Hopeton St. Clair Hibbert, Jr. (b. 1975) is an Atlanta-based intra-disciplinary contemporary artist who explores the abstract connections between humanity and nature across various media. Hibbert's work articulates the frenetic cycles of the human experience and attunes our senses to discover the world's often unseen beauty by linking the physical and metaphysical worlds. Influenced by renowned photographer Gordon Parks' approach to documenting life across media and the Spanish sculptor Julio González's alchemic mastery of metal, his mixed-media works, including works on paper—created using Hibbert's characteristic, ultra-detailed technique called hyper-sharpening—freestanding sculptures alike.
Born of Jamaican descent and raised in Hillsboro, New Jersey, by his mother—a personal chef and artist in her own right—Hibbert relocated to Atlanta as a teenager in 1993. He began his journey in the culinary arts after attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, SC, graduating in 1998 with a degree in Culinary Arts. During that time, Hibbert was gifted a camera and began to explore his interests in photography and ways of seeing that overlapped with his culinary expertise. Hibbert's work transforming lesser-known aspects of perishable, seasonal ingredients into a unique, gastronomical experiment for diners as a chef was a catalyst for shaping unsuspecting materials of his choosing into a delightful and thought-provoking experience for viewers as an artist.
Embracing the nuances of his self-taught photography and sculpture practice, the artist uses an expansive series of imagery to convey themes of social, cultural, and spiritual ephemerality and terra firma phenomena that reimagine the connections between humanity and nature. His hyper-sharpening method employs various toned black acrylic embellishments to give detail to a two-dimensional surface, slightly raising elements of the image to further engage the senses, as in "London Plane Tree Study." His series "Ode to John Henry" references the Black American folk tale of the steel-driving man whose persistence and determination ultimately cost him his life as something of a cautionary tale of man vs. machine. The series features found materials of wrought wood and iron found along the railroads of South Atlanta as an acknowledgment of the city's industrial roots amongst its rapid gentrification and widening income gap.
Since recommitting himself to his artistic practice in 2017, Hibbert has continued to explore narrating themes of transitory surfaces and has exhibited in locations along the Eastern United States, including SITE Gallery (Brooklyn, New York) and Rush Arts Gallery (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). His first solo exhibition, "Exploited Textures," was curated by Michi Meko in 2019. In 2022, "Exploited Textures II" was shown at Jennifer Balcos Gallery in early 2022 as a reexploration of its predecessor and received critical acclaim. He has been awarded a 2023 CreATL Grant by Invest Atlanta and featured in the documentary series "Our Voices. Our Lives" (2023). Hibbert lives and works in Atlanta, GA, and is dually represented by Gallery Anderson Smith and Gallery 2310.
How has your Jamaican ancestry influenced your artistic style and subject choices?
I wouldn't say my Jamaican ancestry has anything to do with my style or subject choices. But it does have a lot to do with my drive and "get it done" mentality.
Your art centers around the human experience and the unique journeys we take. Do you often draw from personal experiences or are they a collective interpretation of humanity?
Definitely more of an interpretation of humanity than my personal life. But since I am a human, subconsciously there's some of me in all of it.
In your 'The Ode to John Henry collection,' why did you choose the specific materials of young wood, old wood, and aged metals from Atlanta rail lines to represent the story of John Henry?
The raw materials I use in OJH sculptures are chosen for their durability. I found these materials walking the rail lines that are being transformed into the Beltline park. These materials stand the test of time and in most cases are older than me. The sculpture series in essence is about the strength in the human spirit, lasting, and leaving our impression in life. Many of the sculpture titles represent a person, a thing, and sometimes an understanding experienced mostly by oppressed people.
You've transitioned from culinary arts to photography and then to abstract mixed media and sculpture. How do you see the influence of your culinary background in your current artworks?
My culinary background has influenced my work in a few ways. Most of the influence has affected the production of the work with little to do with the works' meaning. Working in a kitchen demands organizational skills, and the ability to produce with a product that has a short shelf life. So there's very little time to sit around waiting for inspiration to hit. One must understand the materials available and create on the fly. That's has given me a prolific energy that allows me to produce without the lack of ideas.
Can you explain the significance of texture in your work, especially considering your background in culinary arts and its potential influence on your artistic choices?
The significance of textures in my work has to do with the visual appeal. In the culinary world textures are important because they add a dimension that enhances the senses, be it mouthfeel or the touch before it hits your mouth. But in the art world, the art more often than not can not be touched so there's an element of desire in the experience… The textural, visual play makes one slightly confused and yet eager to touch to help the mind process what they're looking at.
Your aim is to push the viewer's mind "past the mundane." Can you share a particular piece that you feel strongly accomplishes this objective and explain its elements?
I strive to push viewers of my work past the mundane in a few ways. My photography practice mostly focuses on objects we might walk past every day or just never notice. I present these objects in an abstract way. This visual play and abstract presentation challenges the onlooker as they are no longer looking at a mundane object but now trying to figure out what they're looking at.
With the success of your exhibitions, especially 'EXPLOITED TEXTURES' series, what themes or concepts are you looking forward to exploring in your future works?
In the future, my works will still speak to humanities experiences and metaphysics, but on different levels such as the afterlife. I also look forward to expanding my scale and installation practices.