The Art of Tony Stubbing

In my idealistic youth, I lived in a church in lower Manhattan.

By youth I mean mid to late twenties. By idealistic I mean willing to act on what one believes, even if foolish or inept.

It was the Holy Communion Church at the corner of 20th Street and the Avenue of the Americas.  A registered historical landmark, it essentially became abandoned by the Episcopal Church due to lack of parishioners.

So it was taken over by agreement by the countercultural group of which I was a staff member, The Lindisfarne Association. Lindisfarne was/is the brainchild of cultural historian William Irwin Thompson, and I have written briefly about it before. It was intended to be, and was for a while in certain circles, a crossroads, an intellectual town hall, for what Bill called planetary culture.

There’s something absurdly fitting that after Lindisfarne’s sojourn in the old church buildings, they later became the location of the well-known nightclub The Limelight.

But this post is not primarily about Lindisfarne or the church buildings, but about an artist who came to be associated with Lindisfarne for a time.

Newton Haydn Stubbing remains a relatively obscure English artist. Born in 1921, he was in his late fifties when he came to Lindisfarne. But he didn’t come to Lindisfarne in order to be there, but by the happenstance of other relationships.

A long view at Wainscott

He arrived in New York to share a home and studio out on Long Island with the art critic Yvonne Hagen. Hagen’s daughter Nina was an integral part of the staff community who lived and worked at Lindisfarne. Nina was the gardener for Lindisfarne in Southhampton while that rural conference center existed.  She was a talented photographer in her own right.   (The staff community and conference centre at Southhampton eventually shifted entirely to the new centre in Manhattan.)

So Yvonne and Tony (as everybody called Stubbing) came to be invited for the conferences, talks and seminars that were the mainstay of Lindisfarne. For instance, to give you an inkling of what Bill was about, he might give lectures on “From Civilization to Planetization: Four Talks on the Future.” The conferences were larger events with people like Wendell Berry, Jonas Salk, John and Nancy Todd, Paolo Soleri, E.F. Shumacher, Gregory Bateson and Robert Bly attending.

I never knew Tony other than to say hello to him once or twice, unlike say Gregory Bateson with whom I played chess a few times. Or, unlike being pushed around when I got in Stewart Brand’s way in a casual game of volleyball. But those are other stories.

Swamp maples and GreyThere was a large hall at the church which was used for meetings and where all the staff and visitors took their meals. On the walls there came to be several of the immense canvases that Tony, who was a big man himself, was doing at the time. I can show you several images here, but their minuteness does not convey the impact of the huge oil paintings which seemed almost to cover entire walls.

(A couple of his paintings are in the halls of the Findhorn Foundation, another New Age group from those times, which are said to be among the largest canvases in Europe…)

The size drew you in, but more importantly, it was their intriguing ambiguity that always made me contemplate them. They seemed to be landscapes but you couldn’t make anything out about them. There was what may have been sky above and land or water below, but what were they really? In Stubbing’s hands, the ambiguity became a way to get at the inner essence of the landscape, and that interiority made exterior captivated me and many others.

untitledBill decided that since Tony enjoyed coming around and had his paintings on the wall anyway that he might as well be the official “Artist in Residence” of Lindisfarne, and so he was for a time.*  I don’t recall that Tony actually lived at the church although he and Yvonne might have stayed there from time to time when in Manhattan.

In the last few years I started thinking about Lindisfarne, and Tony, and those paintings. I’ve done some research on the web about him, and there is more to his story.

In his earlier artistic life, he lived in Spain and France after the Second World War. In Spain, he became heavily influenced by the prehistoric cave paintings at Altamira. He forswore the use of brushes and for 20 years used nothing but his hands to apply paint to his canvases. Many of these “hand” paintings are quite interesting in themselves.

ceremonialUnfortunately, he eventually became allergic to oil paint and began to suffer health problems presumably from their chemicals so he was forced to return to brushes. As the one major site about Stubbing notes:

From that time on his work was characterized by luminous, subtly toned and layered expanses of color that, while seemingly abstract at first glance, always evoke the feeling of a specific landscape.

