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When he first entered the cave he found a hand outlined on the wall near the Bull paintings ... a signature perhaps? It was like an outlined stencil ... the first stencil! Done with pigments squeezed through a pig bladder Tony suggested. He put his hand over the hand and it fitted perfectly ... fingers exactly the same length ... width, palm the same shape ... perhaps it was from that moment he started identifying with prehistorical man!
(quoted in Rituals, p.7)
Five years after his first sight of these prehistoric paintings, Stubbing gave up painting with his brush and began to create pictures composed of hundreds of hand prints. He would either lay his hand flat on the canvas or drag his fingers across the surface. These methods are evident in Coral Variations, where the accumulation of marks creates a rhythmic and vibrant surface. The variations in tone create a boundless space, the eye being drawn into the dense network of colours and textures. The title may follow from the visual illusion of a coral reef, or to the slow accumulation in the picture of the traces of the presence of a living organism, in this case his hands. In 1956, the year of this painting, Stubbing was living in Paris. There he became immersed in the avant-garde scene, and would became aware of the American Abstract Expressionists, including Jackson Pollock (1912-56) Mark Rothko (1903-70) and Willem de Kooning (1904-97). The size of paintings by these artists may have influenced Stubbing to create a work on a large scale.
In the early 1960s Stubbing began to attract the attraction of the museum director Alfred Barr (1902-81) and critic Herbert Read (1893-1968). The latter wrote of Stubbing’s paintings made from hand prints ‘the work of art must be, not a projection of or from an existing state of feeling, but rather an extension of consciousness itself, the creation of an object that awakens new feelings, that adds a facet, however minute, to the slow crystallization of experience into beauty’ (N. H. (Tony) Stubbing Retrospective, p.9). In 1968 Stubbing had to give up painting with his hands due to an allergic reaction to the paints.
Rituals: N. H. (Tony) Stubbing, exhibition catalogue, England & Co., London 1990
The Tate Gallery: 1986-1988 Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1996, pp.494-8
N. H. (Tony) Stubbing Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, England & Co., London 2000