Thomas Stubbs

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tom stubbs

Stacy Davies
Inland Empire Weekly

By its very nature, art that makes social and political commentary can be ugly, and certainly dark. It’s the job of the critic, after all, regardless of medium, to offer some pointed insight on subject matter that might be elusive to the general populace, or reflect a popular point of view in a unique and compelling way. This is the “ugly” part—the truth that is seldom beautiful, and when projected through the eyes of a discerning and passionate artist, can wreak ghastly, glorious results.

In that vein, Thomas Stubbs’ show at the Downtown Pomona Owners Association’s Metro Art Gallery, “Tunnel Visionary,” makes no bones about perspective, and pulls no punches with message. Stubbs is a surrealist, using strong overtones of Romanticism’s mystical elements, and imbues his critical rants with exceptional technical artistry; his use of light and shadow are truly exceptional—and this is what makes his work the most effective. For there is little here, content-wise, that is overly shocking or offensive, although the drive is apparent, yet the level of intelligence and skill at use turns what might be just another ugly truth into a visually fascinating spectacle ripe with irony and intrigue.

Stubbs is at his best thematically when taking aim at the de-evolution and philosophical absurdities of man. To celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday, he created Darwin’s R-Evolution, in which two primates ponder their fate: one gazes at his reflected face in a mirror (which is the face of Darwin, himself) and the other ape scribbles (mindlessly?) on the pages of a textbook written by “Nim Chimpsky.” The question lingers, “Which came first, the monkey or the scientist?”—you be the judge.

In the witty Philosurphers, we see two craggy-faced Greeks in loin cloths jaunting toward the ocean surf for a tubular ride, but these pursuers of theoretical ideologies carry surfboards adorned with stained-glass window religious icons—but are those really saints? What Stubbs is getting at might take time to decipher, but feeling compelled to figure it out is part of its success.

The most damning of all the works in the show, and the one that should give the greatest pause for thought coupled with instant understanding, is the triumphant, Petroleoliths of Western Island. Here we find an interpretation of the physical legacy of modern man: while the Egyptians gave us pyramids, the Romans gave us the Coliseum and the Chinese gave us the Great Wall, the archeological monuments from the 21st century are upturned pick-up trucks, planted along the seaboard much like the moai of Easter Island. Admission to this archeological stop is free. Kind of.

Politics and religion are also beset by jabs, and in The Blue Dog Riders, Stubbs gathers a pack of vicious blue dogs (Democrats) to the Federal Reserve. Here, they are egged on by two nude women wearing sashes printed with “Corporatocracy” and “Military Industrial Congressional Complex”—perhaps the evil sisters to Blind Justice who reigns at a nearby building? The GOP elephant also makes an appearance, expelling its innermost thoughts upon the earth. Another political powder keg is Shadowboxing in the Allegorical Cave, where a host of images to decipher and stories to link congeal: Atlas, reduced to a broken mutterer, sits in a children’s playroom, toying with green plastic army soldiers and blocks while two youngsters (with an unnerved canine) look on in confusion. On the TV is Osama bin Laden, a portrait of Stalin hangs on the wall and above Atlas’ head, a flurry of angry angels blast their horns. 

Moving further into the religious atmosphere, Stubbs’ Dogma Eat Dogma stands out as absurd commentary on the nature of worship and iconography—and, er, ice cream. Circling a giant banana split and monstrous pudding cup, three reverent, saintly statues pay homage to the bust of what looks like a basset hound. At their feet, a curly-topped pooch seems to have unwittingly intruded upon the scene. 

Not of any officially recognized religion, Playboy bunnies are the target of sorts in The Emma Fudd Gang Discovers the True Source of Trix, where three heavily armed, bikini-strapped blondes, surrounded by real rabbits and that wascally cartoon creation, enact some kind of TV-sex-defecation-inspired revenge scene. Tails too tight?

Lastly, it must be noted that Stubbs has included a series of landscape images within this exhibit, and while they depart greatly from his dire and serious spectacles, they should not be overlooked. In fact, these graceful and inviting scenes, pointing the eye to the inherent beauty of our natural surroundings in both celebration and awe, are quite revealing, not only of the artist but of the dual nature in us all: we are one side dark, one side light, and in a constant struggle to find our path down the middle.


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