Chalk and the Art of Letting Go with Kara Hoblin

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Chalk artist Kara Hoblin, photographed with her installation at the Southampton Arts Center on Friday, 3/8/19. Michael Heller photos

Between her fingers, Kara Hoblin holds a piece of orange chalk, delicately shading the wing of a magnified monarch butterfly.

But also between her fingers, she holds the ability to move, to create, to touch, to connect. Therein lies her power — one she doesn’t acknowledge as she chalks absent-mindedly last Thursday afternoon.

“I like how the chalk feels,” the artist muses during a telephone interview. “It definitely doesn’t do any good for my skin, but it’s nice to work with my hands. I’m chalking right now, as I’m talking to you. It’s become second-nature for me now, which is also really nice. It almost feels like an extension of my hand.”

Every so often, Hoblin turns away from the phone, greeting visitors who stop by to visit her pop-up studio at the Southampton Arts Center, as part of “TAKEOVER!,” a seven-week residency for nine East End artists who each have their own workspace in the galleries.

“This is the first time I have a studio that’s just mine. It’s the first time I’m able to see a lot of my work up together, how they interact with each other, how they talk and live together,” she says. “I have this giant chalkboard wall where I can do whatever I want. There aren’t even words to explain how amazing this experience is.”

At the top of her mega-chalkboard drawing — which she calls “Portals,” spanning a whopping 30 feet across the gallery wall and stretching 10 feet high — a cowboy and his horse ride into the Milky Way horizon, a giant Jupiter looming before them. Beneath the field will eventually swim a medley of deep-sea creatures, connected to the world above by the butterflies, thought to be the messengers for the spirit realm, she explains.

“I’m still working through it, but my question to myself was: ‘Who’s to say if you move through deep space to the end, or the non-existent end, that it wouldn’t bring you right back to the deep, uncharted sea?’” Hoblin says. “Maybe there is a portal, or something that really connects us. We’ll never be able to fully understand it, which is very similar to our deep subconscious.”

Kara Hoblin against some of her work at the Southampton Arts Center.

Quotes, reference photos, drawings and song lyrics surround her mini-universe, a verse by Lord Huron ringing particularly poignant: “I was a-ready to die for you, baby/Doesn’t mean I’m ready to stay/What good is living the life you were given/If all you do is stand in one place?”

“After looking through my work and realizing there are these breadcrumb consistencies with the ocean, with space, with sea creatures, I’ve — almost like a mad scientist — come up with this thesis, my working theory, about how there is this deep connection between the deep sea, space and our deep subconscious,” Hoblin continues on. “The three of those things, they are really important to me, and I’m not exactly sure why. But I think they all connect somehow.”

She sighs in thought, chalking all the while. By the end of her residency in mid-April, the mural will be gone.

Erased.

If it weren’t for a selection of prints and photographs, there would be no physical evidence that her theory, and this world, ever existed. And that is a reality Hoblin wholeheartedly accepts.

“It can’t live forever,” she says of the mural. “For me, I feel like I expect that. I know I’m making this with a medium that is ephemeral and a lot of my work is about accepting change and embracing new discovery and new doors. So I’m okay. I feel good about it.”

The public doesn’t always react the same way, but the erase itself is a crucial element of Hoblin’s artistic process, not to mention her interactive chalkboard workshop, “Chalk Art of Letting Go,” which will encourage participants to create their own artwork alongside her, then erase it together, on Saturday, March 23, at the Southampton Arts Center.

Hoblin hesitates to classify the workshop as “art therapy,” she notes, though there is no denying its healing properties. Each participant is provided a chalkboard to write and draw, using their imaginations without restriction, before eventually saying goodbye and letting go.

“Change is the most constant thing that we actually have, and sometimes, it’s hard to remember that, and it’s hard for people to change or move forward,” she says. “Chalk is such an ephemeral medium, you really can’t do anything wrong — and you can erase it. There’s no fear. So I feel like it helps people move through other things they fear.”

Growing up in Blue Point, Hoblin found escapism in her art as a child. It was a channel for self-expression when she didn’t have the words, and proves itself to be the same even now.

“Aside from being this outlet for joy and creativity and imagination and dreams, it also did help me grow and move through certain things that I needed to,” she says. “So maybe that’s why I really utilize it in a healing aspect. A lot of my work, it all comes back to connecting people and helping people understand themselves, or the world, and move through it together. We’re not alone in this.”

But four years ago, on the morning of her move from Brooklyn to Greenport, Hoblin did feel very much alone — sitting in her packed car that had been robbed the night before, mourning the loss of her photography equipment. It was not only her wellspring of creativity, she says, but also her livelihood.

“I had to start a new life,” she says, “and not know what I was going to do.”

She quickly landed in the North Fork wine industry, which led her to First and South in Greenport. During a casual chat across the bar with owner Sarah Phillips, she casually mentioned she had painted a wall in her restaurant chalkboard.

“I told her what happened to me and she said, ‘Oh, so you’re an artist?’ And I said, ‘Well, not really. I was at first, but I don’t have the tools anymore, so I’m not sure, I don’t know,’” Hoblin explains. “And she said, ‘Well, if it’s terrible, I’ll just erase it.’”

The creativity that poured from Hoblin wasn’t terrible, and Phillips didn’t erase it — instead, launching a career that has made Hoblin one of the most visible artists on the East End. In 2017, she founded the North Fork Art Collective as a community-driven creative space for collaboration and growth.

“Sarah sent me on my path without even knowing it,” Hoblin says. “For me, I wasn’t open and then somebody encouraged me to be open to this change, to this idea, and it totally formed my whole life. If one door closes, another one does open — if you’re willing.”

Through chalk, Hoblin learned one of the most important lessons that life has to offer: the necessity of letting go. As an artist, that means letting go of her work. As a lover, to let go of heartache. And as a human, to let go of loss, insecurity, hate and pain.

But it doesn’t mean throwing them away, she emphasizes. It simply means letting life be— while growing through the shadows and emerging into the light.

“It’s so hard. We’re human — we don’t want to let go,” she says. “If we find something good, we want to keep it, we want to attach to it, we know it’s gonna help us. But in reality, we’re the only ones that actually can help us, and I think people forget that. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can fix yourself.”

When Hoblin moved to the North Fork, she had a choice. She could have stayed put, succumbing to the comfort of her discontent. Instead, she embraced the unknown and found a place where she can now breathe, create, swim freely and tap into her truest interests.

A place she has learned to love and accept not only others, but herself.

“Coming out here actually unlocked everything,” she says. “I didn’t have these ideas before coming out here. I went to high school, I got good grades, I went to college, I became a photographer, I worked. I knew I was missing something — and I had no idea what it was.

“I was just lost,” she continues, “and I came out here, literally, without anything and I felt like the North Fork saved me. It showed me the light, in a weird way. It gave me chalk. And I am forever grateful to it.”

 

Artist Kara Hoblin will lead her interactive chalkboard workshop, “Chalk Art of Letting Go,” on Saturday, March 23, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center, located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton. Admission is $10, or $7 for Friends of SAC. For more information, call (631) 283-0967 or visit southamptonartscenter.org.

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