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Life, Love and Colorby Wendy Bowman-Littler | Riviera Orange County magazine | May 18, 2012
Kristen Romney Hubbs has had her share of highs and lows. Growing up in Michigan in a nice home, she led an idyllic life with a surgeon father and a grandfather—George W. Romney—who served two terms as governor of the state in the ’60s.
Then her parents divorced when she was 16, and a long, hard haul into adulthood began. Hubbs lost contact with her dad (a silence that lasted a decade) and spent seven years in an abusive marriage. At 30, Hubbs fled the marriage—and the state. She spent many days in court arguing over child support and lived with her mom (who had moved to California to pursue an acting career) until she could make it on her own. At one point, she was forced to rely on food stamps.
Those hardships have since turned into blessings. Hubbs, now 47, has emerged as an accomplished artist whose portraits have been shown in galleries from coast to coast. She named the collection The Emotional Energy of Life. It’s a reference to the colors she uses to represent emotions in her portraits, which are often compared to the works of late 20th century illustrator Patrick Nagel.
One of her pieces—“Bed of Roses”—served as inspiration for Sue Rexroth, an O.C.-based interior designer who created a “teen bedroom” for the American Society of Interior Designers Dream Home, which was presented in Costa Mesa back in March. This month, her works will be featured at the Temecula Festival of the Arts, and later in the summer at Laguna’s Townley Gallery.
But “artist” isn’t Hubbs’ only title. The statuesque blond, blue-eyed Newport Coast resident also has emerged as quite the entrepreneur, having resurrected a modeling career started in her 20s (she recently booked a job as a spokesmodel for Luminara candles). And, putting an advertising/marketing degree from Brigham Young University to good use, she founded Goldline Holdings and is in the early stages of marketing a new bra line, Décolleté Lingerie by Your Best Chest.
“I cast a really wide net and caught several diverse endeavors,” says Hubbs, who, in what little spare time she has, travels cross-country to campaign for her uncle—Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. She co-chairs all of his local events and fundraisers.
Oh, yeah, she’s also a wife and mother of four. She married Ken Hubbs (whom she calls her “best friend”) 15 years ago. Her children (a girl and three boys) range in age from 11 to 21. One more thing: She’s currently penning a nonfiction book. “We Romneys think big,” Hubbs says of her diverse ventures. “You can always tell a Romney, because it’s the one who’s always swimming upstream.”
While family comes first, Hubbs’ creative passion is directed at her art. It has been since she was a child. She remembers doodling “Grandma Moses-style” village scenes for her family’s Christmas cards. But all this should come as no surprise when you consider who appears in her family tree. Her great, great, great grandfather George Romney was a famous English portrait artist in the 1700s.
Although she was sidetracked for years raising a family, she found time to begin indulging her passion again six years ago, when her youngest went off to kindergarten. “For 15 years,” she says, “I had a child under the age of 5.” She enrolled in Roger Whitridge’s life drawing classes at Orange Coast College, and she perfected the plein air style of painting at Greg Larock’s invitation-only workshops. Her work garnered awards and was juried into a gallery exhibit.
But Hubbs yearned to stand out in her field. So she switched gears from plein air to contemporary oil portraits. “I thought, ‘Gosh, [plein air] has just been done and redone,’” she says. “I mean, the Laguna coastline is beautiful and I know it’s what sells, but I really wanted to find something unique that no one’s done.” That’s when she chose her humanity-focused theme. Her original and commission pieces cost thousands of dollars. She sells prints of that work at a lower cost.
The people you see in her paintings are born by her imagination, but she draws inspiration from the physical features of her friends and family—her daughter Emily’s nose, her assistant Riley Worth’s characteristic pose. Once she has her “face,” then she goes to work creating the emotion-colored background and puts the finishing touches on her portrait.
“Rather than paint a pretty picture, my goal is to capture what we feel and what we do with it,” Hubbs says. “I hope that when people view my paintings that it touches a chord in them and makes them feel… joy, love, anger. I want to connect with all those emotions.”