These evocative works came to an end in 1983 when Tony died of lung cancer, a few years after Lindisfarne in Manhattan dwindled and I had long gone. I can only surmise that the lung cancer may also have had its roots in the close proximity to oil paints and all the other materials in which Stubbing immersed his artistic life. Strange to feel this sadness for someone I didn’t know really except through his work.

NhsThere’s an intriguing look at Tony’s life and work before and during the time he shared it with Yvonne Hagen as a chapter in the book Artists’ Estates: Reputations in Trust by Magda Salvesen and Diane Cousineau. This book explores the responsibilities towards the work of deceased artists by their surviving spouses or kin. One small point of interest in the interview with Yvonne: we learn there that the paintings (or murals as she calls them) for Findhorn were 12 foot by 36 foot in dimension.

Stubbing’s paintings are still occasionally shown in retrospectives in the New York area.

I was playing Joe Walsh’s song Meadows today, and somehow these lyrics jumped out at me about all this.

Some things are left unspoken
Some things are hand me down
The circle stands unbroken
Sendin’ it back around

Since it did touch me, this is my tiny way of sending the profundity and even perhaps the greatness of Stubbing’s work back around. That work’s subtle mystery greets me every day at my job when I turn on my computer and on my desktop a painting of his appears.

[Home]

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A footnote.  Also information on images, from the top down.

*Bill has commented that how Tony became Lindisfarne’s Artist in Residence was considerably more thoughtful and deliberate than the way I describe it.

The first two images above are of Stubbing’s paintings A Long View at Wainscott and Swamp Maples and Grey, Sagaponack from the Nabi Gallery site which shows many examples of Tony’s work.

The third is also from Nabi Gallery and is called Untitled.

The fourth is from his earlier period, entitled Ceremonial. The England Gallery has quite a wide selection of his work on display.

The last is a photo of Stubbing from the Nabi Gallery, probably shot on Long Island.

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18 Comments on “The Art of Tony Stubbing”


  1. Hi Fencer,
    It’s interesting work, reminiscent of Turner’s large foggy sea canvases and perhaps even a contemporary or precursor to Rothko.
    About the paints – in my early days of art education, I became aware that pigments were simply chemicals – chemicals filled with toxins – lead, arsenic, chrome, mercury and various other nasties. Many of the pigment chemicals traverse the skin – no need to eat them to get ill. As you probably know, it only takes a bit of mercury or a bit of lead to cause disruption to the human organism.
    I did quite a study of all the colours and then found a palette that avoids the worst of them.
    In this more responsible age, the producers of the pigments are required to put product warnings on them which is a good thing – and colleges are being more responsible about teaching their students of the dangers.
    There is speculation that van Gogh’s illnesses were partially induced by his use of toxic paints.
    K

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    I’m glad you’re aware about toxic art materials… people don’t take as much care as they should sometimes.

    I’ve noticed that cadmium paints have those warnings for instance.

    Regards

  3. forestrat Says:

    Hey quirk.

    Cool post. I love the colors in the swamp maples image.

    Your comment about being able to show images on screen, but they don’t have the same impact as the originals struck me as I have been thinking about things like that lately. A lot of people are predicting that someday we’ll all be looking at art (photography in particular) on LCD screens instead of on paper in frames. I sure hope not.

    A computer image is great and it gives one the chance to see works that they may never have the chance to see in person, but there is nothing like the real thing. Real paper with real texture and actual ink, real paint with 3D brush strokes, the experience of a live orchestra instead of a recording.

    Computers are nice, but sometimes I think folks over sell them.

    MDW

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    And then there’s the whole problem of how an image looks on your computer compared to somebody else’s. My wife is running into this problem with photos she shows at her photo club… they have a digital projector which shows her photos unlike what she sees on her Mac at home… calibrating monitors and all that…

    Art in the flesh, so to speak, has more impact than on a screen anyway as you note. Something ineffable is imparted, if we may allude to such things…

    Regards


  5. Interesting story, his work has spread into my life quite by luck. I have a large canvas painted in 1974 by Tony if you are interested, I can email the “North Sea” which I have never seen listed or shown on the web. It may be one very few have experienced.

