Mario Dubsky was born in London in 1939. This 1960 self-portrait, acquired by Ruth for £20, was painted in his final undergraduate year at London’s Slade School of Art, when he was around twenty-one years old. He was also there as a postgraduate in 1961.
In 1956, the painter Dorothy Mead had arrived at the Slade (in Dubsky’s words)
‘as a mature student and practised disciple of [David] Bomberg’s – then an entirely unknown, uncelebrated and isolated figure’.
For the next few years
‘under the mentorship of Dorothy Mead, whose work… seemed challenging, radical and heroic… I wholeheartedly subscribed to the Bombergian approach’.
Dubsky defined this as
‘the continual process of drawing from life with charcoal, of using thick cheap paint, and of being almost solely concerned with form, mass and structure’.
The self-portraits by Dubsky, Mead and Dennis Creffield (who came to study at the Slade in 1957) in the Borchard Collection are close in idiom; all use (in Dubsky’s phrase) ‘paint as a mobile, dense and expressive medium’, yet each is markedly personal in character. Of these three paintings, Dubsky’s appears the most animated, and has the strongest hints of colour.
It is fascinating to compare this picture with Bomberg’s own apocalyptic late self-portraits, works only separated by a handful of years from Dubsky’s. Dubsky’s is a slighter work; his presence is much gentler and more tentative than Bomberg’s, yet Dubsky’s brushstrokes here have something of the urgent dynamic sweep of late Bomberg, his colours sharing something of what Bryan Robertson called Bomberg’s ‘intense, richly-nuanced darkness’.
Dubsky travelled widely. His scholarship time in Rome in 1964 opened him up to classical values in art and architecture. He found Manhattan, visited in 1969 on a Harkness Scholarship, ‘an incomparable fund of imagery’.
Many of Dubsky’s post-1975 charcoal drawings, also charcterised by ‘intense, richly nuanced-darkness’, are compassionate, often harrowing portrayals of naked men, their splayed boniness and crouching fragility sometimes redolent of Nazi concentration camp victims. Others are more playful studies, relishing a wide variety of faces, physiques and postures, celebrating the sensuous uniqueness of each man.