Joseph Hubbard is a London based artist, working mainly in mixed media sculpture. Though he was raised and educated in Illinois, Hubbard has made London his home for most of his adult life and played a pivotal role in the London art community. As the Sculpture and Art History teacher at Bealart, he immersed himself in the culture of London artists. During his teaching career, Hubbard represented his fellow artists on the Board of Directors of Museum London and as president of Canadian Arts Representation (CAR-London). Hubbard’s work has been shown across Canada in both solo and group exhibitions including the McIntosh Gallery in London and the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo.
Today, Hubbard continues to look out for and support his fellow artists, sharing his studio space with a handful of artists and frequently connecting with friends from his days at Bealart.
Hubbard’s work is often large-scale, using ceramic, metal and gold leafing as well as found materials to sculpt lasting pieces with darkly humorous imagery. Conceptually, Hubbard’s work draws on a plethora of different ideologies but one theme he returns to again and again is entropy. Indeed you could almost call it the driving force. Or to push the paradox even further, in creating work that lasts, Hubbard forces his viewers to confront the inescapable truth that all things will end.
Credit Crypt, a fantastic example of Hubbard’s explicitly entropic body of work, depicts a Visa machine in sand. The machine is covered in gold and placed deep in a pit contained within a wooden exterior. Next to the piece is a golden doorknob which, when pushed, emits the distinct sound of a Visa machine. The device appears to be a treasure, long buried and just uncovered in an excavation. The contraption is presented as something of great value and importance. To the younger viewer with no experience of such contraptions, the item will hold no meaning and its function may not be clear. That viewer will find this object foreign and meaningless, some bewildering relic from a deeply distant past. Older audiences will know it hails from a more recent and now superseded moment in history. It is not a treasure but an outmoded tool of commerce: a time capsule from not that long ago when this item was both useful and ubiquitous. Placing the object in sand, as though it has been buried for many years, heightens that sense of time’s flight. This outmoded symbol of our changing world shows us how easily and silently culture and relevancy can slip away. The reactions of younger viewers as they try to figure out what this thing is, can actually enrich the experience of those with firsthand experience of the device. Even Credit Crypt’s doorbell – is it the future at the door? – serves to remind us to interact with the time we have been given, to look around us and regard our own age and confront the ever present reality of looming obsolescence.
Another Hubbard piece which less explicitly depicts Hubbard’s preoccupation with entropy is Security Station #25. An installation work which utilizes existing features of the McMaster Museum of Art, Security Station #25 draws attention to the old security system the gallery once had in place: a telephone, a bell and a stool where a guard would sit as he watched over the space. Above the bell is the number “25” and a key component in a more modern security system; a video camera pointed in the direction of the stool. Like Credit Crypt, this work depicts an older and more human way of doing things which has been superseded by mechanical innovation. This juxtaposition of the old and modern security systems – with the old wires and the new wires all exposed – reminds us of the age of the gallery and invites us to ponder the vast array of exhibitions that have been shown here. This makes us regard the gallery itself as a fluidsort of entity; not just a place to hold and display art, but a place that has witnessed. With this piece, the passage of time doesn’t seem so troubling as in many of Hubbard’s other works. In addition to being an entropic endeavour, this work is a humorous and ironic look at the way we develop our systems in society. Viewing the piece, one imagines an art theft or petty crime taking place and, in the old days, the guard calling for help or making a report, by which time the crime has probably been committed. That system becomes digital with the introduction of the video camera but still there’s a guard somewhere watching over the room on the other end of a video feed. Imagining such scenarios, the viewer begins to engage more critically with the experience of being in a gallery and the whole idea of viewership and observation. The viewers may be looking at the art but the guards are looking at the viewers; whether they’re sitting on that stool or in another room monitoring a video terminal. This dissection of the art gallery as a system is also an entropic effort, playfully blurring the lines between viewer and viewee and suggesting that there is more than one way to observe in a gallery space.
When first approaching Joseph Hubbard’s work, it can feel a little daunting and bleak with its focus on death and obsolescence and the destruction that regularly troubles our short lives. But anyone who engages deeply with the work will soon find that Hubbard’s sense of humour and even a kind of mischief, greatly ameliorate that impression. Ultimately his outlook on the world is neither cold nor despairing but bracing. By dealing with the entropic nature of being head on, this one of a kind artist equips us to cope and even to laugh at some of the harsher aspects of human existence.
Kenna Robinson is a BealArt student, completing her final year. At BealArt, she has specialized in photography and ceramics for the last year, making work that primarily focuses on the way we exist in the world as physical beings and how that being interacts with others and the physical world. In 2020 Kenna received the Bijan’s Art Studio Award – Grade 12 Foundations Part 2 and is pursuing Photography Studies at Ryerson University in the fall.
Images are courtesy of the artist. See other works of art by this artist at: https://www.josephhubbard.com/
This article is part of the “Young and Emerging Visual Arts Writers Project,” which is gratefully supported by the London Arts Council.