Into the Wild: Shara Hughes at American Contemporary
Shara Hughes (NAP #58) deserves our total, undivided attention when experiencing her works. There is little static or passive about the furiously colorful interiors and environments constituting See Me Seeing Me, her debut solo exhibition at American Contemporary. Are you ready to give your oculars a calisthenic workout? Dive in. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor
Shara Hughes | Blossom, 2012, Oil, acrylic, enamel, spray paint on canvas. 72 x 72 inches. Courtesy Shara Hughes and American Contemporary, New York.
Typically, Hughes displays her mid- to large-sized paintings slightly lower than eye level, useful for underlining that “full immersion” effect. But she doesn't make our first step into her worlds a careless one. Blossom, a large canvas commanding the gallery's back wall, announces itself with an explosion of titular blue curlicue blooms from the painting's midpoint. In this fractured living space, a gold-bordered shag carpet abuts with Sprite-colored grass, as indoors and outdoors blur beneath flowers frozen in midair. The shifting tectonic patterns in My Heads Really Not In This, from Hughes' co-curated group exhibition at Marc Jancou Contemporary this past spring, prepared me for her heightened visual panoply—or so I thought. Blossom is extremely intense, as are the works around it. Go into this half-heartedly and you'll leave with soft-scrambled brains.
Shara Hughes | Fake Me Writing a Letter to Fake You, 2012, Oil, acrylic, enamel, spray paint on canvas. 50 x 48 inches. Courtesy Shara Hughes and American Contemporary, New York.
This isn't to say these paintings are impenetrable, nor worth the effort to study them. An unwavering, relaxed gaze activates them, de-jumbling details and contorting settings into clarity while retaining their imagery-laden structures. The eye may travel initially along the lemony curtains framing Fake Me Writing a Letter to Fake You, but then the titular figure begins emerging from the starry backdrop. She doesn't reveal herself fully, however, as a gestural framework hints at someone/thing else in the room.
Shara Hughes | Sleep Walking, 2012, Oil, acrylic, enamel, spray paint on canvas. 48 x 44 inches. Courtesy Shara Hughes and American Contemporary, New York.
I asked Hughes about the increasing appearances of these “wire structure” figures. She considered them memories, abstractions of something you thought you saw at some point. Elaborating, she expressed “the idea of suggesting a space with figures or objects in it instead of showing [them]. That way, the work feels more interactive with the viewer, and at the same time the viewer has an awareness of how the painting was made and going in and out of abstraction and reality. I like to have the work become more of a choose-your-own-adventure experience. You see how some strokes are fast while others are careful slow and detailed, but then you see how something may be accidental and some come out of a plan. The viewer is almost visually painting alongside the artist.”
Shara Hughes | My House is the One With All the Holes in It, 2012, Oil, acrylic, enamel, spray paint on canvas. 72 x 72 inches. Courtesy Shara Hughes and American Contemporary, New York.
Hughes unleashes this yellow gesture throughout, like the exploded highlighter marker half-forming Blossom's rug or the meandering goldenrod floating into My House is the One With All the Holes in It. She mused that the aggressive color was a personal challenge when painting, as she ensured other colors rose up to meet yellow's radiance. My House... references Hughes' barn studio during The Lighthouse Works residency on Fishers Island, New York, where she was “intrigued by the light shapes that came through the barn doors and used that as a ground base for creating my own world which was not based on life.”
Shara Hughes |See Me Seeing Me installation view. Courtesy Shara Hughes and American Contemporary, New York.
Shara Hughes | Reid Sink, 2012, Oil, acrylic, enamel, spray paint on canvas. 16 x 22 inches. Courtesy Shara Hughes and American Contemporary, New York.
Her sentiment reiterates painting's power of subjective realism: while My House...'s crashing imagery doesn't reflect her studio in reality, it concentrates memories and nostalgia deeper than a single photographic moment. In Hughes' words, these paintings are “containers for events...the idea of being in a space, being aware of the space you are in, and seeing another window to a contained world”, which could be an actual window, or Curtain Forest's mysteries applied by the artist's fingers. Its smaller scale belies an incredible physicality, a sense of discovery veiled within ribboned greens. Spend some time with See Me Seeing Me, and you'll find it's probably not so easy to pull yourself away, either.
Shara Hughes | Curtain Forest, 2012, Oil, acrylic, enamel on canvas. 40 x 34 inches. Courtesy Shara Hughes and American Contemporary, New York.
Shara Hughes graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2013 she will have two major museum shows: at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center; and at MoCA, Georgia, plus Hughes was announced a winner of the institute's 2012/2013 Working Artist Project. She has also had solo exhibitions at Rivington Arms Gallery, New York; Museum 52, London; Mikael Anderson, Copenhagen; and Metroquadro, Turin. See Me Seeing Me is Hughes' second New York solo exhibition and continues through October 30.
Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee's List covers his three loves (art, film, live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).