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Simon Hughes Blue Period (Ode to Joy)

Works in the exhibition

Division Gallery is proud to present Winnipeg-based artist Simon Hughes’ second solo exhibition with the gallery.

Simon Hughes’ paintings spiritedly retool geometric and hard edge abstraction. Hughes layers colours with a meticulous masking process, working through addition rather than reduction. With a hand as stringent as it is playful, the artist explores the role figuration played in mid-century abstraction, paying particular attention to landscape painting as well as design and advertising in this context. In Cold Theory, a recessive arrangement of blue quadrilaterals is a wink to Josef Albers’ Homage to a Square. If Albers sought purity of form and experience of colour, then Hughes underscores our inability to halt form and color from reaching association, with the gradient blues suggesting gelid temperature and self-reflexively pointing to the artist’s signature banded glaciers. 

For this latest exhibition, Hughes focuses on the recessive and expansive quality of his paintings. Studio scenes depict windows framing Canadian vistas, landscapes are displayed as wall hangings that cascade like tessellations—insular framing allows the wilderness to find refuge within the domestic, and paintings to display paintings of their own. And while referentiality continuously folds onto itself, Hughes’ also adds references that act like hints, pointing the viewer away and outwards. Though Seaman’s Quarters includes a porthole with a view of Hughes’ recognizable arctic peak, it displays alongside it a tribal mask, the sort appropriated by the cubists to invent their fragmented plains, a style exultantly taken up by Hughes.

Finally, these pictorial works are complimented by Hughes’ new time-lapse video, Homage to Charles Schulz. The video sees keys on a toy baby grand piano played by languidly melting icicles. Concerning himself with the intersection where high-brow and popular culture meet, Hughes nostalgically turns to a revelatory moment in Peanuts where Charles Schulz's text was replaced with virtuosic musical notation appearing over Schroeder hunched at his piano. The crossing of hierarchies is here imagined as stage for new forms of theatricality beyond category.

For more information on the artist