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Jorg Dubin: Unfiltered in his approach to life and art

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

No one would call Laguna artist Jorg Dubin conservative in his approach to art. His work is provocative and, at times, disturbing. He readily admits that it’s not for everyone – there’s no denying it evokes strong emotions, both favorable and unfavorable.

Jorg Dubin: Paintings from the 2000s, the solo inaugural exhibition at the Honarkar Foundation Gallery, proves that assessment to be true.

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Jorg Dubin in front of the Honarkar Foundation Gallery

Dubin – a painter, sculptor, ceramist and production designer – arrived in Laguna in 1976 and has since, consistently produced controversial work. Uncensored for mass public consumption, his paintings combine beguiling portraiture with the urgency of current social and political times.

Jorg Dubin: Paintings from the 2000s chronicles Dubin’s engagement with portraiture over a 20-year period and is the most comprehensive showing of his work to date. The 38-piece exhibition was curated by Genevieve Williams and supported by The Honarkar Foundation.

As described; the artwork is a collection of unfiltered renderings of contemporary subject matter. Through his collection of portraits, Dubin explores the complexities of the human condition, addressing themes such as race, gender, sexuality, politics and power dynamics.

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Stunning space for Dubin’s exhibition

“Historically, when there are big social changes or ideological clashes in the world, writers, poets and visual artists are the ones who created manifestos or visual imagery of the times,” Dubin said. “I’ve always liked that kind of work. It resonates with me because I’ve felt that as an artist, you should say something about the times you live in.”

At its most profound level, art takes us from the everyday to a place of introspection and contemplation, to see the bigger picture of the human condition, and Dubin’s work, in whatever emotionally charged form it takes, is always thought-provoking. In a previous interview with Stu News, he said, “I don’t understand what people are afraid of. I’m angry because of what’s going on in the country, and cities like Laguna Beach should be at the forefront of the conversation. We’re a privileged community and as such we can’t ignore social, racial and economic issues.”

In September 2023, his luminous sculpture Mercury Falling was installed on the corner of Main and Jamboree in Irvine. It carries a powerful message on climate change – that we (humans) will do something about global warming and bring the earth’s temperature down. It’s the latest in the many public art installations Dubin has created, many of them visible throughout Laguna – Semper Memento (Always Remember), Trio, Viking Studio, Wavepoint, Quintet, The Castle Gate and Aliso.

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In the background “Distressed” (left) and “The Orange Stand”

“Not many galleries – or the museum – in Laguna would show my work,” Dubin said. “Content driven work isn’t a very commercial endeavor. Most people who buy art are decorating their homes and not collecting art. Commercial galleries don’t have the client base for this kind of work. I don’t have an art dealer in my own hometown, I don’t have one anywhere. Galleries don’t want to tie up their space for 30 days with a show they can’t sell.”

Enter the Honarkar Foundation. “MHAC created a nonprofit foundation to support our culture and the gallery is going to be open at least a few days a week for the show. It’s the first time a lot of people who have lived in Laguna have ever seen the inside.”

Gerald Buck, the previous owner, amassed a huge collection of contemporary artwork and bought the building to house it. When he passed away and the collection went to UCI, the building came on the market.

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“Bride” (left) and “Mr. Pink, Reflected”

The gallery is a stunning setting for Dubin’s artwork. “They were talking about it being a group show and then they decided to do a one-person exhibition,” he said.

However, Dubin didn’t select the paintings that appear in the exhibition. “The curator, Genevieve, looked at all the work in my studio (and storage) and chose the pieces. I trusted her and Peter [Blake]. It was fun to walk into the gallery and see what was selected for the showing,” he said.

Looking Back

Due to the explicit nature of many of his paintings (of women), who does he use as models? Dubin explained, “They’re friends and people I know. I’ve used professional models over the years, but I like people who aren’t professional models because they bring their own personality. They are in their own comfort zone, and it contributes something interesting to the painting.”

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“Twins Seated”

Are the models pleased with the results? “Usually,” he said. “For one thing, it kind of immortalizes them.”

One wonders if Dubin has a different perspective when looking back at his paintings from a two-decade span. “I had all these things stored in my studio (and storage space) and I hadn’t seen some of these myself for years, so it’s interesting to re-visit them. This is how I was 15-20 years ago versus how I’m painting now.

