Luminaries of our Times – Patrick Hughes

STIR speaks with some of the greatest icons of our times – the sculptured paintings by 80-year-old Hughes are paradoxes that enthrall the viewer visually and intellectually.

by Sonal Shah Published on : Apr 13, 2020

Caught unawares, the movement of the buildings in the colourful artwork startled me as I walked past. I just had to retrace my steps to view the relief again. That moment has remained etched in memory together with a line of Arthur Koestler’s – the defeat of habit by originality. (The Art of Creation, 1964)

Patrick Hughes posing with his painting | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
Patrick Hughes posing with his painting Image Credit: Courtesy of Ode to Art gallery, SIngapore

Encountering Patrick Hughes’ 3D reliefs for the first time is most definitely an enigmatic and surreal experience. The paintings tend to be geometric constructs protruding towards the viewer, which appear flat when seen straight on, but reveal their multi-dimensionality and create an illusion of movement when, “the person moves their head”. Typically the British artist works on architectural scenes, vibrantly coloured, with no human figures in it.

A life-long fascination for verbal and visual paradoxes, illusion, and perspective led Hughes to invent an optical illusion – reverspective or reverse perspective. He explains, “The illusion is made possible by painting the view in reverse to the relief of the surface, that is, the bits that stick farthest out from the painting are painted with the most distant part of the scene”. So amazing is this reverspective that it has become the subject of scientific studies on the psychology of perception.

Reverspective, 1996, hand painted multiple with Archival Inkjet | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
Reverspective, 1996, hand painted multiple with Archival Inkjet Image Credit: Artwork © Patrick Hughes; Courtesy of Ode To Art gallery, Singapore

Interviewing him provided me this riveting glimpse into his magical wonderland.

Here are the edited excerpts…

Sonal Shah (SS): I saw your work in Mumbai almost a decade ago and was fascinated with the feeling of movement that you were able to create. One just had to stop, move, return. Your early works are regular paintings. How did you arrive at this amazing concept of “forced perspective”?

Patrick Hughes (PH): With my earlier works like 'The Space Ruler' and 'The Endless Snakes', I had good ideas that attempted to tell people about paradox. However, in 1964, I desired to make a solid space that enabled the viewer to personally experience a paradoxical relation between the self and the artwork. That inspired me to make my first ‘reverspective’ work in 1964, and my subsequent reverspectives are thus variations on this deep theme.

Bookends, hand-painted multiple with Archival Inkjet, 2019 | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
Bookends, hand-painted multiple with Archival Inkjet, 2019 Image Credit: Courtesy of Ode To Art gallery, Singapore

SS: Please give us a peak into the entire creative process, from conceptualisation to completed painted work.

PH: The first stage of the process is making a wooden shape, according to my system of angles, which I worked out a long while ago. The shape of the work comes first before the images or visual puns. The creative process, subsequently, includes a digital workflow, to squeeze images like Venice into my envisioned perspective.

It typically takes the studio six weeks to complete a piece, and I am assisted by five assistants in my creative process.

The Domestic Life of the Rainbow, screen print on paper, 1979 | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
The Domestic Life of the Rainbow, screen print on paper, 1979 Image Credit: Artwork © Patrick Hughes; Courtesy of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

SS: What were some of the triggers that led to your most successful creations? When was your first exhibition? Your first painting sale?

PH: The art of Rene Magritte and MC Esher is humorous and witty, and has inspired me throughout my career. I suppose, therefore, that discovering these artists was a key trigger in helping me discover my artistic vision, and subsequently leading to my successful creations.

Perhaps the first artwork I ever sold was of Liquorice allsorts in 1960. I was thrilled to have sold my first work, while also humoured by the buyer’s mutual love of the delicious confections.

Robot, 2015, hand painted multiple with Archival Inkjet | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
Robot, 2015, hand painted multiple with Archival Inkjet Image Credit: Artwork © Patrick Hughes, Courtesy of Ode To Art gallery, Singapore

SS: What is a typical working day?

PH: I get up at 6.30 and have a huge breakfast: the world's biggest bowl of porridge with fruit and yogurt, and an hour later I go down to the studio and make tea and coffee for my team. Then I doodle about, doing my work – designing and thinking, while during my day I am also often corresponding with Ode To Art and other galleries. At 12.30 I go upstairs and have lunch with my wife Diane Atkinson, who is usually writing somewhere else in the building. Lunch is the last meal I have, as I will get woken up by indigestion if I eat dinner in the evening. I stop working at five and read for a few hours, and then head to bed. I read biographies, a lot of science stuff, and it’s almost  always something about perception or perspective.

  • Brick Door, screen print on paper, 1964 | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
    Brick Door, screen print on paper, 1964 Image Credit: Artwork © Patrick Hughes; Courtesy of Tate UK
  • Infinity, screen print on paper, 1976 | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
    Infinity, screen print on paper, 1976 Image Credit: Artwork © Patrick Hughes; Courtesy of Tate UK

SS: A career high point you would like to share. A big learning in your career.

