There’s never enough time and there really are some things than need time, things like the recent Mario Dubsky exhibition at Chelsea Space. Mario Dubsky described himself as ‘zeitgeist’— a spirit of his time. “Born in London just before the outbreak of the Second World War, his parents were newly arrived refugees from Vienna, with roots in both Slavic and Jewish heritage. Reflecting his entangled cultural background (in addition he and his parents were baptized), his early paintings were dark, heavily wrought, expressionistic and haunted by images of the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Guernica…
Yeah, I know, the show should have been covered while it was still open, we do try, and we do get out and cover a hell of a lot more of what’s actually happening than most of the so-called art media in this town, really had to try and get over the river to see this exhibition, a show that really had to be seen in the flesh both in terms of the actual marks, the powerful drawings and the paintings and in terms of where Dubsky fits in historical terms. This really was a must see show over at the small Chelsea Space next door to the Tate (and it really really was accidental that that David Bomberg painting was focused on before hand in the Tate, I won’t be a smartass and make like I knew Bomberg was an influence of Dubsky).
The show, an intimately impressive exhibition, a small collection of glorious paintings and powerful drawings, work from “the influential artist and educator Mario Dubsky (1939-1985). Including material from all the phases of his working life, the show will explore his quest for a powerful visual language with which to express his ideas as a gay man and artist”. The show has been and gone now but it is still worth mentioning here on these fractured pages before we get on with whatever the hell it is we do here (and I should mention it was down to a last-minute reminder post via instagram from the gallery that we got to the show in time, it was in my head, I was aware of it, but that last day reminder was more than welcome, good old social media)
And right now, before I do get on with whatever we should be doing today before the light goes, I’m going to make absolutely no apology for blatantly “borrowing” from the gallery’s own background on the show and cutting and pasting it here….
Studying at the Slade School, Dubsky fell under the influence of the late work of David Bomberg through his friendship with the mature student, Dorothy Mead. His studies were further broadened by travel in Greece and Italy, where he added the classical and mythological Mediterranean into his lexicon. With further travels through Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascas, Palmyra and Jerusalem, Dubsky interwove the Jewish, Arab, Christian, Greek and Roman worlds into his creative imagination and personal mythology.
Confirming his own identity as a homosexual, Dubsky found his subjective approach to art making at odds with the dominant idioms of abstraction and Pop Art. It was only when he moved to New York at the end of the sixties that Dubsky would engage with the emergent gay rights movement that was exposing inequality through the Stonewall Riots against anti-gay legislation. This movement stood alongside the continuing Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam protests that exposed the divisions within life and politics in the US. Deeply affected, Dubsky made a large photomontage mural for the Gay Activists Alliance building in Soho, New York in 1971, and these experiences would affect the path his practice took for the rest of his life.
By the mid 1970s, moving between New York, where he attended life drawing classes at the Studio School and London, where he taught at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, Dubsky immersed himself in drawing — inspiring a willing group of students (including Chelsea space Director, Donald Smith and co-curator David Ferry) with his energy and intensity. Drawings of the male figure he made at this time were not merely anatomical studies, they were declarations — poetic, political, erotic, metaphorical and allegorical. Responding to the blasphemy charges brought against the underground magazine Gay News in 1977, for the publication of a poem concerning a homosexual Roman Centurion’s love for Christ at the crucifixion, Dubsky produced a book of poems and drawings entitled Tom Pilgrim’s Progress Through the Consequences of Christianity (1981). These works again confirmed his commitment to publically declaring his resistance to sexual and political suppression (of any kind), through his art making.
Uncompromising to the point of being described as obtuse and antagonistic, Dubsky’s candid declaration of his sexuality combined with the complexities of his background, often left him excluded from the art world of the time. Again, drawing on these experiences informed the title for his solo show at the South London Art Gallery (now South London Gallery) in 1984. The title, X Factor, a reference to the Greek form xeno, meaning ‘stranger’ or ‘unknown quantity’, was to become a poignant statement, as sadly the artist was to die a year later of an AIDS related illness.
It really is something wonderful just to get to quietly sit in a room like this surrounded for a few minutes by the intensity of Mario Dubsky’s art – almost called it work, I can’t call it work, it is work of course, work is such a strange word in terms of art though, and this really is art and for many reasons this is a really powerful collection of his art. The massiveness of those drawings, the strength and commitment of that line next to the glorious colour of those really beautiful big paintings (a beautifully hung show as well, they don’t have much space in here, they’ve used the space so well, a good hang is always deserving of a mention).
There’s a real sense of something here, something bold, something very beautiful and yes, some thirty odd years on from his passing in 1985, something rather defiantly positive in what these pieces continue to say. There’s something about seeing the work of an artist who has the guts to draw like this, I mean the actually process of drawing (and painting) rather than what the drawings might be saying. Exciting to see and appreciate him just as an artist before you get to anything else about Mario Dubsky this is very powerful art – and yes, I know you can’t really separate these things out, his sexuality and the politicising of that sexuality is obviously a massive part of his art, but these really are powerful pieces all together like this before you ever get beyond the marks to what he was saying, before you get to his language, before you consider his struggles and everything he went through and fought for, before you start reading his art – amd then you start to take in his language the power of it all is doubled and more, so much here. And yes I know we should have got over to the gallery and covered it way before the last day, there’s no real excuse for not doing so (so so pleased I did manage to catch it). There’s never enough time and there really are some things than need time and, yes we’re saying so after the horse has bolted and the show has closed but this one was rather worth seeing, this was something really worth seeing in the flesh, exciting art, important art, a real privilege to see these drawings and paintings together in the flesh (and yes I do mean in the flesh) like this, an excellent show, an exciting show, a real real privilege. (sw)
FOOTNOTE: One of the bonuses when going to Chelsea Space is that bonus of being able to drop by their immediate neighbours next door at the Tate….
Really love the power of this delicious painting, a piece painted just over one hundred years ago, in 1914, when we were on the cusp of so many things. It is great to be able to drop in to the Tate (Britain). I like to drop in and find just one painting and then when I’ve seem that one thing, leave. In and out rather than overloading on art, see one thing, really look at it, then go and take it away stored in my head, usually a Turner, this time this wonderfully powerful David Bomberg painting, a beautiful oil on canvas, such glorious language. And as a footnote to the footnote, I really did have no idea that Mario Dubsky was an admirer of Bomberg’s work when we dropped into the Tate on the way to Chelsea Space, I assume it was his later work rather than this piece? (sw)
Chelsea Space is easily found by the entry gate at Chelsea College of Art & Design, 16 John Islip Street, London, SW1P 4JU. Easiest way to find it is for head for Tate Britain (not Modern) then turn left just before you get to the Tate, walk up the broad street that runs up the side of the Tate, around the adjacent block and there’s the gallery just inside the gate to the college. The next exhibition at Chelsea Space sees Richard Woods, fresh from his starring role with those holiday homes at Folkestone’s rather succesful 2017 Triennial with a show that runs from 15th November until December 15th 2017. More details of the Richard Woods show here
Do please click on an image to enlarge or to run the Mario Dubsky slide show