By Shannon Gallagher
Anne Hughes’ artwork embodies a sense of marvel and mystery. The viewer is left awestruck by her imaginative 2d and 3d works, which use a rich color palette and employ a variety of mark-making techniques. Hughes describes the process of working on a piece of art as meditative. “That’s what I feel when I’m absorbed in my work. I get lost in the act and watching it evolve. I lose all sense of time,” she said. “I never want to be pinned into one way of working,” she went on. “I like the idea of being able to break so-called rules, that it is possible to resolve difficulties and make something work. Challenge is enjoyable. If, in the end, I achieve a sense of wonder and mystery, of being surprised, then I am happy.”
Much of her art revolves around ideas of nature, ecosystems, wonder, and the element of surprise. “We think we’re in control. We aren’t. Life and nature are so complex,” she said. From both an environmental and global point of view, the artist is greatly inspired by variety, diversity, and interconnectedness. “As humans, we don’t necessarily know how we effect the next person and the world, but connections are everywhere.”
The artist, who has traveled throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Indonesia and Iceland, is unsure as to whether her travels influence her art or her art makes her more inclined to roam.
“To me, it’s both. I don’t know what comes first, because they go hand in hand. I like being exposed to new environments, learning about different cultures.” She enjoys educational travel, and isn’t one to lie on a beach soaking up the sun. “That’s boring to me,” she said. “I’d rather walk along the beach, be in the water, and observe the environment- that’s what I find fascinating.” When asked where she would like to travel to next, Hughes laughed and said, “I’m not so choosy. I try to take advantage of whatever opportunities come my way.” She would love to visit the Sequoia National Park in California. “I saw redwood trees in Muir Woods in California, and they’re amazing. It’s just stunning. The hush of the park -so peaceful- and the fragrance, unforgettable!”
This vested interest in the world originated from Hughes’ childhood. She considers herself lucky to have been able to grow up outdoors, in all seasons, exploring the woods near her house and playing games with friends.
“I have always valued play. A lot of teenagers are eager to leave play behind. That is unfortunate. Valuing play is where the sense of wonder comes from in my art. I’m curious, and curiosity feeds my work.” Hughes was the type of student that really enjoyed school, every subject from literature to history, government and philosophy. She found that art was a way to tie all of her interests together. “Anything can be a direct or indirect inspirational source.”
Hughes’ work can be described as dreamlike, and she works on an intuitive wavelength. “I might start with a kernel of an idea or image, but I don’t know where I’m going to end up. I like to break out and let process take over,” she said. Working in this manner has allowed her to surprise herself and enjoy the journey of making a piece of art.
“But working intuitively doesn’t mean that you avoid making choices or being critical. At the beginning, I allow myself more freedom. I don’t make hard and fast decisions too quickly to avoid stymieing myself.” Often, while working, she will begin to see little connections, which lead to a heightened consciousness of what the work is about. “Sometimes a title will pop into my head. When that happens, I know I’m not far from the end,” she explained. Once Hughes is beyond that point, she begins to eliminate weak areas and emphasize strengths in the work. When she does not have any particular image in mind, she sets out to simply make marks. “You just start putting color down,” she said, “and see where it leads.”
She gravitates towards painting on panel, because she can re-work things in ways that would be impossible to do on stretched canvas. “I rub it off, scratch into it. If I’m working with pastels on paper, I apply color, wipe it away, then add more. I attack the surface.”
The artist uses abstraction, realism, and stylization, sometimes all within the same piece. When painting, she uses brushes, rags, and her fingers to apply or remove paint. Several years ago, her dentist gave her some dental tools to use when sculpting with clay, but Hughes has taken to using them in painting, somewhat like a printmaker would use an etching needle- she will go into the surface of the paint with the fine point, draw into the paint, or scratch it away. As for the type of paint she uses, Hughes tends to stick to oils. Acrylics dry much more quickly, and can change color once they do so. “I’ve been more of a purist lately with oils,” she said. “I like to be able to have some working time, so that I can wipe away paint, work thinly, and add layers.”
When drawing with pastels, she prefers to use a small-tooth paper to avoid the texture of the paper becoming a dominant feature of the work. “I prefer to control it, to create texture rather than allow the paper to determine it,” she explained.
Hughes has a surplus of ideas to work through within her artwork, so many that she could never delve into them all during her lifetime- although many of the thoughts she explores become recurring themes throughout her body of work. Having a unique artistic style allows the viewer to immediately identify the work as hers, while also unifying the collective grouping. “Once you’ve touched your core and you have a certain confidence in what you are doing,” she said, “that’s what starts to determine your individual style.”
Anne Hughes’ work is currently on display at ZIA Gallery.