Royce Allen Hobbs

New Takes

Royce Allen Hobbs

By Jamee Crusan October 24, 2017

New Takes is a column written by emerging writers on emerging artists as part of the Art Practical Residency. One resident is nominated from a pool of recent graduates from California College of the Arts, who holds the position for one year. Our current New Takes contributor and Art Practical resident is Maddie Klett.

Seattle-based artist Royce Allen Hobbs uses found and readymade objects to examine the “plain beauty in life.” During my conversation with Hobbs, he explained how each of his pieces has a deep story and narrative behind it. He hopes his audience is curious about what they are looking at and make inquiries into the art object itself. One thing that stood out to me as an area of inquiry in Hobbs's works was the creative and subtle interplays between representational ideas of the feminine located within American queer culture and the material-centric history of the readymade. The interchange in his works between masculine and feminine materials manifests in nuanced ways, providing multiple points for viewers to access the work. As artists, we are in continual conversation with our predecessors. By choosing the people and topics we converse with, who or what we challenge, there will be times we don’t get it quite right, and times we do.

Royce Allen Hobbs. Ancestors, 2015; pipe, satin paint; 6 x 2 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

In Hobbs’s readymade sculpture Ancestors (2014), his intention is to acknowledge the long lineage of readymade and surrealist artists, highlighting Dadaist Marcel Duchamp and surrealist René Magritte through the iconic symbol of the smoking pipe. Hobbs painted the plump bowl of a pipe pink, rendering the object fleshy; the stark black half-bent stem is ready to be inserted into the mouth and smoked—slowly, with short and rhythmic puffs, I imagine. On the side of the pipe, the words “Savinelli Tortuga” mark this as a high-quality luxury pipe from a Milan company started in the late 1800s. For me, the interplay between Hobbs’s phallic pipe and the soft, bulging pink bowl denotes a flaccidity of the object, while staying in conversation with the lineage of the readymade object. Ideas of ineffectiveness—the original purpose of the object has been changed—are embedded in the straight white cis history of the readymade and can be seen in Duchamp’s sculpture Fountain (1917). Duchamp’s work turned a urinal on its side, rendering it useless for its original purpose, but marking it as art. Hobbs relies on adding feminine color to render the object impotent, rather than simply altering the pipe by forcing the object useless like Duchamp.

By presenting viewers with an actual found pipe to be packed and smoked, Hobbs diverges from Magritte's Treachery of Images (1928), the painting that famously states, “This is not a pipe.” Compared to the visual representation of Magritte’s pipe, Hobbs’s readymade activates all five senses—his work almost humanizes the object; here, it is made real. One could grip the bowl, listen to the snap and crackle of the burning tobacco, smell the aroma, taste the flavor, and lastly gaze upon the simplicity of the beautiful form. In Hobbs’s version of the object, the image and idea of gender collide in material form. Here, the readymade pipe stands in for a phallus as seen in Ancestors. Hobbs's work evokes not only gender and sexual difference, but also a sense of the object that is in direct relation to the body.

Royce Allen Hobbs. Untitled, 2017; sculpture; 20 x 14 x 9 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

In an untitled 2017 work, Hobbs has painted a “jerrycan” pink and filled it with unleaded gasoline. Designed for military use in World War II, the jerrycan keeps liquids free of contaminants and identifies the liquid within through a range of definitive can colors.1 For example, red for gasoline, blue for kerosene, etc. The choice to paint the jerrycan pink was simply because pink jerrycans do not exist, according to Hobbs. This intention of difference needs to be noted, especially with the preloaded nature of the color pink and the artist’s repeated usage of the color. Artistic representations of gender- and sexual-based differences, whether intentional or not, don’t always get it right. Representation has consequences, and all artworks have a lineage and ancestry—even those they don’t always intend to evoke. Hobbs’s pink WWII-style jerrycan brings to mind the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust, when Nazis used a coded-color system to separate people by sexual difference, among other categorizations. Pink marked homosexuals. Gay men were specifically labeled as contaminators; the Nazis perceived them as a threat to weaken the so-called Aryan crusade of purity. Additionally, Hobbs’s pink jerrycan holds unleaded gasoline, which is often considered less efficient and dirtier than premium. This notion of “dirty” recalls perceptions of gay sex acts as just that—dirty (and, because non-procreative, thus inefficient in the neoliberal cycle of capitalism). By using pink again as a marker of indifference and a means of feminizing the object, Hobbs makes this historical object stand in for the homosexual body.

Royce Allen Hobbs. Chanel No .5 Wood Sculptures, 2015; found wood soaked in Chanel No. 5; various sizes. Courtesy of the Artist.

Moving away from the color pink, Chanel No. 5 Wood Sculptures (2015) plays with the subtlety of the feminine through aroma by soaking found wooden objects in Chanel No. 5. The iconic fragrance dwells here in the pores of the wood of discarded construction-fence posts, rather than the classic and timeless Chanel bottle. By glamorizing such mundane—and masculine—objects, Hobbs insinuates the feminine inside the core while the outward appearance reflects a weathered sense of the labor associated with men. Hobbs’s choice to “feminize” the wood, much like that of the pipe and the jerrycan, forms meaningful and unexpected juxtapositions that play on ideas of representation.

Chanel No. 5 Wood Sculptures directly links Hobbs’s work to pop artist Andy Warhol and his Chanel No. 5 lithographs, and, as with Ancestors, the work speaks to the history of the readymade. Warhol famously carried the readymade forward into the 1960s through its commercial use in the pop movement, as exemplified by Warhol’s Brillo Box (1964) and Chanel No. 5 lithographs (1985). Hobbs—unlike Warhol—does not give viewers a representation of the fragrance, but in fact presents Chanel No. 5 itself.

Royce Allen Hobbs. Chanel No. 5 Wood Sculptures, 2015; found wood soaked in Chanel No. 5; various sizes. Courtesy of the Artist.

There is power in the subtlety of Hobbs’s works. In this nuance, one can float between ideas of representation, rather than arriving at a strict definition of what masculinity or femininity looks like. These subtleties remind me many people across this country and world do not have the privilege to be out or revealed to all, in the face of threats, hate crimes, and violence. LGBTQIA+ individuals still lack basic human rights and are deemed by some less-than in relation to the dominant cis heterosexual population. For some, the need to remain concealed is a mode of survival and self-preservation. Those Americans who reside in large metropolitan cities with Pride parades and gay bars might easily forget there are a vast number of regions in-between San Francisco and New York where it is not as easy to be out and proud. The symbolic investment in diving deep into the ancestry of systems of oppression takes consideration. Although digging through the oppressive closet of his readymade ancestors is not Hobbs’s intentions, it would be remiss of me not to bring to light the “plain beauty in life” is much easier for some to see than others simply because to some pink is just a color to represent femininity, but to others it is has a history marked with death, isolation, struggle and reclamation.

In a distinct way, Hobbs’s work evokes for me a past in which people considered to be different—homosexuals—were rounded up, tagged with a colored symbol, herded into camps and killed. This is a past that still impacts us today. In our political moment, trans women of color are dying in increasing numbers2, and the KKK is walking through the street, screaming about Aryan purity.3 We do need to be reminded of our past, and artists need to be held accountable for their aesthetic decisions that are markers of privilege. Hobbs’s nuanced sculptural objects offer a place of contemplative rest and reflection, while also giving us the subtle reminder we all need that, like the readymade, identity is always already negotiating the ancestry of straight white cis men.


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