Patrick Dean Hubbell, Painter
A few months ago I was wandering through the galleries up and around Canyon Road, and stumbled into Peters Projects. I came across Patrick Dean Hubbell's show, Earth | Paradigm, and was enamored. His large-scale pieces are just stunning, so you should definitely stop by the gallery to see his works for yourself. I caught up with Patrick on the afternoon of the opening for his new show, QUADRIVIUM, and spoke with him about his inspirations and how he approaches creating art using both traditional Navajo and European practices.
SFF: Where did you grow up and how are you connected to Santa Fe?
PDH: I’m originally from Navajo, New Mexico which is a small town on Navajo Nation. I was born and raised on the Navajo Nation, then went to Arizona State University and got my fine arts degree in painting and drawing. I now live and work in Window Rock, AZ, but I’ve been showing in and around Santa Fe for approximately 10 years, so I come here quite often.
SFF: How long have you been painting?
PDH: I’ve been painting since before high school, but I didn’t really start taking it seriously as a profession until I decided I wanted to pursue it in college. I’ve been fortunate to be able to paint full time for 10 years. Growing up, my dad did a lot of pen and ink drawings, and some of my other family members practice traditional Native arts and crafts so I was always immersed in the arts.
SFF: Would you say your work qualifies as traditional art?
PDH: My paintings bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary art because I use the natural earth pigment, a process is similar to traditional Navajo ceremonial sand painters, but I also have a background in painting with oil and acrylic. When I was young, my first inspiration was thinking about the different colors of pigment that are around my home on the Navajo Nation. I was also inspired by the traditional stories and teachings behind ceremonial sand painting and watching people create such beautiful masterpieces. Then, when I went to school for traditional, European painting, I was able to expand my mind about what painting means to my people and the historical, cultural context that we have back at home. I started to correlate the two and formulate an understanding and connection between the two. In all indigenous nations, there’s a traditional, cultural, and spiritual connection to the earth. Within that, there are teachings and stories about how our culture, language, or traditional way of life is rooted through the earth. My Dineh (Navajo) people have stories, songs, and philosophies about how we as a human beings are connected to the earth and how we try to remain in balance with the natural order and environment. The sand painting and ceremony has a lot to do with healing and regaining a person’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. It puts them back in alignment with nature, and we use earth’s natural pigment to create and depict different images seen in nature. My contemporary paintings channel this thought process to create work that invokes this and also is significant in honoring our earth.
SFF: So in the ceremonies, you’re creating art out of sand pigments?
PDH: Yes, there are several people who do this, and after the ceremony is performed, they gather it all and give it back to nature.
SFF: It reminds me of the sand mandalas made by Buddhist monks which they dismantle once they are completed.
PDH: Yes, there are a lot of similarities between use of sand and pigments between many cultures. Within my work, there is no ceremonial significance of the mark making and compositions used. They are more my abstract representations of nature and landscape. I stay within my own thought process of mark making, line movement, and line quality. Using nature as inspiration, I depict landscapes and different times of day - the night sky, the sunset, and vegetation like the sagebrush and dryland grass we have at home. I incorporate a lot of my everyday life and what I was raised around with the stories and songs into my paintings.
SFF: Do you ever use any other colors found in nature, for example blue like the sky?
PDH: Yes. When I can find natural pigment I will, and I have also been experimenting in my studio with incorporating manufactured paint with the natural earth pigment. It all started with a proposal to the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and correlating my work to the use of traditional Navajo sand painting as used by Jackson Pollock within his own work. I was awarded their artist grant in 2017, and I used the award to fund this body of work. I was able to travel throughout different parts of the whole Navajo Nation and collect pigments last year. I’ve tried to stick to using the colors of rock, sand, and sandstone and staying true to the pigment that I found.
SFF: Did you go on one trip where you collected everything, or was is it more of a slow, daily experience of collecting pigment?
PDH: I actually used the whole year of 2017 traveling, mapping out, and logging different trips that I took. It was quite a busy project and was a lot of fun. I did a lot of hiking and exploring. My wife and daughter would come as well and my wife who is a photographer would help me with recording images. We went to Monument Valley and the landmarks at first, and then to places with more rural the locations, to find the pigments that I used.
SFF: What is your favorite place you visited?
PDH: It would probably be Monument Valley because I hadn’t been there on my whole life even though I lived only two hours away. It was one of the more memorable experiences to be able to gather pigment from there and then use it for these works… That’s why a lot of these pieces are sienna-hued and real earthy, organic, gritty colors and textures.
SFF: It’s funny because when I look at the paintings they are very calming, but the lines also look sharp and a little abrasive. Was that intentional? What are they trying to evoke?
PDH: A lot of the work that I did in the past, which has evolved into this work, was centered around the use of the zig zag design pattern. I use the zig zag mainly to represent the energy wave and the movement within nature. It’s symbolic for me in that way. I understand it through different stories and songs and different mediums of traditional arts. When Native artists use the zigzag pattern in traditional weaving, basketry or beadwork, they are usually depicting a representation of the flow of nature like water, wind, or lightning. I first started using the zig zag to be a design-oriented solid element within a piece, and then I started making them more loose and using line traveling across the canvas. For these new works, there’s elements where you can see the zigzag peeking through, but it’s still reminiscent of the flow of nature. The wave and constant movement of nature. It’s been a constant motif within my work.
SFF: How do you spend your days?
PDH: I usually start out really early tending to our livestock. We have four horses at home. Then being around my grandparents who live close to me and making sure everything is okay there at their home. From there, I try to make the most of my time being in the studio. I try to paint every day.
SFF: What do you do when you feel stuck creatively?
PDH: Usually, the first thing I do is take break and saddle up to go horseback riding. Just spending time with our horses usually tends to help. I always think, I could be having the worst day possible, but those horses always make it better and help me along. I grew up with horses and I depend on them. It’s a codependent relationship.
SFF: Do you ever depict them in your work?
PDH: Yes, I have several works where the horse comes in either as a strong representational or through line movement.
SFF: What are some of your hobbies when you’re not painting or spending time with family?
PDH: The horses and ranch life are pretty time consuming, along with small scale farming, but I like to free draw and sketch. I also like doing traditional Native American arts and crafts like beadwork and featherwork when time permits. Also, just staying close and helping with different traditional cultural practices around home with relatives is what I do when I have spare time,.
SFF: When you’re in Santa Fe, where do you like to go?
PDH: The one place I always try to go when I come to Santa Fe is Tune Up Cafe. I’m a vegetarian and there’s this one dish I get - the vegetarian banana leaf tamale. I also like to visit Canyon Road to see all the galleries and observe the work of many artists. Just to be around the art here is great, so I try to do that as much as I can while I am here.
SFF: How long have you been showing at Peters Projects and what dates is your new show running?
PDH: I’ve been represented by Peters Projects for 3 years now. My new show, QUADRIVIUM, is a group exhibition which also features the work Tony Abeyta, Darren Vigil Gray, and Mateo Romero. The show runs from June 8 to the end of August. There will also be a soft opening during the Santa Fe Indian Market Weekend, August 17 th and I’ll come back and be present for that.