The nine abstract paintings in Los Angeles artist Alex Hubbard’s exhibition “Chemical Compulsion” (all works 2017) have formal precedents in the field of experimental film, while the sole video on view demonstrates his strong painterly sensibility. Hubbard became known in the aughts for videos depicting slapstick-like performances in which he creates and dismantles arrangements of objects, spilling paint and other colored liquids as he goes. Painting has become increasingly central to his practice. One immediate precursor to his new body of work is a series of multicolored, translucent pictures, made using urethane, resin, and other materials, that he began in 2014; these works, due to their visible wooden stretcher bars and their frequently being mounted on the walls (though some are freestanding), follow in the painting tradition, while also, with their light-filtering surfaces, resembling enlarged celluloid film frames.
Hubbard’s new canvases, which were divided between two galleries at Eva Presenhuber, likewise straddle painting and film. Their palette ranges from bright and tropical (Alien Autopsy II) to gray and sedate (Blotter Painting I). Most of them are eight feet tall, though a few smaller examples, like the crisp red, white, and navy Heimlich Strasse, top out at four feet. According to the press release, Hubbard produced the paintings by spilling tinted urethane onto the linen supports and spreading the liquid plastic with a squeegee, after which he added drawings on paper and, finally, sealed the compositions with a layer of fiberglass or urethane. This description of process, however, hardly accounts for the complex visual experience of the final works. In some pieces, such as Adult Scenarios, fine pencil outlines are visible, if overwhelmed by expansive squeegee marks that look like exaggeratedly large brushstrokes. Even where different color splotches overlap, their borders remain distinctive, as if Hubbard has flattened various layers of a digital image. Yet the gloriously viscous quality of his materials gives the compositions a decidedly analog look. Indeed, the works recall blown-up frames from Stan Brakhage’s hand-painted filmstrips.
Projected in a gallery between the rooms of paintings, the aforementioned video, Interior I, seemed at first out of place. The image initially appeared to be obscured by ambient light. In fact, what read as light pollution was an effect of the digital color washes that constitute one of the multiple layers Hubbard superimposed to create the four-and-half-minute work. The other layers are a scene depicting a figure interacting with illuminated computer screens in a dark, graffiti-covered interior space and a sequence focusing on a burning easel. Throughout the video—whose soundtrack consists of humming computer fans, electronic beeps, and interference—the glow of the computer screens remains a constant. Light, one was led to see, is a key quality linking painting and filmmaking. Both mediums depend on an alchemy of light that draws us in with its captivating effects.