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Patrick Hughes | Reverspective


Born in 1939, Patrick held his first solo show in 1961 at the Portal Gallery, London. It was the first one-man show by a Pop Artist, though they were not even called that then. A few years later, Hughes made two seminal reverse perspective works, Infinity and Sticking-out Room. In the 1970s Hughes’ name became synonymous with rainbow paintings, which also became very popular as prints and as postcards; people enjoyed them as decoration, but for Hughes the rainbow represented a solid experience.

I thought there was room for a paradoxer in art. Looking around I could see only René Magritte belonged to this tendency, although he used what I think of as a deplorably old-fashioned painting technique. With Klee and Steinberg, I thought that one should invent a newer way of representation, rather than paint pictures that look like poorly-painted photographs.

As a surrealist sympathiser, I have no faith in realism, or indeed in reality. Reality is much stranger than we think. I first became familiar with art through reproduction in books, often black and white reproductions. It does not occur to me that there is any great virtue to seeing the ‘real thing’. Magritte wrote on 27th September 1965 ‘I think … that the reproduction of a painting is good enough to find out what is interesting about it, just like a printed book gives us as much as the manuscript’.

Reminiscing about the early years Patrick Hughes writes; “For the first thirty years of my career I was looking for a single, reverberating image. My pictures then were aphoristic, highly-honed visual paradoxes. Each picture was an attempt to propose a solution to a problem of my own devising. But these pictures were me telling you things. In the second half of my career, starting in 1990, I decided to concentrate on reverspectives, which enable the see-er to experience paradox.”

In the late 1980s Hughes revisited exploiting the difference between perspective and reverspective and solidifying space. Whimsical, visually engaging, surprisingly familiar, Patrick Hughes’ wall reliefs are unusual hybrids of painting and sculpture, witty ruminations on the history of art, perspective and Surrealism. Playing with perspective, optical illusions, and figure-ground relationships the artist creates engaging tromp l’oeil sceneries that confound our senses. As the viewer moves around his carefully crafted paintings, the perspective of these “impossible objects” changes continuously inviting curious introspection. “When the principles of perspective are reversed and solidified into sculpted paintings something extraordinary happens; the mind is deceived into believing the impossible, that a static painting can move of its own accord.” Hughes explains

Hughes begins by constructing pyramid - or wedge-shaped blocks out of wood, which he combines into ridged panoramas. He then paints scenes into the blocks, depicting interior spaces—including museum galleries hung with iconic artworks—as well as landscapes and city views. What I do in my art is two-fold. I make the world not as it is but as it appears – in perspective. Then I put the planes together the wrong way round, insinuating that the vanishing point is not before us but behind us. The protruding parts of the works appear to recede, and the receding parts appear to protrude.

“Three very distinct pulses beat through Patrick Hughes’ work: perspective, paradox, and vision. These themes are in turn linked

conceptually by movement – namely the ‘moving experience’ of the viewer… Usually objects that are nearer the eye appear larger, while those further away look to be smaller. Hughes reverses this optical logic, creating a visual paradox – the far points of the picture are nearer than the near points, which are far away. Perspective in Hughes’ work is closer to what it is in life – not a rigid system of correct laws, but a spirit of looking creatively at things that move, be it the world, the past, or a picture.” (Excerpt from essay by John Slyce, from Perverspective, 1998)

Summing up his thoughts Patrick writes: “Humour added to high art is wonderful. It's the best thing that the art of the twentieth-century has done. Humour is tragedy elevated to the level of art! The wrong way around is more revealing. Tragedy is always the right way around, just worse. Humour is terribly important - Magritte's pictures are funny. Heraclitus' philosophy is funny. And the best teachers are terribly funny.”

Patrick Hughes lives and works in London and is widely recognized as one of the major painters of contemporary British art. He is also a designer, teacher and writer. His works are part of many public collections including: the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery, London; the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow; The Deutsche Bibliotheek, Frankfurt, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Denver Art Museum. Hughes has exhibited in London and throughout Europe, South East Asia, America and Canada. Books by Patrick Hughes include Vicious Circles and Infinity; Upon the Pun: Dual Meaning in Words and Pictures and More on Oxymoron. Perverspective, by John Slyce, is the most recent monograph published on his work.