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your comment… I’d be quite interested to see that. How do you come to have it? (There must be a story there…)

    Here’s an email address if you care to send a photo to me: digitaltalk.19k@gishpuppy.com

    Regards

  7. openpalm Says:

    just wanted to say thanks for this very interesting blog which in drop on often.

    “Strange to feel this sadness for someone I didn’t know really except through his work.” I think you probably did know the deepest part of him don’t you think? He said something in these paintings that spoke to you…something more important I suspect than the casual exchanges we have with most people in our lives.

    The images are beautiful. thanks for sharing them.

  8. fencer Says:

    Hi openpalm,

    Thanks for your thanks!

    In my Lindisfarne years, I was introverted verging on the withdrawn a lot of the time, and I usually didn’t try to get to know people… I regret that now. I wish I had talked about art and what he was trying to do with his paintings with Tony, although he tended to be on the short, gruff side, and may not have entertained my queries anyway. But who knows…

    Regards


  9. This is a beautiful tribute to an extraordinary artist whom I knew slightly toward the end of his life, and whose work I have the pleasure of exhibiting at the Nabi Gallery. I have recently posted images from our most recent Stubbing show at http://nabigallery.com/08/Stubbing/Web_Gallery/index.html With your permission, I’ll add a link to your site. Yes, my impression of Tony Stubbing was the same as yours: that if you were going to say something to him, or ask him a question, it had better be profound, because here was a man who would not suffer fools gladly. But I later became good friends with his widow Yvonne and his step-children Nina and Anton. Of all the artists I exhibit at the Nabi Gallery, he is the only one I would call a true master.

    Thanks–

    Val Schaffner

  10. fencer Says:

    Hi Val,

    Thanks so much for your comments and stopping by…

    I’d be pleased and honoured if you linked to this site from your gallery. Yours is the prime source for info about Tony Stubbing on the web and you have there so many good examples of his work.

    … and if you happen to ever be in touch with Nina, please let her know that Mike from Lindisfarne says hi…

    Regards

  11. W Johnson Says:

    I met Tony Stubbing briefly in London l980. He was on his way to Findhorn Scotland to paint a mural on the ceiling. I saw his portraits of Yehudi Menuhin and his sister easily recognised, other canvases and wall murals which decorated the whole house. It was like living in a ‘Constable’ English countryside.

  12. fencer Says:

    Hi W Johnson,

    Thanks for stopping by… I envy your acquaintance with his other work.

    Regards

  13. Lilia E Davis Says:

    There is a fine description of and encounters with Tony Stubbing in Texas writer John Graves memoir MYSELF AND STRANGERS published in 2004 by Knopf. John Graves knew Stubbing quite well in Spain in the late 1950s. The cover of the hardback edition features a portrait in charcoal of Graves by Stubbing.

  14. fencer Says:

    Hi Lilia,

    Thanks for coming by… thanks a lot for the info on the John Graves memoir. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    Regards

  15. MH Says:

    Stubbing was once an “imposter” on “To Tell the Truth.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFmRJHM6fsE&feature=relmfu
    His game starts at 8:05

  16. fencer Says:

    Thank, MH! There he is in 1962…. I wonder how he got involved in that.

    Regards

  17. Wayne macaulay Says:

    I’m probably the only painter to watch Hayden work in his Brendon street studio in London , we lived in the house and used the studio upstairs , Hayden moved to and from the Long Island studio starting and completeing paintings from the previous trip , after he passed away in London I prepared all the works for shipment where i re stretched them for Yvonne and together we put a sculpture show together mostly to alert the public how talented this very private man was , for this work I received a hand painting the black queen , an unbelievable tribal hand painting that hangs in my auckland studio reminding me that there is a god

  18. fencer Says:

    Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for your comment and for providing more background on this artist, whom I think affected many deeply. It sounds like you knew him well.

    Regards


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