New York

Holly Hughes

Piezo Electric

Although strongly identified with the much heralded revival of figuration, the ’80s, I predict, will also be known for innovative abstraction. Approaches toward abstraction are changing, particularly among artists currently younger than their mid 30s. Compared to their colleagues who entered the art scene in the ’60s and ’70s, this group is generally less involved with spinning theories or elaborating formal dos and don’ts, and more interested in exploring and heightening the visual aspect of their art. A new sort of abstraction, which I would call sentient abstraction, has emerged, and it encourages associative viewing. This development provides the context within which the recent paintings of Holly Hughes should be approached.

The paintings feel remarkably full and complete. These are rare adjectives to use in discussing abstract art, but they are appropriate to the breadth and depth of sensations offered here. Hughes has a unique way of bringing colors and shapes together in allover compositions with perceptual force and emotive impact. Favoring rhythmical structures and both curved and jagged shapes, she creates in each painting a vivid illusion of movement attractive to the eye, and provides an entry point for closer and deeper considerations. Her deft control of linear, planar, and coloristic energy is responsible in no small degree for the appeal of the paintings as image, for their aggressive but never swaggering “I know who I am” attitude.

In Kamikaze, 1984, for example, white areas outlined in black balance red and yellow configurations and the surrounding blue gray ground, while tightening and intensifying structural tensions. This makes the painting reach out perceptually and impress emotively. The image’s startling vitality invites an atmospheric reading of the even surface, suggesting nature and the outdoors, and bringing out the organic qualities of the individual elements. While some viewers will be satisfied thinking of these paintings as sophisticated abstract landscapes, others will want to investigate them for emotional, psychological, and spiritual content. All three are present: the human need to get down to basics is the key to the universal dimension behind Hughes vision. While looking at Kamikaze can make you feel up and aware, its sensations of pictorial energy ultimately convey the positive power of the creative imagination.

Ronny Cohen