“I think sometimes I’ve devolved,” he said. “I look at the paintings from 15-20 years ago, and think, ‘wow, those were a lot better than what I’m doing now.’ It’s a conundrum when you’ve worked at something for a long time. Maybe I was a little more naïve back then – I wasn’t over thinking things, just painting. Now when I work on something, I don’t know if it’s getting better, or if it’s the same, or I’ve lost some of the naivete that made the paintings fresher back in the day.”

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Reflecting on the past

“Around 2005 or 2006, I did a straight-ahead portrait of a woman. I still look at it and think it’s one of the best portraits I’ve done. How my work depends on the day – and the mood – it doesn’t come easily. Some days I’ll look at a painting and it’s okay and the next day, I’ll scrape it off and restart 100 times for whatever reason.”

Looking back

Prior to Dubin’s move here almost 40 years ago, there were many stops along the way.

“I was born in Eugene, Ore., then I spent a year in Madison, Wis. because my dad got a teaching job there, and then we went back to Eugene,” he said. “Both my parents were college professors. My dad went on a sabbatical in Munich, Germany and we lived for a year in a little town outside of Geneva, Switzerland. My parents stuck us (my sister and me) in boarding school for a year. When I was 14 in 1968-69, and they had another sabbatical in London. I saw a lot; it was a cool experience.”

Painting wasn’t Dubin’s first artistic endeavor – he started as a ceramicist.

When they returned from London, his parents transferred to UCI and the family moved to Newport Beach, “I went to Corona del Mar High School,” Dubin said. “I’d never been around kids with money. They had already formed their little groups. I was an outsider, so I started taking ceramics – they had a great ceramics program, and that’s what kept me in high school. My teacher George Corey lived in Laguna. My parents moved back to Eugene, and Corey became a surrogate father to me.”

Dubin was part of a ceramics collective in Santa Ana Heights. “I did that for three or four years and then officially took part in the Sawdust Festival in 1978 – for over 10 years. In 1991, they kicked me out. I started at the Festival of Arts with ceramics and then painting.”

In 1989 he was kicked out of the FOA permanently. “Looking back, they both did me a favor. I realized I could be part of something bigger,” he said.

A self-taught painter, Dubin got into painting by driving around and taking photos and then painting them. Then something serendipitous happened.

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“Self-Portrait After Beckham”

“In 1996 I attended a faculty show at LCAD, and Stephen Douglas had a couple of paintings in the show,” Dubin said. “I thought ‘this guy really knows how to paint’ and knew a lot of stuff I didn’t know. Then I audited his class for a year and a half and learned a lot about technique. We became friends, and when he retired, I took over his class and taught there for 6 1/2 years in the undergraduate program – advanced figure painting. I enjoyed it, since I’m from a family of teachers – my sister is a high school art teacher. It’s in our family’s DNA. That ended and I went on to be a mentor and advisor in the Master’s Program. It kept me up on the current lexicon and what was going on from the students’ perspective.”

Around town

Dubin has been in the same studio in the Canyon since 1978. His son Clay lives in the same complex. Dubin is well entrenched in the community – he’s on the Planning Commission and he also ran for City Council a few years ago. “Because of that, people in town have a perception of me as a crazy artist, but they are surprised to find that I might know what I’m talking about.”

When asked what career path he would have chosen other than art, he replied, “A psychologist. I’m kind of joking, but I think I probably would have been okay. I get that from my mom because that’s what she was. It’s easy to look in the rearview mirror now that I’m a certain age and think maybe I should have traveled a different path because the one I’m on didn’t exactly go the way I pictured it 30 or 40 years ago. I don’t have any regrets, and I feel very lucky to be able to do what I’m doing every day.

“Anyone who connects those two things (vocation and passion) – and work is what they really love, it’s rare. As much as I feel I’ve had a lot of disappointments in terms of my art career, I’m also very lucky to still be doing what I do. My art mentor, Stephen Douglas, told to me, ‘Even if you don’t have critical acclaim or monetary rewards, if you get up every day and do something creative, you’re successful.’”

Jorg Dubin: Paintings from the 2000s will run until January 14, 2024.

The Honarkar Foundation Gallery is located at 298 Broadway St., Laguna Beach.

For more information on Jorg Dubin, go to www.jorgdubin.com.

For more information on Honarkar Foundation, go to www.thehonarkarfoundation.org.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

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