Critics’ Picks

Anna Hughes, Lights Out, 2012, oil and yarn on linen, 27 1/2 x 20”.

Anna Hughes, Lights Out, 2012, oil and yarn on linen, 27 1/2 x 20”.


Anna Hughes

Via XX Settembre 67
February 28–April 14, 2012

English painter Anna Hughes’s current solo show in Verona is titled “Waypoint,” but it could just as easily be called “Turning Point,” since it signals a rather significant step forward in her work. The artist’s basic ambition remains the same—to interpret the atmospheres of a certain type of romantic landscape painting from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through the lens of a contemporary sensibility. Her predilection for creating easel paintings in oil on canvas also remains unchanged. The new works, however, indicate a decisive move toward abstraction. While her earlier works were clearly figurative—romantic scenes disturbed by incongruous presences, in the manner of Christopher Orr—the more recent canvases depict only cloudy skies in which the figuration is often at the point of dissolving into mere stains. Moreover, the painter has begun to intervene on the canvas by stitching small triangles and straight lines that cut her pictures in two like horizons, all bringing the materiality of the works to the fore and further weakening their illusion of depth. From this practice arise the most surprising works of the show, plain canvases on which the artist’s only intervention is the said stitching, in parallel lines or other minimal geometric shapes. This move might seem bizarre on Hughes’s part but is in fact consistent with her overall artistic practice, which emphasizes the sophisticated and, as Leonardo might have put it, “mental” nature of painting as anything but a reproduction of reality. Here Hughes echoes the ways in which the romantic poetics of the sublime have often been interpreted in twentieth-century painting—not in the form of figuration, but in terms of radical abstraction, as in research into the monochrome. These abstract works introduce a new level of complexity and challenge to Hughes’s work, and we await further developments with curiosity.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore