16 October 2014

Patrick Hughes: New Reverspectives: Flowers Gallery

Eye Level, Patrick Hughes, 2014

Still images really don't do justice to Patrick Hughes' paintings. They work by the viewer's movement and the encounter of vision in reality. At once a literal interpretation of what the artist calls reverse perspective, the illusion is that they are just optical illusions: what they reveal is the truth that vision itself is a series of illusions, and that we only think we see in true perspective.

Since the Renaissance and through to the advent of photography, our eye has been educated to imagine and interpret that what we see is truly represented in imagery. Hughes' constructions exemplify how much painting itself is a construct and highlights how bizarre it is that images are represented in merely two dimensions. Even the all-in-focus clarity plays on our visual assumptions: while real vision has areas of peripheral blur, Hughes' images stay in focus.

It is said that all visual imagery is received upside down in the brain, which turns it around in order to make sense. The brain sometimes does not quite know how to receive Hughes' images - there are points of transition, where depths and heights recede or come forward, and sometimes almost a feeling of motion sickness. Perhaps it is seeing itself which is inadequate - puny humans!

Patrick Hughes himself is celebrating his 75th birthday and a half century since he first devised his reverse perspective idea. That revelation is still fuelling new works and new sets of variations. Some artists develop over the years by evolving completely different styles of work and imagery, while others perfect and hone their core idea. Obsession is a characteristic highly prized in the arts, or at least is a home for it. If he was a writer, Hughes may have specialised in a particular genre, as it is, he has formed a character, stuck to it, and built up a considerable body of work and fans. Neither does Hughes muck about by subverting his own unique selling point and fixing what isn't broken: his works are consistent, recognisable and almost undatable, although more recent work includes more complexity of pictures within pictures.

At once complex and simple, everything is in plain sight, which makes the flitting between paradoxes even more remarkable. The series based on imaginary galleries, where Hughes quotes other artists and juxtaposes his own with their ideas, is both sophisticated and straightforward.

A sumptuously produced book displays the meticulous standards of painting. Some images recur - doors, books, buildings, especially of Venice. A Canaletto-type blue sky is almost universal in exterior and interior views - because it works. Essays and a catalogue of context add more ways of understanding and seeing the paintings. I imagine living with a Patrick Hughes work would be delightful and yet distractingly hypnotic.

Hughes himself is a great meet - charming, natty, energetic and full of naughty anecdotes, he agrees with the recent biography of David Hockney who at a similar age says he is just beginning his middle period.

Patrick Hughes
New Reverspectives
Flowers Gallery
Kingsland Road London
17th October - 22nd November 2014


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