Peter Hobbs

Oceanic Femme


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Peter Hobbs 1930–1994
Etching and aquatint on paper
Image: 542 × 492 mm
support: 636 × 532 mm
Presented by Nadia Moores, the artist's daughter 2001


Peter Hobbs’s Oceanic Femme exists in two states; as this image and as another print bearing the same title (see Oceanic Femme 1980, Tate P11780). While the pair at first appears to be a negative and positive of each other, the works are actually different images produced from the same plate which was reworked between inkings. The composition of both works is dominated by the large circular form, broken up by dividing lines and abstract markings or primitive symbols. In each print, the main circle is divided in four sections. The subtle painterly gestures and delicate lines present in T11781 have been heavily worked over in T11780 leaving the image almost entirely black. The title suggests the symbols might refer to a primal goddess or mother figure, traditionally a symbol of creation and new life.

Hobbs was most active as an artist in the 1960s. While these works date from later in the artist’s career, they draw on ideas that were developing in his work during the 1960s. In 1966, Hobbs made a collection of prints composed largely of box shaped images, known as the Ehrenzweig Suite, four of which are in Tate’s collection (Tate P11776-P11779). The suite is named for Hobbs’s mentor Anton Ehrenzweig (1908-1966) who was known for his theories regarding psychoanalytic aesthetics and the structure of unconscious thought. Art historian David Mellor has commented that Hobbs eschewed formalist conceptions of art; instead, influenced by Ehrenzweig’s theories, Hobbs was interested in the possibility of ‘poemagogic art’. Ehrenzweig used this term to describe an art that prompts two conflicting perceptual responses, the recognition of discreet pictorial content and the experience of more ambiguous, unstable imagery. Ehrenzweig argued that this kind of imagery mirrors the conflict at the core of every individual’s psyche. In his 1966 essay, Ehrenzweig discusses the relationship of internal and external space in Hobbs’s work in the context of womb symbolism in prehistoric painting. Although these prints are executed years after this analysis, it seems likely that Hobbs, with these rounded and feminine forms, is referring back to Ehrenzweig’s theories. The form might also be seen to be a seed, sprouting life from the top, a further reference to fertility.

The work has been marked by the artist with the words ‘Second State’, and its partner image (Tate P11780) with ‘First State’, but this cannot refer to the order in which the works were made; features of the paler image are visible through the large areas of black ink on the darker image, indicating that the prints were in fact produced the other way around. It is possible that they have simply been incorrectly inscribed, but it may also be that this notation can act as a subtitle, adding another layer of meaning by developing a narrative between the two works.

Further reading:
Anton Ehrenzweig, The Metaphysical Double Space of Peter Hobbs, exhibition pamphlet, Marlborough Graphics, London, 1966
David Mellor, The Sixties Art Scene in London, exhibition catalogue, Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1993

Maria Bilske
November 2004

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