Arthur Hughes

 

Member of Prince Street Gallery, New York City.

     Born in Vancouver in 1943 Arthur Hughes grew up in Ojai, California, from 1947 to 1960. Ojai attracted artists and art dealers, including the ceramicist Beatrice Wood, painters Gui Ignon, Gerd Koch and Irene Koch, Liam O’Gallagher and his companion Bob Rheem, sculptor Alice de Creeft, and dealer James Vigeveno. These were the ones he met through his mother and with Gerd Koch and Gui Ignon, had classes with. His older sister Kate lead the way in her multiple talents as dancer, batik painter, sculptor, and actress.

     In childhood Arthur’s parents were also friends with the Boston realist, later Abstract Expressionist, William H. Littlefield (1902-69). As a four-year-old, Bill’s sizable Falmouth, Massachusetts, studio was awe-inspiring; this to him was what it meant to be an artist; he was painting Arthur’s oldest sister’s portrait. In 1997 he took on a multi-year project of documenting the life and work of Littlefield. This has resulted in a detailed Littlefield chronology, exhibition history, and collectors’ list that also documents his relationship with Lincoln Kirstein, Monroe Wheeler, Eric Schroeder, and other participants in the homoerotic artistic underground, as well as his later years as Abstract Expressionist and secretary of The Club, the social and intellectual organization of Abstract Expressionists of the 10th Street scene.

     This effort led to the 2006 Littlefield retrospective at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, Massachusetts, with simultaneous companion shows at the Provincetown Art Association Museum and the Woods Hole Historical Museum. Arthur participated on panels devoted to Littlefield with photographer Fred W. McDarrah and curator James Bakker. From this exploration, Arthur felt as if he had studied under Littlefield, after the fact.

     In high school at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (1960 – 62) his art teacher Malcolm Brown, like Littlefield, had been a student of Hans Hofmann in the 1940s. In his classes, it was Hofmann technique that was taught. In the summer after graduating, Arthur took up landscape painting, at Malcolm Brown’s Taos home. From then on it was landscape that was most interesting to him.

     At Bard College (1962 – 67) Arthur’s teachers were the sculptor Harvey Fite; painters Anton Refregier, John CuRoi, and Louis Schanker; and art historian Hanna Dinehardt. This lead to a B.A. in art. Later at Hunter College in New York City in its masters in art program his instructors were the minimalist sculptor Tony Smith; Abstract Expressionist Ray Parker; and art historians/curators Eugene Goosens and Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr.

     But it was always the landscape and plein air experience itself, whether in California, the Southwest, or Cape Cod, that was and is the inspiration to work.

     After finishing his Hunter master’s thesis, which was based on interviews with artists like Louis Lozowick who had been in the John Reed Clubs in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, there seemed to be no place for painters doing what he was doing. At the time, the linear progression of art movement was in fashion. Pop Art, Op Art, and hard edge dominated the scene. The rising movement against the Vietnam War and social unrest among artists seemed much more compelling, and he dove into radical politics. At first it was with the Art Workers Coalition and an associated organization, MUSEUM: A Project of Living Artists. “Museum,” an artists’ organization, had a loft gallery on Broadway and Waverly Place and was the site of alternative shows, art auctions benefiting the antiwar movement organized by Ivan Karp and Ron Wolin, and meetings of the Art Workers Coalition and women, Black artists’, and Puerto Rican groups. The story of these times is recounted in Alex Gross’s book The Untold Sixties.

     In several of these groups Arthur collaborated with, and learned from, was James Gahagan, the abstract painter, Hofmann right-hand man, and teacher who was a friend until his death in 1999. And Boris Lurie.

     With the demise of Museum, Arthur was involved in the antiwar movement for a time, and eventually found myself working as a marine pipefitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the 1980s. This was followed by various copy editing jobs with Pathfinder Press, Konecky & Konecky, ARTnews, Red Book, and finally the American Society of Civil Engineers.

     In the mid-1990s photography became an obsession, especially large-format landscapes. This was followed by a renewed interest in landscape painting, which began with a 1991 trip to Canyon de Chelly with his longtime friend John Cohen.

