As an aspiring painter in Santa Barbara in 1975, I jumped at the opportunity to become Herbert Bayer’s studio assistant, a decision that changed my focus as an artist forever. I began my tenure interested in learning painting technique from this renowned and prolific Bauhaus Master. In addition to assisting him on many of the paintings in his Anthology series, I also worked on his sculpture and environmental art projects. I built models and developed drawings for projects such as “Organ Fountain” completed in 1977 in Linz, Austria and “Walk in Space Painting” completed in 1981 at the Arco Breakers in Santa Barbara.
In 1980 I accompanied Bayer on his first visit to Mill Creek Canyon. We met with Mayor Isabel Hogan, Parks Director Barney Wilson and URS Engineers who briefed him on the project while he walked the site. We spent two days there and returned to Santa Barbara on a Friday night, very late. By Monday morning Bayer had developed two preliminary design alternatives for the project. One was a linear arrangement of open elements and the other, that was ultimately realized, was a series of grass-covered mounds of various configurations. I was put to work building topographical models and overlays of the canyon and later inspected the site on Bayer’s behalf.
I think it was the scale of the project that had the most profound affect on me. Bayer referred to his earthworks as an “inquiry into the reality of space rather than painting the illusion of space on a two dimensional plane.” I became fascinated with form and function as they relate to the built and natural environment. I realized that artists could be integral components of design efforts for capital improvement projects and began to see public art as an avenue to explore this philosophy. I have been designing works for capital improvement projects ever since.
In his 1962 article “On Environment” in the New Mexico Architect, Bayer stated that the “relation between man and nature is consequently precarious and the role of the artist, never simply one of depiction or rendition, is in the most profound sense custodial and enhancing.”
Herbert Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks project came at a pivotal moment in my career and was a catalyst that expanded my perspective of the role of the artist in the contemporary world as well as the natural and built environment. One example is Viewage, which was completed in November, 1997 at Pump Station 77 in Rancho Bernardo, California. Because it would be empty most of the time, the design solution for this 210,000 square foot emergency sewage storage pond addresses the concerns of near by residences who anticipated a negative visual impact on the natural landscape. The use of color hardeners and the checkerboard construction technique blended the pond with nature by creating a giant pixilated reproduction of its natural surroundings.
Paul Hobson’s 10 years as studio assistant to Bauhaus Master Herbert Bayer was the catalyst that inspired him to make public art his life’s work. Bayer’s many and varied public and private environmental art projects made Hobson realize that artists, working outside the traditional gallery setting, can use their skills to design capitol improvement projects with regard for their surroundings. Hobson has worked on 27 design teams for capital improvement projects and successfully completed 23 public and private art projects from 1985 - 2005. These projects addressed cultural, technological, social and environmental issues and were design collaborations with architects, landscape architects, engineers, other artists and community stakeholders. Hobson’s Viewage was awarded the American Society of Civil Engineers, Outreach Award in 1998, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Liquid Art Award in 2001.
Viewage, 1997, Pump Station 77 – Rancho Bernardo, CA, commissioned by the City of San Diego Water Utilities Department.