The term “mixed media” will take on a new meaning in Ken Dubrowski’s exhibit next month at the South Street Gallery in Hingham. The Marshfield resident's illustrations and furniture will be on display, though that leaves out his work in landscaping, house portraits, and kitchen cabinets.
Dubrowski, a New Jersey native and baseball enthusiast (and Yankees fan), wraps his disparate pursuits under the term “artisan.” He spoke with The Globe about two of his works in the Hingham show -- the pastel “Oil and Water” and a Shaker hanging cabinet -- and what it means to be an artisan.
I did a sketch for this illustration in college 30 years ago, and then I put it away. Thirty years ago, this issue was so important, and everyone seems to have forgotten about it. It’s just two people laughing in a field of oil.
About six months ago, I started going through boxes of old sketches just to see what I had and ask, ‘What was I thinking when I did this?’ or ‘Why didn’t I ever finish this?’
For this illustration, I pulled it out and thought of the Sarah Palin ‘Drill, baby, drill’ comment, and I redid it and posted it on my website. Then lo and behold, we had two oil spills, so people have called up and asked me if they could use that illustration for their websites.
Like most of my illustrations, I used gouache as an undercoat and then built up from there, adding pastels on top of it. My style is changing from the simple advertising narrative to a more complex one. I’m starting to edge away from a corporate look at a more personal look.
I’ve built furniture in different styles, but I love the look and simple lines of the Shaker and Colonial styles. The Shakers had buildings with pegged hooks throughout the house, and they would remove a cabinet from one room and take it into another room where they needed it and hang it there.
I love to work with cherry, but it’s very expensive, so I do a lot of work with pine an poplar, especially for the painted, scraped, distressed look. I’ll stain the piece first, then add six or seven layers of paint or wax and crackle, and anything else I can do to give it a texture that makes it seem very, very old. I try to go with a palette that’s very colonial-looking, so I use a lot of greens, pewters, oranges and yellows.
To me, an artisan is someone who can take any sort of project and create something that not only solves the problem, but finds a interesting or different way to present it. I started out as an illustrator, but I later started building furniture, mostly out of necessity because we didn’t have of money at that time. I taught myself watching Norm Abram on ‘The New Yankee Workshop,’ and just by trial and error.
Then people started coming to me and saying, ‘I have this situation in the backyard, and I have a garden that I need to have designed,’ and I began solving people’s artistic problems with garden stone walls, patios, and other landscaping. Now my wife jokes that she doesn’t want to go to parties with me because people will say, ‘Hey, can I talk to you about....,” and I wind up suggesting something, and then the husbands hate me.
I developed a line of furniture and build high-end cabinetry. Once I built a cabinet for a woman, and when I delivered it to her house, she said, ‘Do you do house portraits?’ I hadn’t done house portraits since I was about 10, but I said, ‘Sure, of course.’ And that’s how I started doing house portraits.
Now I realize that being an artisan is something that was more common in the early 1900s than it is now, when everything is so specialized. It’s a renaissance approach that says you really can solve any problem. In our house, it’s never, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ It’s ‘Well, how tough can it be?’ And that’s what gets me in trouble sometimes.
Ken Dubrowski's "The Creative Process" begins with an opening reception on June 5 from 6 to 9 p.m., and runs until July 3. See the gallery's website for details.