Patrick Hughes Art: A Visual Paradox
Ask Patrick Hughes to define his art and he would admit that there is a sense of humor underlying everything he does. An artist committed to creating pieces that challenge what we see, Patrick Hughes artwork aims to communicate how easily we are often misled by first impressions. With a career spanning 50 years, during which he has both created art and published several books, Patrick Hughes shows no signs of slowing down.
The Early Years
Patrick Hughes was born in Birmingham in 1939. When he entered Leeds Day Training College in the late 1950s, he originally had plans to study for a career in writing. However, after excelling in an art class, he later moved his focus from English to art.
Patrick Hughes’s fascination with paradoxes and optical illusions came from his early childhood during WWII. Sheltered from German bomber planes, Hughes would often sleep in a cupboard under his grandparents’ stairs.
Looking up at the stairs while laying in bed, Hughes would notice the peculiarity of looking at them from the wrong way around, that is, the reversal of their former selves. This left a lasting impression in his mind about perception and the way humans relate to physical objects.
At the beginning of his career, Hughes’s work largely featured rainbows and was popularized as prints and postcards. However, Hughes’s rainbows were created without any dreamlike or romantic intention and were meant to serve as subversive symbols of paradoxical beauty.
They were hard-edged, leaning against walls, and emerging from boxes. In fact, Hughes’s early rainbow art exemplified the same qualities that have consistently been on display for the entirety of his career: the paradoxical, the absurd, the magical, and the poetic.
In exploring these ideas in his art, Hughes coined the term “reverspective”, an optical illusion on a three-dimensional surface where the parts of the picture which seem farthest away are actually physically the nearest.
The first work that Hughes created that featured reverspective was Sticking out Broom in 1964. Since then he has created a number of 3D reverspective pieces, each one a thoughtful tribute to the history of art, perspective, and Surrealism.
Most of the paintings feature key elements such as rectilinear forms: gallery walls, buildings, books, doorways, and works of art, all of which serve to ground the effects of reverspective.
Explore Hughes’s full reverspective collection here.
Creating The Illusion
With Hughes’s subjects focusing on perspective and space, the process of creating his artworks is detailed and meticulous. Patrick himself plans the design and initial sketches while his assistants aide with painting.
The wooden shapes that jut out of the picture, adding dimension to the piece are actually wooden dioramas. These are constructed from wedge-shaped blocks of wood, the interiors of which are painted with enigmatic scenes like Venice views or inspired imagery from other iconic artists like Magritte or Banksy.
One of Patrick Hughes’s philosophies with regards to his work is that what he makes must involve the viewer; make them laugh, cry, or move them to feel something. He compares the changing perspectives and seemingly ever-moving nature of his artwork to life itself.
“Every time you walk away from a picture you think oh this is just a bit of painted wood sticking out, but when you come closer and you relate to it, it comes alive. That’s the exciting thing, to make something that comes alive. Life has always been like trying to put your finger on a bit of mercury, once you put your finger on it, it squirts away from you.”
With a successful lifelong career, Patrick Hughes art has had more than 150 solo exhibitions over the course of his life. Unencumbered by the time-consuming nature of his art, he has also written four books investigating the subjects that serve as themes for his art, the latest being 2011’s Paradoxymoron: Foolish Wisdom in Words and Pictures. His concept of reverspective is the subject of scientific papers on the psychology of perception, by Rutgers University’s Laboratory of Vision Research.
Widely recognized as one of the major painters of contemporary art, his works are part of many public collections including the British Library, the Tate Gallery, and the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow. Patrick Hughes lives and works in London.