If you haven’t seen HerStory, I highly recommend experiencing it for an art “high”. This annual juried online exhibition of women artists curated by Renee Phillips, showcases high quality art in a wide variety of styles and mediums. Phillips has been dedicated to presenting this show annually, as well as other venues for artists for over three decades. Here is a link to the 2019 exhibition.
I am honored whenever Renee invites me to participate, to select my favorite artwork from the show for an award, which fortunately has happened several times in the past. There are so many high-quality submissions it is quite the challenge. Reviewing the superb selections is very enjoyable and adds to my familiarity with contemporary women artists.
For this year’s prospectus, my Special Recognition Award was described as follows:
“I am looking for an image that has presence, something with immediate visual appeal and impact, along with a sense of daring and originality from the artist. In summary, something of the unexpected.”
While previewing the exhibition in search of my award pick, a thought occurred to me about what makes an artwork great. As I looked at the images I found myself attracted to those works which in the first microsecond of viewing would hit me in the gut. I feel a great artwork activates our senses and emotions, brings up personal interpretations and captivates us with its presence. After the immediate impression, I can then intellectualize using critique analysis. This second way of perceiving art can add understanding of how the components are used, yet it is the immediate gut response that I feel truly indicates a successful work. I found this in Amy Hughes painting Encased. It is riveting in all aspects.
Encased, oil on canvas, 30” x 30”, Amy Hughes
My visit to Hughes’ website was rewarding. There I found her latest painting series including Encased along with other equally engaging works based on the female body as it relates to art history and contemporary visual culture. Each painting in this series is skillfully accomplished to the “T”, emotionally impregnated, riveting to the gaze, provocative and timely. Great images – irrespective of content, style or medium – will connect us to our experience of being human. Hughes accomplishes this brilliantly by transforming intimate, personal imagery to the universal. Only a master can create a series of works where each is as strong as the next. I congratulate Hughes for reaching this mature place of achievement. I look forward to following this artist and her future works.
As long as Hughes has been making art, her work has focused on feminist aspects and especially the female body. In her undergrad program she concentrated on full figure realistic painting using oil. She was heavily influenced by the work of Jenny Saville, and started painting a variety of bodies, including transgender. Now she uses her own body, taking self-portraits and working loosely from those to transcend the photograph. Using herself as the model Hughes discovered, keeps the work more authentic. Working with someone else to pose for her would not result in the same expression of personal emotion.
Hughes continues to develop her theme in response to the political atmospheres in both US and England – more specifically, how the female has been presented in visual culture around us, throughout history and in the present.
While her medium oil, is a traditional option, she likes to combine both historic and contemporary techniques. For example, she applies thin glazing layers of oil so light goes through, typically for areas to recede. Then she adds impasto applications for heavier paint areas to emphasize how light hits the form. She teaches these painting techniques at the New York Academy of Art.
Untitled, Salmon Fillet, oil on canvas. Even Hughes earlier paintings contain a core idea of feminism. In this early still life Hughes uses a piece of fish as a surrogate for the female body, strategically positioning it on the plate for a subtle reference to feminism. Using symbols for the female body Hughes found she was able to pull a different audience into the work.
Hughes was born in England, spent several childhood years in Moscow attending an American school there, then came to New York City for her MFA. After graduating, Hughes decided to stay, for she had found a sympathetic artistic community there. Hughes discovered that US galleries (in particular NYC and the west coast) are more open to her work then in England, where art audiences are less receptive to representational work.
An interesting tidbit from our conversation, though not on her website, had to do with a series of coincidences around the Royal Family. While working towards her MFA at the New York Academy of Art, Prince Charles, a patron of the Academy, awarded Hughes the Prince Of Wales Scholarship. The following year Princess Eugenie, a board member of the Academy, visited Hughes’ studio building for an event. Hughes, being British, found it amusing to have that connection twice to the Royal Family but only when in NYC!
And during our chat, Hughes shared another story with me on the topic of coincidences:
“Since I was fourteen years old, my favorite music is British “progressive-rock” and the band Muse, particularly their older music. I enjoyed going to their concerts and always listened to their music while I was painting. In 2012 I was painting & listening to the radio when they announced a competition to submit a question you would ask Muse. I submitted my question (which was the first and only radio competition I have ever entered) and a few days later I received a call that my question was chosen and they wanted me to come to London and meet them at the radio station and ask them my question for the radio, which I did. This ended up being the start of many strange coincidences. Since then I ran into them on the street where I live in NYC. I got picked out of the crowd to attend their after party (which I declined because I thought it was fake as I got picked out of 19,000 at Brooklyn Barclay’s Stadium). I was given their guitar picks after their show. And even more recently, I won a competition to attend an intimate concert at iheartradio. A groupie you may think, but no, this was all a series of fun coincidences.” – Amy Hughes