Boston Globe - July 15, 1997

"By applying oil, he preserves city's emerald jewels"
Boston park's official artist shares views
by Nelson Carter

In James Hobin's eyes, and on his easel, Boston itself is the real work of art.

From potraits of swans in the Public Garden to paintings of the city skyline in winter twilight, works by Hobin, one of two licensed city "parkland artists in residence," show the city he has seen and painted from more angles than he can count.

Since 1991, the 38-year-old landscape artist from Dorchester has spent a few days each week in the city's parks - the Boston Common, the Public Garden, Christopher Columbus waterfront park - crafting an oil-on-canvas record of Boston's greener scenes. His licensed status permits him to sell his artwork in parks.

"When I first wanted to do this, people thought I was crazy," said Hobin, a thin, nimble man whose hands paint invisible images in the air as he speaks. "But I said, 'If this were Paris, there would be people painting everywhere.'"

Working outdoors presents it's share of natural challenges.

"I've gotten caught in the rain more than once," Hobin said. "I'm soaked and my painting is soaked."

But working in oils has saved him some grief, he allowed: rainwater just beads on the canvas and rolls away.

And so he spends several afternoons each week painting scenes in the parks, the wooden legs of his easel propped in the grass and a paint-stained palette in his hand. While his originals sell for up to $4000, Hobin brings $20 prints and color reproductions of his work to the Common to sell to passersby.

"I've gotten to know a lot of people from being here in the park," he said. "They stop by to visit. Some people who live on Beacon Hill make it a part of their daily constitutional."

Hobin also paints in his Dorchester studio, where much of his work has an abstract tone.

In addition to painting, he makes lithographs - his favorite is a series of panoramas of the Savin Hill neighborhood where he grew up and still lives - that sell for about $150 each. Some of those works are now in the print department of the Boston Public Library.

Hobin said he has painted for as long as he can remember. As a child, he often won prizes at the St. William Grammar School art fair, he said. He later studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and graduated from the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Deputy Chief Robert Spurling of the Boston Park Rangers, who occasionally visits Hobin in the parks, described the landscape paintings as "articulate."

"There's no mistaking what you're looking at," Spurling said.

A ranger on his horse was once the subject of a Hobin painting and, the artist said, "The other rangers stopped by to watch how it was progressing. They were communicating by radio, and they were saying things like, "We're with the artist. Over' 'How's it going? Over.' 'It looks good. Over.'"

Though Hobin uses a fairly realistic style for his Boston landscape paintings, those works have begun to take on some of the abstract flavor of his studio work, he said.

"When someone first starts painting, they struggle to make it look real," he said.

"But as you keep painting, you get more interested in the paint itself. So little by little, I became an abstract painter. "Being abstract has helped me make reality more exciting," Hobin said.

As much an admirer of Boston as Hobin is, he is not above improving it - in his view - by omitting from his paintings certain recent additions to the skyline. "A lot of times I leave out modern buildings," he said. "They don't seem like Boston to me."

Such alterations, he said, are "something an artist can do that a photographer cannot."

Hobin includes among his favorite subjects Brewer's Fountain, the Ames Building, the Custom House and the Frog Pond in the Boston Common. And despite its stark contrast to the city's classic architecture, he loves the I.M. Pei-designed Hancock Tower.

"It's like a mirror of the city,' he said. "It doesn't try to be snazzy. It just reflects everything around it."