“What draws you to an artwork?” Ethan Hoskins, a DC-born senior in Brown University and RISD’s joint degree program, asked. “It’s almost like listening to great music, you can analyze the lyricism, cadence, rhythm, melody, and technical proficiency, but the most important part is how it makes you feel,” I replied. That feeling is true art. Sampling and rhythm are essential to Hoskins’s art practice. One might mistake him for a sound artist considering how much he talks about rap, but Hoskins traverses visual media musically.
Hoskins and I met during a virtual portfolio review. He sat there in his dorm room amongst the evidence of a working artist — so many canvases that he worried about being “claustrophobic.” I found out that he had begun a challenge of creating work for 52 consecutive weeks. He created new work every week and visually tracked his progress. I was intrigued and kept in touch.
The conceptual idea stuck with me because Hoskins used the forgotten medium we all have at our fingertips: time. In music, time sets the beat and is the canvas upon which notes sing. Each bar with notes is a musician’s way of coaxing time. When I lay in bed with COVID-19, I realized how precious a commodity time is. Time is the most underrated medium.
With that, Hoskins started the project to “confront the difficulty of sticking with a task for an extended period of time.” The work started on a primed, stretched canvas, but quickly realized that obtaining 52 new canvases would be quite expensive and would ultimately take away from his creative focus. Hoskins then expanded “painting” to define found objects of Post-Industrial Providence; materials included cardboard, conte crayon, colored pencil, charcoal, graphite, fabric, and paper mache.
In our conversations, we talked about the curse of perfectionism. I always say that a deadline is the death of creativity, but it’s a necessary stopping point to produce finished work. Hoskins resisted going back to previous work each week and instead started anew. The project tracked peaks and valleys. In particular, weeks 10–15 and weeks 29–33 marked high points, as Hoskins honed his style and married a fluid, geometric aesthetic with mark-making and figuration to depict a journey of self-actualization. In the mark-making of weeks 29–33, he said, “I really enjoyed mixing people drawn with sanguine-colored conte crayon with expressive marks.” This note on “mixing” the marks, another reference to music, reflects the progression’s intimacy. “Pretzel” (2023) is a prime example, as it shows a self-portrait in a twisted position with marks obscuring the face that contrasts with black, blue, and hints of purple of the legs and exposed skin. Perhaps the tornado of strokes reflects the artist’s mental turmoil.
The first few weeks, which began with stretched canvas and gesso, represented a “controlled state of mind — a bit more stoic, and the charcoal and graphite really express an explosion of emotion.”
As a curator, I think about how I yearn for cohesion and organization because we are trained to treat solo shows in a similar manner: a few moments of experimentation but a distinctive arc or style. But Hoskins challenged my thinking as I began imagining his work hung all together either in chronological order or by theme, lifting the veil of his 52-week challenge.
Take the work towards the end, for instance, Hoskins cited Raphael’s reverence of the figure and honoring his own voice that starts with an abstract cloud or expressive marks obscuring himself in the first stage of a progression. “I was thinking about this idea of erasure, leaving behind some dark or traumatic history and just separating oneself from that,” he said, describing his state of mind during week 33. He said the work came out of his and his mom’s despair after watching MSNBC and clouds of Canadian fires adding to the many health-related crises in recent years.
This brings me back to the synesthesia of sound. Hoskins frequently listens to the rapper Westside Gunn, who mixes samples, gritty bars, and eccentric adlibs. Hoskins’s work exposes the inner thoughts and internal metronome we all have that changes pace based on circumstance and mental condition. As he said, “Progress is not linear and we have moments of vulnerability and weakness. But ultimately, we just gotta keep going.”