New Art Centre presents an exhibition of John Hubbard’s early paintings, comprising seven black and white oils on canvas made between 1958 and 1965, which have rarely been seen before.
For an artist renowned as a supreme colourist, these monochrome works are bold, dramatic and revelatory. The additional surprise is that they are landscapes. They feature the vigorous brushstrokes and the striking compositions we most associate with Hubbard’s portrayal of natural phenomena, along with a characteristic spontaneity and energy. All that is missing is colour, but that only makes them more compelling.
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The genesis of these black and white paintings is to be found in Hubbard’s initial training in abstract expressionism and his early sympathies with the likes of Pollock, Motherwell, Brooks and Kline. They are redolent of an artist in transition, finding a compromise between hard-edged abstraction and representation, as he forged his own way. Hubbard of course made charcoal drawings throughout his lengthy career, and some early examples are included in our new exhibition. There is a distinct graphic quality found in these early paintings and a link to Hubbard’s affinity with the calligraphic art of the Far East. In his text published in 1981 for Hubbard’s exhibition at the Warwick Arts Trust, Bryan Robertson recounts how Hubbard was posted to Japan where he stayed until 1956. “At Harvard he had also studied Japanese and Chinese painting, gardens and architecture, but was equally absorbed by the relationship between work and life in Japan, and by landscape or bird or flower painting in black and white. In Chinese art this is the area which also interested Hubbard the most; and as a whole he prefers Chinese to Japanese art.” Indeed, Hubbard also noted that he liked the “Chinese idea of allowing a subject to absorb you… and then be assayed in a spontaneous, animated way, so as to preserve a sense of life.” Hubbard’s black and white paintings certainly do that. They enthral now just as they did when they were first painted more than fifty years ago.
John Hubbard (1931-2017) was born in Ridgefield, Connecticut (USA). He studied at Harvard University and at the Art Students League in New York and then with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Hubbard moved to Europe in 1958 and lived in Rome for two years before settling in Dorset in 1961, the year in which he also had the first of nine exhibitions with the New Art Centre in London. His work is held in major private and public collections around the world including the Yale Center for British Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Victoria and in the UK at Tate; the Arts Council Collection; British Council Collection; the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and at Pallant House, Chichester. His many solo exhibitions include the Fitzwilliam Museum; Waddesdon Manor; Modern Art Oxford and the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham amongst many others and a show of twenty-five years of his drawings at Kew Gardens. Remaking Landscape, the first comprehensive survey of John Hubbard’s career was published in 2017, a book he described as a “brief facsimile profile of my painting and drawing, it will stand as a retrospective exhibition in itself”.Courtesy of New Art Centre, Salisbury