The strange world of childhood is central to Nicky Hoberman’s painting. Like those in Loretta Lux’s photographs, there is something not quite right about these children and the space they inhabit. Here though the children are isolated completely from the context of the world outside and shown against plain coloured backgrounds that offer no clue as to their situation. Though the facial features in Spectre are only slightly out of proportion – there is something especially disturbing about the eye that should be furthest from us being larger than the one we’re closer to – it’s the relationship of the girl’s head to her body that confuses me more. The body – smaller than it should be – lacks detail to the extent that I can’t quite decide whether her head’s even facing the right way.
Without the cold light that seems to bath Baby Ghoul, she might almost appear sweet, but the cyan of the background seems to wash over her features giving her a strange pallour. Coupled with the contortion of her body and – once again – the oddness of her eyes and over-sized head, the coolness of the painting makes Baby Ghoul appear more willful than sweet. In part the proportions of the figures can be explained as an adult viewer looking down at the children – the large heads and foreshortened bodies are simply an indication that we are bigger than them; but somehow there’s more to it than that. The poses are often overly static. They look uncomfortable, though the girls seem unaware of this.
A common theme running through Hoberman’s paintings of children is the way in which they appear lost in their own world even when gazing directly at the viewer; they have knowing looks on their faces – often disturbingly so – and seem isolated even when in company. The odd proportions of the figures are made all the more strange by Hoberman’s realistic style of painting.
The lack of interaction between the children in Honey Bun is all the more striking given the presence of the rabbits which look more conscious of the presence of others. The girls all look out of the space they share, as though unaware of one another – or possibly aware of one another but seeing each other as competition – but eagerly seeking our attention. The girls’ emotions seem more accessible here but for all that they seek our attention we are nonetheless somehow excluded from their world.