Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The canvases of Patrick Dean Hubbell shatter preconceived notions of Indigenous art, making left turns on red lights before delving into abstract expressionism.
Open at Santa Fe’s Gerald Peters Contemporary, gpgallery.com, from July 24- Sept. 26, these new works disguise canvas as fabric, transforming it into traditional Diné forms of medicine bags and blankets.
An MFA candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hubbell grew up in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation.
“That is definitely where a lot of my work stems from,” he said in a telephone interview from Chicago.
Hubbell showed his work at the Santa Fe Indian Market from 2009 to 2014 before landing at Gerald Peters. His work explores abstraction through the lenses of both modern and Native art. While he once restricted himself to traditional painting on canvas, his latest series disguises the canvas as textile, shawl, blanket and medicine bag.
“It’s still in the conversation of painting,” he said. “I was looking into deconstructing my older work.
“A lot of the connection to the work in the new show is a reference to the portrait or the figure,” he continued; “the spiritual essence of a figure.”
Many resemble fringed shawls hanging from stretcher bars. Others form the gathered shapes of medicine bags. Hubbell’s mark-making ranges from slashes of abstraction to the geometry of Navajo rugs.
“They’re all painted canvasses using the same mediums of oil, acrylic and natural pigment, using the canvas as substrate,” he said.
The works reflect Hubbell’s interest in Abstract Expressionism through its promotion of automatic drawing, as well as Native beliefs in the translation of the self through the hand.
“There’s a lot of connection,” he said. “I began to see the use of intuitive mark-making. A lot of the Abstract Expressionist guys were trying to articulate the connection of the mind to mark-making. I started piecing together that the spirit of the person is connected from the mind to the body to the hand.”
“Even When You Rest I Feel Protected” is a tribute to the matrilineal culture of the Navajo.
“We hold the matrilineal very special,” Hubbell said. “The use of a blanket is always present in our ceremonies. It is advocating that even when we’re not in a ceremonial setting, those blankets are still there.”
The medicine bag in “You Hold My Spirit” is actually painted canvas transformed into a vessel or container. Traditionally, medicine bags hold herbs, natural objects or heirlooms, Hubbell said.
Similarly, “Connection to the Stars” is a vessel paying tribute to the night sky.
The trio of blanket and shawl shapes in “Your Warmth Carries Me Through” is another nod to the women in Diné culture.
“I was thinking of the daughters, mothers and grandmothers,” Hubbell said.
“Bearers of Strength” features three canvas-constructed shawls seemingly draped within a picture frame.
The inclination to put brush to canvas seems generational. As a child, Hubbell watched his father draw with pen and ink.
“I think I’ve always been naturally artistic,” he said. “My Dad is a pretty great artist.”
It wasn’t until he began studying at Arizona State University that Hubbell realized his calling.
“I felt like there was a shift in my thinking in a way of taking the work seriously,” he said. “I felt like I had a contribution to make.”
He wants to challenge preconceived ideas of the concept of Indian art within museums and galleries, and reclaim a Native perspective.
Hubbell’s work has been exhibited at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Autry Museum of the West in Los Angeles, the Rochester Contemporary Art Center in New York, and in numerous private and public collections. In 2017, he was awarded the prestigious Pollock-Krasner grant.