For the larger portion of the viewing public, representationalism
and abstraction have always been considered mutually exclusive realms
of artistic expression--based on the idea that a landscape painter
is only attempting to re-create the reality of the moment while an
abstractionist attempts to divine a world of imagination of their
This misconception was expressed more than 50 years ago in an exchange
between Andre Breton and Piet Mondrian, when the Vicar of Surrealism
stated that abstraction was meant solely to "cleanse the vision
completely of the irrational and that, of course, means dreams as
well as reality."
In the work of Newton Haydn Stubbing currently on exhibit at the
Nabi Gallery in Sag Harbor, however, the judgmental inaccuracy of
this statement becomes instantly apparent, as one can see in this
artists work a profound expression of nature abstracted through a
haze that is both dreamlike and real at the same time. In essence,
the artist has created an atmospheric re-creation of the world around
us that is, at bottom, nothing less than a surreal and abstract perception
of reality itself.
Consisting of watercolors and drawings dating from 1953 through 1982,
as well as 14 oil paintings, the Nabi show offers a broad stylistic
representation of Stubbings work that includes landscape scenes from
both England and Long Island, still-lifes, and sketches of seashells,
birds, fish and animals.
Many of the sketches, while apparently studies for larger works,
are in and of themselves fascinating, both for Stubbings obviously
advanced draftsmanship and for the insights they serve up about the
artists influences. Going all the way back to his developmental early
years spent in Spain, elements of Goya are particularly noticeable
in these studies in the sharp and confident use of line. Meanwhile,
the feel the artist demonstrates for majestically low-key horizons
and clouds is reminiscent of both Corot and Constable.
There is also a certain feeling of detached whimsy that is especially
apparent in many of the works, such as a 1953 watercolor and charcoal
study of a series of ducks and a watercolor and pencil image of a
crayfish from 1982. This rather bemused objectivity is also present
in a watercolor and pencil entitled "Stonehenge" from 1980
that balances a playful use of perspective and a rather elegant shadowing
on the monuments in the mid-ground distance.
Included among the watercolors and drawings is also a fascinating
series of semi-abstract compositions which the artist referred to
as "ceremonials." Simultaneously redolent of the spirituality
of Rothko and the delicate color sense of Diebenkorn, these pieces
are of particular importance as bridges connecting the viewer to the
artists desire to reflect nature more as a feeling and visual sensation
rather than merely a concrete re-creation of a particular scene.
"Dark Winter Field" presents a hauntingly arid and lonely
landscape whose sense of solitude is underscored by the horizontal
structural composition that is weighted toward the bottom of the piece.
The emptiness is emphasized in a lack of subject matter stretching
to the horizon and beyond that makes the work seem simultaneously
both silent and windswept.
Another of these "ceremonials," entitled "#34"
from 1973, is noteworthy for its almost overt sense of uplifting spirituality.
The color development from the foreground into the work is especially
appealing, and one is left with an appreciation for the artists ability
to express dedication to structure and conceptual development without
It is in the larger oil canvases, however, that one can see Stubbings
abilities and the influence of his antecedents best displayed. Among
these, the sensibilities of many great Spanish painters are clearly
apparent and are reminiscent of Velasquez and El Greco through the
use of black as more than simply an agent for peripheral shadowing.
These works manage to be mysterious without being menacing and they
reflect a sense of nature that is monumental and yet still placid
"Findhorn River Legend" from 1982 is illustrative of this
and illuminates the artists ability to express his surroundings without
necessarily being dedicated to re-creating them. By applying the central
images in black and other dark colors and then completely overpainting
with lighter washes, the artist achieves a misty sheen which makes
it seem as if one were viewing a looming stand of trees through a
thick early morning haze. There is detail but it is partially hidden,
leaving the viewer essentially with an impression of reality, much
as in Monets water lily paintings from Giverny.
The same could be said of "Valley Smoke," which is perhaps
the most elegant and understated of the oil on canvas works in the
exhibition. There is an unmistakable air of serenity to the scene
and yet, beneath the surface lurks a certain tension in the composition
that manages to be visually arresting.
The exhibition at Nabi Gallery continues through November 19.