Utopia may carry many meanings and take many shapes but for Steven Hubbard it must surely take, as its portal, the shape of a cabinet of curiosities – a place where on entering the viewer is constantly surprised by a profusion of new perceptions and unexpected devices, sometimes concealing moving parts, which reawaken a childhood capacity for wonder. Hubbard assembles a wide range of his constructions in mixed media, alongside oil paintings, drawings and prints reflecting his interests in Renaissance Italy, the sea, the applied arts and literature of the inter-war years as well as realms of the exotic in an ethnographic perspective.
Driven by an irrepressible curiosity about new techniques and approaches in realising his ideas Hubbard deploys an exceptional range of technical skills from veneering, marquetry, gilding, gessoing, faux-marbling and carving in wood to, on occasion, practising pottery and casting in wax and soft metals, guided often by a desire simultaneously to conceal and reveal elements in the finished work: within the cabinet of curiosities there are many unexpected compartments.
Indulging his fondness for natural materials, Hubbard works with a wide variety of fine woods including pear, lime, oak, ash, hare wood and eucalyptus, once cannibalising with relish an entire but flawed Georgian dining table in mahogany. Such satisfying materials enable him to revisit cherished memories from childhood, be it the exotic world of Treasure Island with mayhem on the Spanish Main or the spell cast by an unassuming bookshop window, magically reuniting in a single montage favourite magazines and books from across the years.
The wealth of surprising encounters and juxtapositions in Hubbard’s work, not least in the frequent evocation of those who make a living from the sea, bears some comparison with the elusive, poetic world of an artist such as Joseph Cornell or other surrealists (such as Max Ernst or George Fullard) who were excited by found objects and situations suggesting unlikely conjunctions. For Hubbard, however, there is a telling difference. Every last element in each work, be it no more than a pencil or a gold coin, is a fresh creation of his own hand and eye in his chosen materials, an imaginative world remade by an inexhaustibly inventive spirit powered not by curiosity alone but a sense of wonder lightened frequently by an infectious sense of humour.
Stephen Hubbard was born in London in 1954 and educated at Gloucester College of Art. After graduating he taught part-time for a period while devoting himself to his own work, developing first a distinguished practice as a portrait painter working mostly to commission and, subsequently, moving on to evolve his own distinctive genre combining painting with craft, which he considers his most rewarding activity. Hubbard was a finalist in the annual BP portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. In 1989 he was short-listed as ‘best painter under 35’ by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Work of his was also selected for BP Award exhibitions in 1991 and 1993. Steven Hubbard has been represented by Francis Kyle Gallery since 1997 and has contributed to several of the Gallery’s theme exhibitions between 2005 and 2013. He has held one-man exhibitions there in 2000, 2003 and 2009.
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