Nancy Hubbard: Fiction and Science

March 20th, 2013

portrait for bonnie 2This is Nancy Hubbard. She is a resident artist at The Invisible Dog Art Center, where we recently met and struck up a conversation about our work and common interests. What impressed me about Nancy was her relative non-eccentricity. Soon after we met, I was able to have a studio visit with her. Perhaps due to the art history training that has framed her pursuit of art, I found the conversation to be well articulated and her process well placed. She cited sources for inspiration and she possesses experience that buttresses her thinking. Though Nancy is working with a few different techniques, there is a cohesion to her body of work that reflects a thoughtful approach, one that considers natural conclusions and how they inevitably can wrap back around on themselves. trans

Nancy says: “I grew up in New Jersey, and school was very academic based, almost a harbinger of what school is today. It was all about testing. I was taking AP European History, junior or senior year, and the teacher brought in the art teacher to give us two classes on art history and I was like, ‘What is this!?’ . . . I was a musician as a kid from six years old on, so there was always a creativity. I was just never really heavily exposed to visual art, and that teacher—I can picture her—that was the moment for me when I fell in love with art.”

Nancy went on to study art history at Rutgers University, and, though she did not complete an additional degree, began to specialize in photography. Working closely with the professor, Martha Rosler, Nancy began to develop a photo practice that would be the focus of her career for some time. After graduation, she moved to New York and continued her photography.

With her ongoing love of Art History, Nancy later departed from photography, gaining an additional degree from SUNY in restoration. This degree took her career toward working as a restorator and into the decorative arts. Though this was a step away from the photo practice, for a time, it inspired her to build her own fine art practice by learning new materials and processes. Particularly interesting to Nancy was learning the techniques of nearly lost arts: the scientific process of the patina, traditional gilding, icon painting, and making gesso.

She shared a bit about this experience: “Taking care of museum objects is an amazing thing to do with your life. To preserve things for history and take care of them. I feel lucky to have had that opportunity to work on some amazing pieces. You’re nurturing it, and it is a time thing, too. Marking time in some way. The Hispanic Society of America (up in Washington Heights) did a show with the Smithsonian, in D.C., called Caliphs and Kings, it had a Moorish influence, a lot of ceramics, and more decorative arts. These things were hundreds and hundreds of years old, and you came to realize that people may have eaten off this plate, or it was made for the king, what-have-you . . . and we were taking care of it so that it will go on. And it marks time, putting things in a different kind of perspective.”

Birth 4' x 4' gesso sottile, charcoal, burnishing clay, pigment, carnauba wax on wood panel

Birth 4′ x 4′ gesso sottile, charcoal, burnishing clay, pigment, carnauba wax on wood panel


Hubble, Bacon, Mehretu.

Working with gesso, charcoal, and lead, Nancy is primarily a landscapes painter, but in a form that is uniquely hers. Her compositions come from imagined landscapes, art history nods, and scientific findings in the natural world, (though to her, “the scientific seems like a fiction”). We discussed a recent photo gravure print of a dormant geyser. The fuming hole is thousands of years old. For this image she observed that due to that length of time that the phenomenon has been simply simmering, it seems to fall out of the realm of the real. “As we become more modern, time is flying because of the digital age. The idea of something around for that long, the mystery of it is frightening to me! –

“I’m trying to comprehend it by making art about it,”Nancy goes on. “I’m in awe and I want to look at it but it also makes me feel . . . I don’t want to say lost, but it puts you out of context of your everyday.” Frightening as scientific images may be, she still seeks them out, “When you look at the Hubble images, those are really mind blowing.”

Her most recently employed technique plays into this expansion of time and truth as well. She explains:  “The photo gravure is a printmaking technique using photographic images to etch plates, and runs through a traditional printing press. I believe it was developed from the mid to late 1800s, from what I understand. They didn’t have a way to reproduce images, so printers did it. To me it is a circle. The images are all older, these are not images that I am conceptualizing, going out, shooting, turning into photo gravure. . . . I’m going through my own archives of the time when I was doing a lot of photography. Exploring not just what it meant to me, or what I was trying to do at the time, but also how it marked the time, and how certain images were important at that time. I think the self portrait is the strongest one [to represent that idea] because it was taken when I turned thirty, and I think that is such an important time for an artist, a woman, human beings. It’s just a change.”

Example of the photogravure, the artist's Polaroid self portrait at age 30.

Example of the photogravure, the artist’s Polaroid self portrait at age 30.

“The medium that I used at the time to take the images could be anything,” Nancy says. She can use digital images, polaroids, or traditional darkroom photos that she hand printed herself., Afterwards, she sends it off to the print maker. “I have to make a digital image of the original, now I am bringing it into the present, so that he can etch the plate from a transparency, which he prints. What comes out is this print of the image that I sent him that is using a process that is so old that it is barely used any more, and there is beauty in that. It is a kind of connecting the past. A lot of connecting the dots.”

 “My father had a book of renaissance art [when I was young]”, Nancy says, looking around. “I still have it around, it’s in one of these boxes some where, and I would flip through it. It is an art book, but the reproductions in the book were kind of pasted on the page. I don’t know if you have ever seen that? They don’t do this anymore. It almost looks like a scrap book of Renaissance art. I was fascinated by an image of (and I am little, I’m talking 5 or 6 years old) the Duke of Urbino. It’s a famous picture; it’s a side view. It’s him and his wife; there is one of her too. Years and years later, when I was at Rutgers, I went to Italy for a summer semester to take art history classes and we stayed . . . in Urbino!” Nancy recalls laughing. “I made the connection then… taking me all the way back to that original fascination. And then I learned the story of the duke of Urbino, he has a palace there.” Nancy has put her every perception and understanding of art into her compositions, yet they remain balanced and un-chaotic. She deals with essentially chaotic modes of inspiration—exploding stars, unseen landscapes—and the incoherence of experience, memory, and written history, but somehow it comes together for her in a way that captures that mystery which she hopes to evoke.

After Icarus 2.5' x 3.5' gesso sottile, charcoal, burnishing clay, pigment, carnauba wax on wood panel Private collection

After Icarus 2.5′ x 3.5′ gesso sottile, charcoal, burnishing clay, pigment, carnauba wax on wood panel
Private collection


Turner, Martin, Francesca.

Recent Exhibitions:

Draw(n) Out at George Mason University
A group exhibition which Nancy co-curated
Jan-Feb 2013

Workspace 2013 at The Invisible Dog
A survey exhibit of resident works
curated by Simon Courchel and Whitney V. Hunter
March 2013

  • Malcolm Brown

    Go Nancy! Nice write-up!