N.H. Stubbing (1921-83)
Self Portrait, watercolor, 6x4, 1979
The Nabi Gallery has been associated with the estate of the late Newton Haydn Stubbing since the exhibit that opened its first season in May, 1996: a retrospective of his work titled From Altamira to Sagaponack.
The title referred to two poles in Stubbing's career. The British-born artist, who lived in Spain after World War Two, was profoundly influenced by the prehistoric cave paintings at Altamira. Their ritualistic, hand-painted images led him to abandon his brushes, and for 20 years he would apply paint to canvas directly with his hands.
These early works, which he called "Ceremonials" and "Rituals," bear some kinship with the Abstract Expressionist movement but, like the cave paintings, evoke sensations of mystery and magic. Some are like vortices of light, outlined by handprints. Others suggest human or animal-like forms, as when the artist, after traveling in the American Southwest, painted a series of images inspired by the Native American "Trickster" legends.
Spring Ceremonial, oil on canvas, 66x76, 1959
Later in life Stubbing divided his time between London and Sagaponack, Long Island, where he shared a house and studio with the art critic Yvonne Hagen. In this period he resumed working with brushes, having suffered health problems that were apparently caused by chemicals absorbed through his skin during the years he painted with his hands. From that time on his work was characterized by luminous, subtly toned and layered expanses of color that, while seemingly abstract at first glance, always evoke the feeling of a specific landscape.
A Long View at Wainscott, oil on canvas, 33x63, 1981
As well as a painter, he was an inventor, a sculptor, and a keen naturalist. He would take long walks wherever he happened to be, making sketches, and later, in his studio, would meditate on the meaning he had found in each place and express it in the shimmering canvases he would produce until his death in 1983. Scenes of Sagaponack, Mashomack on Shelter Island, Scotland, and the Rocky Mountains were among those that inspired him.
"I am a compulsive painter," Stubbing once said, "a constant searcher and explorer of physical space rather than intellectual space, as though I were swimming through Light."
His work hangs in many private collections as well as such institutions as the Tate Gallery in London and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Even so, it was insufficiently appreciated in his lifetime--largely because he operated outside the fashions of the moment and possessed a fiercely individualistic, unworldly, and sometimes ornery personality that was ill-suited to the politics of the art world.
All the works on display at the Nabi Gallery are from the artist's studio, which still belongs to the late Ms. Hagen's family. Some, from his last years, have never been shown publicly.