Rising art star Sara Hughes opens a solo exhibition at the Bartley Nees Gallery next week [October 11] with a dazzling body of new paintings which tease the boundary between the technological and the hand-made. Resembling large glossy brightly coloured screen savers, these canvases, with their titles referencing computer viruses, celebrate the slow process of painting and in a world of speed corrupt notions of space, technology and older ideas of modernist purity.
2005 has been quite a year for Hughes who has won New Zealand’s two top art awards and completed a major commission for the sculpture terrace at Te Papa. In September, she won the prestigious Wallace Art Award with a prize of $35000 cash and a residency in Britain with airfares included. Earlier in the year she was the Norsewear painting award winner. She also appeared on the cover of the winter edition of the Art News magazine.
While Hughes paintings appear at first glance to be vinyl, referencing the material often used in her large-scale installation work such as that currently showing at Te Papa, close examination reveals the brush stoke. The surfaces are built up using many layers of acrylic paint and varnish directly on linen. This is painting that slows the creation of space to the pace of a brushstroke
Hughes says the paintings explore relationships between time and space.
"The paintings relate to notions of spatial experience. They ask us to question our understanding of a world that has become dominated by speed and desire for information. A place where space has accelerated beyond the horizon into a floating swarm of fragmented facets. Cyberspace is not a physical space, there are no coordinates of length, height, or depth, it exists only in time.
My new work considers these possibilities. Each painting creates a sense of a multiplying environment, like a captured section of an infinite piece of data or code. I aim to create a space that is not grounded by the horizon but is shifting and imploding into a multitude of perspectives.
All the works utilize an iterating format of squares, yet there is a subversive nature to the grid of squares that have been stretched and squeezed out of there formal constrains as though attacked by infection. Computer virus names allude to mutations of data that are spreading and replicating.
Hughes career has developed rapidly in the past four years. After graduating from Auckland University with a Master of Fine Arts in 2001, she spent 2003 painting full-time in Dunedin as the 2003 Frances Hodgkins Fellow. Her work was included in the major review of contemporary art Telecom Prospect 2004 at City Gallery Wellington and her selection to develop new work for the second only installation in Te Papa’s sculpture terrace was great recognition of her talent.
The Te Papa work Wish you were here is a site-specific work using the existing structure of the terrace balcony and its glass panels. It includes small viewing slots randomly cut out of the vinyl to offer 'postcard' views of Wellington Harbour, the city and surrounds. The dramatically coloured and encompassing installation alters the nature of this view, asking the viewer to interact with the work in order to look out from the confines of the museum into the harbour.