‘Grounded in Nature’ is the first solo presentation of Naomi Hobson’s paintings in Sydney, here on Gadigal land. The works have travelled all the way down from Coen, a small and close-knit community of about 360 people in Cape York. This town, where Hobson lives and creates her work, is built on the Country of the Kaantju peoples, her maternal family line. It is just south of the saltwater Country of the Umpila people, Hobson’s patrilineal ancestors. These details are more than data points identifying the artist and her work; they’re more than “facts.” They are the deeply felt history and the vital future which Hobson’s work expresses, and which she invites us to experience as viewers of her paintings. They are exactly and entirely the world of these works – and we, here, are welcomed to encounter them.
These images, though they are very much of the land, don’t recede into a horizon like conventional landscape paintings. Instead, their perspectives are multiple, and their narratives delivered with a sense of simultaneity: everything is all around the viewer, in the present that is the moment of viewing. Forms – human and that which exceeds the human: animal, plant, topographical – call and echo to each other in harmonious multiplicity. Patterns shake across the canvas. Nature is indeed a ground here, as the exhibition’s title suggests, but it is also a horizonless sky, all enveloping and no limit.
Hobson’s colours are exuberant, and full up with electric sense. When we speak about this show, I ask her if she remembers her first encounters with colour; the first time she picked up a pencil, or a brush dipped in paint. “I don’t think I ever put down colour,” she replies: “I find that colour expresses me, that it can tell a lot.” That Hobson lives in colour is both literally and metaphorically true. She sends me images of the deep waters and lush forests around her community, and explains that there is never a grey moment on the rivers of Coen: the colourific candour of her paint is no exaggeration, though it also isn’t literal. Her paintings are not just of places but of her co-constitutive relationship to those places. They are laden with the soft heft of memory and emotion.
While Hobson’s work is made in concert with the natural landscapes of her Country – from the rainforests to the grasslands, and hinterlands traveling down to the coast and its precious reefs – it is also reflective of her community on a social level. Coming from a line of campaigners within the First Nations land rights and reform movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, some of Hobson’s earliest familial memories are of her maternal grandfather passing knowledge about Country and its care to her over the campfire. As she reflects, “My grandfather always said to me: ‘Never forget where you come from. It’s your environment that makes you who you are.’” She is a figure of affection within the town of Coen, known to residents and to visitors alike as a local leader in the arts, as well as in land care organisations.
A member of a dynamic new generation of First Nations artists, Hobson works from a position of both humility and pride. This dual sensibility reflects her two guiding stars of Country and community. She emphasises that her Country extends to the north, south, and west until it meets other places. Her art is much the same. Ultimately, she works to bring the messages from nature which her community lives by to new audiences: to share a way of life, and a way of being. This way of being is joyful, sustainable, and focussed on preserving the land so that future generations, of all cultures, can live in it with delight. That we can learn from her is a pleasure, and one which has never been more important.
Erin McFadyen – Deputy Editor, Artist Profile
Hobson has exhibited widely both within Australia and internationally since 2008. Her work is currently featured in 'Photo 22: Being Human', part of The Australian International Festival of Photography in Melbourne. She was featured in the prestigious 2020 Tananthi exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia and her work has been acquired by institutions including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Shepparton Art Museum, Bendigo Art Gallery and Cairns Art Gallery. She recently completed a major tapestry commission produced with the Australian Tapestry Workshop for the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In 2021 Naomi was selected by Mecca Australia as their featured artist and her work was acquired by the NGV X MECCA partnership supporting women in the arts for the NGV.