Creation and Fire

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by Sebastian Slovin

James Hubbell is an artist and legend who lives with his wife Anne atop a mountain about an hour east of San Diego. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit him with my good friend and artist Patti Fox. When I arrived at the 40-acre property, it felt like I was stepping into another world. Interspersed around the natural landscape and flora are all sorts of works of art, ranging from sculptures to mosaics to stained glass pieces. Not to mention the numerous structures on the property, all designed by James, which are both subtle and eye catching at the same time, using giant boulders and oak trees as part of the design. The buildings blend into the natural landscape almost seamlessly but when you see them it’s hard to take your eyes off them. My first impression of the space was a mix between a nature reserve and an art museum.

As James gave Patti and I a tour of the property, I felt like I was in the presence of someone who possessed both deep wisdom and child-like wonder and enthusiasm. He showed us a number of the projects he was currently working on, some commission pieces, and some for the property. I’m not sure if it was a result of being with James or just being on the property but I had the sense I was looking at the world through a fresh lens.  I also had the feeling that anything was possible. His enthusiasm was contagious.

After exploring the property, we had the opportunity to connect with James over lunch. The conversation was incredible with shared stories of adventure. James talked about having the opportunity to travel extensively through Africa in the 1950’s as a teenager and how that helped shift his world view. The conversation ebbed and flowed and eventually we got on to the subject of the creative process. He shared with me that having space is essential for him as a starting point in creation. He went on to share how the Cedar fires came through the property in 2003 and destroyed a number of the structures on the property and much of the art work he had created. Seeing the intricacy and detail of his work I couldn’t help but feel the enormity of his loss. I wondered if I would have been able to continue after losing so much of my work. He went on to say that the fires were necessary as they created a clean canvas for him to start anew. I didn’t really know how to respond to that, I was blown away. I looked at him and he gave me a little smile.

Since that conversation, I’ve thought a lot about the mindset James had in seeing fire as an opportunity. I imagine that’s the sort of mindset that comes with time and contemplation. While there are literal fires raging in northern California I have the sense that everyone has their own version of a great fire (or several) at one point or another. And I wonder if we could take a page from James’ book and see the fire as an opportunity for a fresh start and a new perspective.  

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