PH: A career high would definitely be having my work acquired by private collectors, and public collections including the Tate Modern, as well as galleries such as Ode To Art representing me. It is always a delight to see people appreciating my works and finding joy in them, and this support means the world.

Sunscrapers, 1980, Aquatint | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
Sunscrapers, 1980, Aquatint Image Credit: Artwork © Patrick Hughes; Courtesy of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

SS: With a career spanning so many decades, you have witnessed many changes, styles. How has this influenced your thinking?

PH: Classical understandings of perspective developed by Filippo Brunelleschi in the 14th century and Forced perspective in the 18th century definitely influenced my thinking on the subject, and paved the way for me to develop my own reverspective concept in the 20th century.

Having seen many different styles develop during the course of my career, their influence often presents itself in my works. I enjoy borrowing recognisable imagery from artists such as Robert Indiana’s ‘LOVE’ or Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark’ and inserting it into my reverspectives. I see this as a satirical venture, that enhances audience engagement through their sighting of recognisable images and symbols in my works.

SS: What impact would AI have on your process of work?

PH: Computer software like Photoshop have already helped my process immensely. In the old days if I wanted to use buildings in a reverspective, they were necessarily simple and repetitive. But with Photoshop, I can also scan a Venetian palazzo and scan one of my perspectival trapezoids into Photoshop so that the computer accommodates the two together, and the resulting scan looks as if it had already been seen from that point of view. It also enables me to try out new ideas, make collage sketches and incorporate any imagery like graffiti, sculpture and furniture.

While I can’t say for sure how AI would impact my process, I suppose it would be along the same vein in helping to assist and streamline my creative process, which in itself has a degree of technicality.

In and Out, hand-painted multiple with Archival Inkjet, 2019 | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
In and Out, hand-painted multiple with Archival Inkjet, 2019 Image Credit: Courtesy of Ode To Art gallery, Singapore

SS: What is on your drawing board now? Any new books you are planning?

PH: I am not telling; you will have to wait and see!

SS: What advice would you give to the current generation of artists.

PH: It is my personal belief that emerging artists must think not of themselves, as they do, or of their audience, as they do, but of the disciplines of visual rhetoric and composition in its widest sense, in order to reach a wide audience.

02 mins watch Perplexing Perspectives of Patrick Hughes | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
Perplexing Perspectives of Patrick Hughes Video Credit: Courtesy of Ode To Art gallery, Singapore

Five quick questions:- 

SS: Elements in your studio that you cannot live without.

PH: Saws, brushes and easels. While the studio is considered to be rather tidy, we have tons of these items as they are essential in the creative process.

SS: If not an artist, would you rather have been something else?

PH: I had actually intended to become an English teacher! However, my favourite authors included Eugene Ionesco, Franz Kafka and Lewis Carroll, and after I was told at training college that we would be studying the Brontë’s, Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, I decided to leave that career path behind and instead decided to pursue art.

SS: Name five people you would love to have with you at your dinner table.

PH: I would love to have MC Escher and Rene Magritte at my table, as I feel these two individuals have taught me the most through books of their pictures, books about their pictures and how they made them.

Paul Klee is someone I think I’d get along well with. Aside from being one of my early influences, he is as childish as I am, and as funny and comic as I am.

As previously mentioned, Franz Kafka and Eugene Ionesco are some of my favourite writers, and I would thoroughly enjoy having the opportunity to discuss their works with them. 

SS: Your favourite colour.

PH: Blue.

SS: A book you think everyone should read.

PH: The book I have recommended most to people is Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household. It is a classic thriller about an Englishman's attempt to assassinate a foreign dictator.

Palazzina, 2019, hand painted multiple with Archival Inkjet | Patrick Hughes | STIRworld
Palazzina, 2019, hand painted multiple with Archival Inkjet Image Credit: Artwork © Patrick Hughes; Courtesy of Ode To Art gallery, Singapore

Did you know? Patrick Hughes…

  • invented an optical illusion 'reverspective' or reverse perspective
  • Sticking Out Room, his first reverspective was created in 1964
  • has had over 150 solos worldwide, with the first being in 1961 in London
  • is permanently on exhibit at the Ode to Art gallery, Singapore
  • sold his first painting in 1960
  • has written 10 books, the latest being Patrick Hughes: A Newer Perspective (2018)
  • turned 80 in October 2019

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About Author

Sonal Shah

Sonal Shah

One of India’s premier floral artists and the creative conceptualiser of Bageecha, Sonal was also Founding Deputy Editor of ELLE DECOR India for 14 years. With a doctorate in Political Science, she continues to pursue various creative passions, including writing about art, design and nature-floral related topics.

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