Ronnie Hughes: Manifest 10 April – 31 May 2008
MCAC is delighted to host Manifest, presenting new work by International Northern Irish artist Ronnie Hughes. It is the third and final project in a new series of exhibitions entitled Beneath the Painted Surface curated by Megan Johnston. Beneath the Painted Surface, is a series of three exhibitions that investigate the liminal (i.e. thresholds, boundaries and borderlines) and subliminal elements in the medium of painting. Three Northern Irish contemporary artists have been selected because their practice engages with these issues. Through these exhibitions, MCAC aims to provoke contemplation, dialogue and debate about the formal readings of the painted surface — colour, line, perspective and narrative. We will also engage with the artist to incite deeper examination of painting in historical, modern and post-modern eras.
Manifest is a body of new work springing from the artist’s time at the Albers’ Foundation in Conneticut in 2006 and by a further visit to the Vermont Studio Centre. These two intense residencies allowed for Hughes to develop new ideas within his practice, focusing particularly on drawing. This can be seen in the current work, with the intimacy and the quiet ‘slowness’ of the New England drawings, and stands in contract to the brashness of much of contemporary art practice. It is through this intimacy that Hughes’ engages with the boundaries between the liminal and subliminal elements of painting, finding new and undiscovered areas of investigation.
In his illuminating essay ‘From the Stars to the Studio’, art critic Barry Schwabsky superbly elucidates the liminal and subliminal elements found in Hughes’ work. Schwabsky quotes Richard Wollheim’s ‘ “seeing-in”—the capacity for two-fold seeing whereby one can see simultaneously the physical characteristics of some marks on a surface, and what those marks add up to a picture. The painter’s way of looking teaches all of us that the best way of seeing a painting is to see it in two ways at once: to see what is there, and to see what might be there’.
Schwabsky sees this notion in relation not just to representational art but also abstraction. ‘What I have in mind is painting that is not hardcore ‘non-representation’ (or “concrete art,” as its continental proponents often used to call it) in which there would ideally exist no reference to any non-artistically-formed reality, but also not “abstracted from” reality in the manner of analytic cubism. Because his paintings do not fit into such models of abstraction, Hughes has even gone so far as to deny what might seem to be obvious, that his work is abstract. But there is still another sense of abstraction, and it is in this other realm that Hughes’s work takes form, I believe, and it is for this reason that it is particularly helpful to view his paintings with the sidereal dominion in mind’.
There are not many opportunities for artists to have a visual ‘white box’ in which they can create. MCAC prides itself on the ability to encourage the idea of offering artists the freedom to push the boundaries of their own practice. MCAC has long been interested in the creation of new bodies of work that engages with the gallery space, embracing the large open vastness of our gallery spaces. The Beneath the Painted Surface series encourages the selected artists to do so. In response, Hughes has mastered the space, light and environs to suit the work, not the other way around. His new work is masterfully sublime and unabashedly uncompromising in its effect, demands of the viewer an interaction that draws out both a cerebral challenge but also an emotional wrenching— liminal and subliminal reactions respectively. In doing so, Hughes epitomises this project.
This project has been made possible with Lottery funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, who continue to support the commissioning of new work and supporting high-quality art by Northern artists. MCAC and the artists are indebted to their support. Additionally, the Craigavon Borough Council also supported the project through partnership funding.
Ronnie Hughes was born in Northern Ireland in 1965 he lives and works in Sligo, Ireland. He earned an MA in Fine Art from the University of Ulster 1989 and then spent a one-year in residency in New York (PS1, 1990-91), 3-month residencies at Banff Arts Center, Canada (1994) and Bemis Arts Center, Nebraska (1997). In 2006 he spent two months at the ‘Joseph & Anni Albers Foundation’ in Connecticut and one month working at the Vermont Studio Center.
Exhibition Catalogue Available