Alex Hubbard “Staircase Descending a Nude”

Alex Hubbard is a painter and video artist who weaves together both fields by using the same approach in each medium and thereby rethinks video, painting, and their connections. In his paintings, Hubbard uses the volatile, fast-drying materials of urethane, resin, and fiberglass.

Once applied to the surface, these materials cannot be changed. Therefore, his paintings—like the videos—always have the potential to unmoor themselves from their original plan. This genesis, which leaves its traces in both his videos and paintings, creates the sometimes absurd, sometimes funny, and sometimes dramatic attraction of Hubbard’s works.

In his recent works, now shown at Eva Presenhuber Gallery, Zurich, depictions of an odd assortment of objects have crept into Alex Hubbard’s paintings: jerrycans, rubber wheels, screws, tree branches, hoses, brass instruments—the kind of miscellany usually relegated to the corner of a garage or basement.

This hodgepodge sits restlessly among the acidic colors and craggy veneers of the abstract compositions for which Hubbard has become well-known. These various objects seem precariously placed, as if the composition were moments away from falling apart. But they are arranged with precision, and there is a productive antagonism between the illusionistic pictorial space they occupy and the work’s thickly stratified surface.

To make the paintings on view, Hubbard began with pours of brightly tinted urethane resin, a quick-drying material that hardened in splashes and rivulets of varied thickness. He then worked deliberately in acrylic and oil paint, responding to the pools of resin by adding flat areas of color, masking sections with white, and painting illusionistically rendered forms that are often depicted from incongruent perspectives across the space of a single canvas.

Many of these forms hover ambiguously between abstraction and figuration. They are often depicted as volumes in space but layered like paper cut-outs in a collage, divorced from any sense of depth.

At every juncture, Hubbard has taken steps to intensify the friction between the fictitious space in which these forms are depicted and the materiality of the painting’s skin. While working with his brush, he has sometimes followed the edge of a urethane spill and sometimes departed from it in disorienting ways.

Other ambiguous spatial cues, for example, the use of white paint to place raised ridges of urethane in the background, confound proximity and distance. Careful consideration has been given to the spatial effects of color; high key, glossy pools of resin pop forward from behind subdued passages of oil paint. In some cases, Hubbard has added pours of clear urethane between painted layers to further heighten the dissonance between literal and pictorial depth.

And the works conflate two disparate modes of symbolic address: the horizontality of the urethane pours made on the artist’s studio floor and the vertical window of classical easel painting.

All of these strategies function to displace the picture plane—the transparent division between the world represented within the painting and the real space the painting hangs in. In this sense, Hubbard’s recent work belongs to a counter-tradition working against both the Renaissance conception of painting-as-window and a certain Modernist fetishization of flatness as the essential, defining quality of the medium—the two equally premised on a picture plane that is coextensive with the surface of the canvas.

Instead of attempting to narrow the gap between the picture plane and flat surface of the painting, Hubbard’s new canvases approach the unstable relationship between these two terms as a generative point of departure.