December 2, 2017:
At 86, art icon James Hubbell still looking forward
by Pam Kragen, Contact Reporter
(below is an excerpt from the online version of the article)
Last week, an exhibit of new work by famed artist James Hubbell titled “Autumn” opened at the Santa Ysabel Art Gallery.
The show is named for the time of year, as well as an earthy, amber-hued mixed-media piece in the show. But it also describes the 86-year-old artist himself, who is in the autumn of his life and career.
“My life is full of little coincidences like that,” he said last week.
Hubbell still devotes at least a day-and-a-half each week to personal art-making, but much of his time these days is dedicated to the art of preservation.
At the Santa Ysabel ranch Hubbell and his wife, Anne, have shared for 59 years, he oversees a creative beehive of activity. Staff, interns, apprentices and volunteers help him complete a backlog of new commissions, prepare future art exhibitions, catalog his archive, plan future international park projects and expand his famous compound of whimsical handmade buildings.
The goal of all this work is to carry on the Hubbell name, style and humanitarian spirit through their Ilan-Lael Foundation once they are gone.
The Hubbells formed the nonprofit arts education group in 1982. Then, when the Cedar wildfire burned down four of the eight buildings on their property in 2003, they put the ranch in the foundation’s trust. It’s still the Hubbells’ home, but it also serves as the headquarters for Ilan-Lael, which is the Hebrew phrase for “a tree that comes from God.”
“We were looking for a name that connected the physical world with the spiritual world,” Hubbell said, “and a tree does that.”
Over the past four years, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease have reduced Hubbell’s ability to draw and paint as he once did. But just as he has done with other obstacles placed in his path, Hubbell said he’s found a path around his health problems.
“I figure that you work with what you’ve got. If you don’t have much, you still have something,” he said. “I’m very grateful for what I have and we have a lot of work right now. You could say I’m addicted to work.”
Annie Rowley, gallerist at the Santa Ysabel gallery and a longtime friend, said she’s always amazed at Hubbell’s positive and forward-thinking nature.
“He always sees the bright side of things,” Rowley said. “He had a few really bad days after his house burned down. But on the third day he was making lemonade out of the whole thing. He was thinking about the foundation, fundraising, rebuilding and looking at how this experience would inspire his plans for the future.”
Since the gallery opened 25 years ago, Hubbell and his work have been an enduring presence. To help the fledgling gallery, he lent his work for its grand-opening exhibition and he has continued to show regularly in the homelike gallery near where Highways 78 and 79 meet.
The 43-piece “Autumn” exhibit is all recent work. It includes watercolors Hubbell painted about six or seven years ago during trips to the Sierra mountains, a few sculptures and several mixed-media assemblages.
Assemblage is a new art form Hubbell turned to four years ago when the Parkinson’s-related shaking in his hands hampered his ability to draw and paint. The surgical implant of a deep brain stimulator last year has since reduced the shaking significantly.
“If I paint with a brush, the brush accentuates the shaking, but with a grease crayon I can push on that and it doesn’t have as much shaking,” he said. “I can’t draw quite as well but at least I can design things. The surgery was a huge thing for me.”
Excerpts from the article:
Rowley said Hubbell’s earthy, organic style has been a revelation for many gallery visitors over the years: “The young people who come suddenly realize that life is not just about right angles.”
Rowley said she loves the work in the “Autumn” exhibition because it shows a mature artist who is continuing to evolve.
“We wanted this to be a show of new work,” Rowley said. “We wanted to stay current with him rather than just have a show that says James used to be such a good artist.”
For friends like Rowley, looking at that eventuality is difficult. She said most people don’t know how beloved a figure Hubbell has become for the residents in the Julian area.
“James Hubbell tends to belong to the bigger world as an artist, but for us he is very special,” she said. “When an area has an artist like James, it really does a lot of good for everyone and it sets a level of integrity as far as the art is concerned.”
Click here to read a photo of the print edition of the article.
To read the article online in its entirety please click on the following link(s)
Pam Kragen of The San Diego Union-Tribune writes about the current James Hubbell Santa Ysabel Art Gallery exhibition… link to the article At 86, art icon James Hubbell still looking forward
Additional link for the San Diego Union-Tribune.com video about James Hubbell.