Simon Hughes The Central Region

Works in the exhibition

Simon Hughes is a master of that most unforgiving of media, watercolour. Turning convention on its head, Hughes uses watercolour in unexpected ways. For his series on the northern lights, represented in this exhibition by the epically scaled five-panel painting, Orange County, Alberta, Hughes uses a labour intensive masking process that enables him to paint geometric shards that recall early abstraction. Within these hard-edge forms, the transparency and spontaneous flow of colour characteristic of watercolour evokes the shimmering brilliance of the aurora borealis. Below this celestial vision is a stylized mountain landscape populated with images of generic suburban homes cut from real estate flyers. Inspired by hillside planned communities in southern California as well as the landscape affected by the recent floods in Alberta, Hughes captures the tension between natural and human-made worlds.

The northern lights theme and the artist’s fondness for early Modernism surface again in the large (94 x 27 inches) watercolour, John Graham’s Mural “Northern Lights” (1963, mosaic tile, aluminum and acrylic) at the Winnipeg International Airport (now destroyed). This painting is a scale replica of a much admired sculpture that was dismantled in the name of progress (a new airport). The three-panel painting Red Studio also makes reference to history of Modernism, in a creative meditation on Matisse’s Red Studio of 1911, as well as the larger tradition of paintings of artists’ studios.

Other watercolours feature Hughes’s ongoing exploration of an idiosyncratic range of subjects including ice shards, geometry, pop psychology and children’s drawings, all rendered in his astonishing virtuoso technique.

The show will also include Bicycle, a video installation featuring digitized 1970s 8mm footage of a family’s attempt to turn a bicycle into a flying machine. Their quirky escapades evoke the flights of the Wright Brothers, thus making a link between this film and the formative period of early Modernism to which Hughes is so drawn. 

For more information on the artist