     In October 2007 he was voted in as a member of the Prince Street Gallery, which with two other long-standing co-op galleries is at 530 W. 25th Street, New York City. He is gallery Secretary and on its Board.

Exhibitions

2013 Upcoming November 26 to December 27 “Menageries and Other Landscapes,” solo exhibition at the Prince Street Gallery. Reception Thursday November 28, 5 – 8 p.m.

2012 November to January 2013 two-person exhibition with Gui Ignon, Ojai, Calif. Exhibition at Beatrice Wood Art Center

2010 December solo exhibition Prince Street Gallery

2010 “Alternative Histories” exhibit at Exit Art. Interviewee on MUSEUM: a Project of Living Artists.

2005-2007 annual August small works invitationals Blue Mountain Gallery, New York City

2005 “Delusional Landscape,” Hebrew Tabernacle Congregation Art Gallery, Washington Heights, New York City

2003 “Landscapes” two-artist show with sister Kate Hughes Rinzler, Market 5 Gallery, Washington, D.C.

2002 “Eastern Landscapes” two-artist show with sister Kate Hughes Rinzler, Studio Channel Islands Art Center, California State University C.I., Camarillo, Calif.

2001 “Delusional Landscape” paintings and prints, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.

Education

 

1970 M.A., painting and art history, Hunter College of CUNY. Written thesis, on the John Reed Club artists of the 1930s

1968 Columbia University graduate program in art

1967 B.A., painting, Bard College

Art-related employment

  • Copy editor, Konecky & Konecky art – book publishers
  • Copy editor, ARTnews magazine

Thoughts on my painting, October 2007
There are so many subjects — story lines — to pursue in my painting that I don’t have enough time to investigate them all. Even though it is later in the game for me as an artist, I am not repeating myself and feel there are ample stories to tell. It is a matter of devoting the necessary time to develop them into completed works, each one of them very different from the previous one. The variety of imagery has broadened recently, moving away from “landscapes” into more “head” pieces, work less referential than landscape and incorporating figurative elements and more flexible use of space and volume.
Some have said that my work is illustration. But more than illustration, it is a willingness to risk saying something about an internal life, and to make work that is completely accessible across cultural and class lines: I hope to catch the attention of the most working-class of viewers. This is what makes the work akin to Outsider art. There is always the likelihood that people don’t like what I am saying, find it naieve, adolescent even, but at least it isn’t obscure.
There are obvious references to an internal visual life that is brought out into the open through the image. Much of this is revealed in the process of painting itself. Ideas are suggested in the work in progress and brought out and made explicit. If there is a suggestion of an animal, figure, or face, it is made explicit, recognizable to the viewer. Often the painting is begun en plein air as a landscape, spending at least a whole day in one spot but then working in images and ideas not present in the actual landscape. A narrative element is developed in the “landscape” such that it tells a story, often a personal one and sometimes incorporating elements from photos I have taken. Other paintings begin as random sketches from the mind, even from scribbling or a kind of automatic drawing, which is then transformed into a developed image with a story to tell. Some of the resulting incorporated imagery is reminiscent of what the Surrealists did. There is an invitation to the viewer to take a close look at the detail to discover the narrative.

I like imaging my hand holding a pen as if it were a stylus on a plotter, keeping it moving back and forth and watching and modifying the result, an obsessive building up of detail to obtain an overall composition and effect. This parallels the obsessive and repetitive technique of many Outsider artists, some of whom were mentally ill and occupied their minds by bringing out into the world the internal circling around and around. Functioning like a stylus, or a stippler, adds an element of passivity in the process. It also permits endless adjustment in the image. And using 500 lb watercolor paper allows for sculpting form through sanding down and reworking objects such that they gain three-dimentionality, especially towards the completion of the work. Some of the more accidental parts of the image are started with flooding the paper with gum arabic and applying ground pigment directly to the paper, giving a pastel-like quality.
Figures and objects are “pounced” into the painting, a technique used by art forgers such as Eric Hebborn, an artist hero.
A goal is to get a painting to a point where every small change impacts the whole composition; changing a color area slightly brings it into line with all other parts of the painting. Or adding a small figurative element, a person walking a path for example, adds a space and meaning out of proportion to the size of the change. I seek to make lines in the work have a life and interest in itself.


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