By Sir Michael Craig-Martin
Paul Hosking’s work has engaged a wide variety of materials and processes over the course of his career, but for many years he has concentrated on the use of coloured, mirrored Plexiglas: one could say he has made this unprepossessing material his own, discovering unexpected potential for expression and beauty.
His sensitivity to materials, his sense of space and the dynamics of the body make it clear he is a sculptor, and these works have come through his experience of sculpture. However, as this work is primarily wall based, uses colour pictorially, and employs 2-dimensional imagery, it can perhaps best be understood in the context of painting than sculpture. It certainly bridges the two.
The most striking aspect of these works is that they are, in a sense, ‘live', not dependably constant like most physical art objects, but endlessly adjusting to the living moment, effortlessly mirroring in real time whatever they ‘see’, sensitive to the slightest changes of light and movement, even when unwitnessed.
Mirrors are perhaps the strangest objects on earth, objects without their own full independent identity but always dependent on whatever is in front of them: a sheet of glass or plastic, opaque on the back, silvered in such a way as to conjure a reflected image so precise it can be confused with reality itself.
For us as human beings, mirrors exist primarily because they allow us to look at ourselves. Like Narcissus, we are compelled to look, a passing glance or a steady stare, for some reassuring or revealing sense of ourselves. Mirrors allow us to believe that we can see ourselves objectively, as others see us. The result is both intimate - what could be more so than a living image of oneself - but also distanced and detached.
Hosking exploits all these characteristics of mirrored surfaces in his work. It seems appropriate that the results should be seductively beautiful.
I am reminded of Duchamp’s observation that it is the viewer who completes a work of art, that the viewer ’s role is essential. Here that role is made overtly tangible. I also recall the scientific principal that, simply by the attempt to observe, researchers distort what they are observing.
Hosking’s earlier work was based on large scale images of Rorschach tests, again made of coloured mirrored Plexiglas, each one reflecting us observing it. On closer inspection one discovered that the complex perimeters of these works consisted of endlessly repeated images of the profile of a screaming head. All of these elements combined to reflect our inevitably frustrated attempts to discover some deeper revelation of our identity.
The inclusion of the image of chain-link fence seems to me to have been a breakthrough for Hosking. This delicate and fragile grid of fine lines is painted and perfectly cut to be inset into the coloured Plexiglas. As it is flush with the surface, it alone is not mirrored, but marks the exact border between us and the image beyond, allowing our eye to stop and focus on the otherwise elusive surface of the mirror.
Hosking’s use of colour adds an essential emotive and aesthetic dimension to these works, particularizing the ambience of each piece. The lighter the colour. the sharper the mirrored image, the darker, the more obscure the reflection. Mixing panels of different colours and intensities, and angling them in relation to each other, fractures the space, complicates our experience both physically and psychologically.
These beautiful, thought provoking works are exquisitely made, examples of contemporary craftsmanship using the materials and tools of today, Plexiglas, digital technology, laser cutting. To stand in front of one of them is not only to see oneself, but to find oneself someplace else apart, on the other side of the divide.