Our latest Reception Selection features work by BP Young Portrait Artist 2018, Ania Hobson. Here, Hobson tells us about her artistic influences and how she found her distinctive style.
You are currently exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in Personal Structures, a group show at the European Cultural Centre. How did that come about?
I got an official invitation from the GAA Foundation which is a non-profit organisation. They hold exhibitions at the European Culture Centre in Venice. You have to find sponsors, which I managed to do.
I wanted to do a whole theme on the Parisian café culture. When I visited, I really enjoyed the whole authentic feel that their cafés have. It was my first time in Paris and I went with my cousins and my sister. I wanted to capture young girls enjoying themselves, casually having coffee and wine. You know the whole café feel in Paris, it's just very relaxed. Then you've got the neon lights which are very unforgiving on the faces. I felt I really wanted to capture that and show that in Venice.
And your Reception Selection is a continuation of this Parisian series, right?
Yes! I wanted to bring a bit of what I have in Venice into London. I'm still really enjoying that Parisian scene, so I want to continue showing what I've been working on with this project.
Most of your work features family and friends – what is it about them that you enjoy painting?
I feel a lot more comfortable with my family and friends and I think they also know what to expect from me. It's so important as a portrait painter to be at ease with somebody that you're painting because otherwise, it can show in your painting. It can become quite constricted. I think my family knows what to expect and they're less critical as well.
They know my style very well and they're comfortable in front of me. I have painted strangers before but I like to build up a friendship with them too. I don't want to feel like I'm under pressure with a portrait painting. I like to take my time and I want them to feel happy with whatever they've commissioned.
Is there anyone you would love to paint?
I would love to paint Tracey Emin. I just think she's got such a great face. I never used to actually like her work, but the older I become, the more I understand it and the more I see where she's coming from. Now, researching into her more, I love what she's doing and as a female artist, I love that she comes across so confident. It's all about her personal life and I just think, she's somebody that I'd really want to paint.
I love the writing, "I Want My Time with You", she's got at St Pancras International in London. It's just so powerful and everyone can relate to it.
Your paintings are instantly recognisable. How did you find your artistic style?
I think when I was studying, I was still trying to grasp the technique of oil and it just seemed quite scary. It takes quite a lot of practise to get the hang of it and when I left university I had a bit more freedom. I just felt a bit constricted sometimes at university. People were telling me things I shouldn't be doing or sending me in a direction that I didn't want to go. In art, it's really important to do what you feel is best. That's what art is at the end of the day: what you produce and how you want to produce it. How I found my style was, I went through this really bad phase of painter's block and for months I didn't paint. I was almost crying over it because I had this creative urge, but nothing was coming out.
Then I did a painting of myself, 'Ania' (2017), and it was the first time that I got into the BP Portrait Awards. For me, that was a massive turning point. I realised they must be seeing something that they like. It was at that time I continued with that style and I think it's become more exaggerated since. Actually, people are now sort of recognising my style, which I think is really important [for a painter].
Do you find painting self-portraits helpful?
I do use myself as a muse quite a lot, but it's weird, I'll paint myself but I'm not painting it because it's me. I almost see it as another person, it's quite strange. And also how you see yourself is quite different to how other people see you. People will say, "Oh you've painted your sister" and I'll say "No, that's me." They're picking up on similarities. Or even with my cousin they'll ask, "Is that you?" It's quite interesting.
What painters are you influenced by?
I love Alice Neel for her movement of paint. She's not so worried about getting the proportions correct or focusing on all the little details, like painting each individual hair. It's so free and luscious and enjoyable to look at. Kehinde Wiley as well, I love his stuff purely for the power he can produce with his paintings. They just come across so strong and powerful. He mimics the work of Old Masters but he's doing that with a modern twist. Also, Lucian Freud for his application of paint.
The people in your paintings are always incredibly stylish. Is this something you coordinate?
Sometimes. Again, this goes back to being comfortable with the people you paint. If I'm using somebody from my family or friend group, I can easily say to them, "Oh do you mind wearing this coat or do you mind wearing something patterned?" I do love involving fashion in my paintings. It's contemporary. It's modern. It's something the people can relate to. People will say I love that Burberry coat or those boots. It's something that David Hockney does. He'll pick out people's fashion in his portraits. Chloe Wise does the same. I went to her show in London (at Almine Rech) and it's really appealing to our generation.
It's interesting to compare your work with Chloe Wise. Your subjects' clothes are generally quite structural as are your backgrounds, while Wise paints hers in more floaty materials against soft backdrops.
It's definitely a structural thing. And that comes into the whole perspective as well that it's quite easy to create these shapes. For me, I like looking at a portrait for the shapes it can create and the figure and the interior. With my BP portrait, 'A Portrait of Two Female Painters' (2018), it was all about the shapes and the foot coming forward. An interesting perspective almost makes you feel more involved in the painting. I don't like to get it correct, but it sort of makes your head go to the side. It's like looking at a building and it's so tall you slightly wobble on your feet. It's almost like looking back into a painting where the perspective is somehow wrong.
The painting of the girls sitting around in Paris is kind of like that. You almost feel like you're in the conversation a little bit because of the perspective of the painting.
Exactly, for the viewer to run their eye across the painting and feel like they're involved whether they're standing up or they're down below. My portraits have always got to have some sort of weird perspective.
How has winning the BP Young Artist Award affected your career?
It's definitely helped. I got a lot of interest suddenly. My emails were just going off like crazy. It was really strange. I do think that's how the exhibition in Venice came about – through all the exposure. For now, I'm just trying to keep that ball rolling, lining up shows and keeping people interested. Yeah, it's helped massively.
How did you become involved with Mall Galleries?
I entered the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) Annual Exhibition 2016 and that was one of the first competitions that I have ever been involved in and then they invited me to sell work via Buy Art | Buy Now and it sort of continued through that really.
I think they've been great in giving me advice. I've always visited the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition and I think that it's so great and that they give artists these opportunities as well as showcasing their work. And with young artists especially – giving people that push to encourage what they're doing.