool in front of woodblocks and canvases stacked against the wall. Hobbs is surrounded by her own work (her Birth of a Mother is leaning against a wall) in the same pose of the central figure in Kerry James Marshall’s 2009 acrylic painting Untitled (painter). She holds a palette covered in paint, facing it and her body towards the viewer. While Hobbs has carved herself in or near the center of all previous panels, this is the only panel where Hobbs looks directly at the viewer, self-possessed. The halo around her head lends her self-portrait some art historical gravitas. Carving Out Time rewards slow looking that attends to the technical and citation-rich details of its five panels.
As a printmaker, Hobbs treats the woodblock as a tool in the image-making process. Typically, the block holds an image that is produced once the carving is finished. Ink is applied to the surface of the block and the block is usually pressed to paper. Everything carved into the block is white in the final image thus making the woodblock the image’s negative. As Jennifer Roberts notes:
The unworked surface of the block becomes the marked surface of the print….it produces a fundamental disruption in the relationship between labor and result in the print. Think of it this way: all the inked marks on a wood engraved print are made without labor. They represent precisely the parts of the block that have been left alone. The work of the engraver becomes simply white, or negative space. The more labor is expended on a block the less dense and substantial a print will be. So the artist’s efforts are, in a way, actively reversed. They’re expended only to disappear.2
Hobbs flips this visuality in Carving Out Time by painting the wood surface black and exhibiting the wood blocks as finished panels. The technical tool becomes the work of art in its own right. The typically invisible labor of the printmaker is hypervisible, heavy, larger than life, and overwhelming on the wall. Instead of using the wood blocks exclusively as instruments of image making, the panels allow us to see the layers of art historical and familial love laboriously carved into the scenes. It reflects a mastery of materials, time, and the application of pressure. In displaying the labored block as art object, Hobbs shows us the powerful connections between the skills, labor, pressure, and time required to make this work and to make an artful Black life.
This is one of four essays from the eighteenth transmission of b.O.s. (Black One Shot). Read the other essays from this transmission here:
Lisa Uddin and Michael Boyce Gillespie have been collaborating since 2017 come hell or high water. Lisa is Associate Professor of Art History at Whitman College and wrote Zoo Renewal: White Flight and the Animal Ghetto (2015) and most recently, “Unknowing Wastelands in Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum.” Michael will start in the fall of 2022 as Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. He is author of Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (2016) and most recently, consulting producer for the Criterion Collection release of Shaft.
- Work cited in Carving Time includes: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pez Despenser, 1984; Margaret Burroughs, Face of Africa, 1954, woodcut on paper, 13 x 11 inches: https://amistadresearch.dom5183.com/objects-1/info/109; Elizabeth Catlett, Seated Woman, 1962, carved mahogany, 22 ½ × 13 ½ × 7 inches: https://www.slam.org/collection/objects/65202/; LaToya M. Hobbs, Birth of a Mother, 2019, Acrylic, collage and relief carving on wood panel, 48 x 72 inches: https://art.kunstmatrix.com/en/artwork/177156/latoya-m-hobbs/birth-of-a-mother-expectation;
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Club Couple), 2014, acrylic on PVC panel, 59 5/8 × 59 5/8 in. (151.4 × 151.4 cm): https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/668408; Kerry James Marshall, “Untitled,” 2009, acrylic on PVC panel, 61 1/8 × 72 7/8 × 3 7/8 inches, Yale University Art Gallery Purchased with the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund and a gift from Jacqueline L. Bradley, B.A. 1979: https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/138261; Valerie Maynard, Senufo, 1987, Artist Proof, Serigraph, 30 x 22 inches, link: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/3461097_72-valerie-maynard-senufo
- Jennifer L. Roberts, “Out of the Woodwork,” February 18, 2019 at the Courtauld Institute of Art, archived link: https://courtauld.ac.uk/whats-on/out-of-the-woodwork/. Emphasis mine.