Archive for August, 2012

James Hubbell Art on Shelter Island

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

James Hubbell's Pacific Spirit, 2002

Several years ago, probably fifteen, I toured James Hubbell’s home and studio in the mountains close to Julian, California. Every year he opened his studio and home to the public, put out a lot of food, and had costumed creatures flitting around the grounds. His main house and a separate satellite smaller house (the boys’ house) were filled with his leaded glass works. The roof of the boys’ house was a skylight of leaded mosiac. He had just set up his forge and was doing his own metal work but assistants assembled his leaded glass.  (I talked with one “assembler” who considered herself a purist–she felt that a grinding wheel to help shape the cut glass was a huge no-no. I used one because I couldn’t always cut the small glass pieces to fit precisely. I pointed out that the glass cutter she was using was just a small wheel itself but that didn’t change her mind.)  Sadly, in 2003, the huge Cedar fire destroyed the whole compound. He is still rebuilding.

And his works are still here. There used to be more, in restaurant doors, especially. I miss them. But he does have three major pieces on Shelter Island in the grassy areas called Shoreline Park.

I was recently on Shelter Island looking for a spot to view the Tall Ships for the Festival of Sail and paid attention to three pieces that I only had glanced at in passing. The pearl fountain is at the tip of Shelter Island. It is a combination of mosaic, cement, and metal work which students assisted in the construction.

James Hubbell's Pearl Fountain

The pearl and fans are obvious once you know what they are. The mosaics under water are not. They are the four points of a compass and represent different Pacific Rim countries–a Chinese dragon, an American shore bird, a Russian Siberian tiger, and a Mexican feather serpent. Hard to see though.  And the cement fans are a bit solid and gray. (Cement is a big deal in San Diego from Scripps Institute to La Jolla Playhouse.  I find it solid and gray.)

Chinese tiger

The bronze Pacific Spirit is more interesting. She is mermaid-like. And she stands with the background of the bay and the ships. And looks good against a gray sky or a bright blue one.

Down at the other end of the island is Pacific Portal with a typical Hubbell curved and poured dome shape. Inside on the ceiling are mosaic tiles and the walk through the portal also is mosaic swirls of waves and color.

ceiling, Pacific Portal

Pacific Portal

You can always read the details of what the artist intended with these works, but these pretty much say a lot without explanation. Maybe the fountain benefits from the explanations of the fan, the metal “Russian calligraphy,” and the points on the compass floor of the fountain, but that great female “spirit” doesn’t need to be explained.


Ann Hamilton’s Mural in La Jolla

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Ann Hamilton's By Sea

Ann Hamilton's By Sea

So it’s been in the 90’s here and traffic to the sea is bumper-to-bumper. But there is a new addition (well, new since May 2012) to the Murals of La Jolla which is worth the wait in traffic if you aren’t already heading to sand and salt water (not to mention the jelly-fish and sting rays competing with splashing humans).

Ann Hamilton’s web page has some heavy academic prose explaining her installations. Personally, I find the erudite stuff unnecessary and a bit over-the-top. This new mural of a Tall Ship is titled “By Sea” and we do not need any help in relating to it, especially in San Diego where we have the Maritime Museum and the Star of India always on our waterfront. And especially since Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before The Mast charts the 1835 coast of California for us, and twenty some Tall Ships are coming to San Diego in two weeks for the 2012 Festival of Sails.

Hamilton’s By Sea is on one large wall of the CitiBank building on Herschel Avenue in La Jolla. It is a digital print on vinyl as are some of the other Murals of La Jolla. Interestingly, it is directly opposite the bright pinks, blues, and yellows of Ryan McGinness’s 53 Women. You can see both with a simple head turn and the contrast couldn’t be greater.

McGinness’s is clean outlines. Hamilton’s is intentionally fuzzy or blurry or misty or elementally vague, whichever adjective conveys the haunting quality of the ship from the past sailing into the unknown on a wall of a modern financial institution. Nice.

It’s hard to divorce the ship from the mural’s modern surroundings. That is part of the viewing challenge of outdoor art. But it’s also part of the overall feeling that a Tall Ship in the midst of uncharted waters is a journey we take divorced from modern times.

You can make of this misty ship any journey you want.

McGinness on one wall clearly expresses his own vision. Hamilton on the opposite wall joins her vision to ours.  See both.

And check out the far horizon just a short walk away at the edge of the real and highly mythical Pacific.