Shara Hughes in the Studio
Studio Visit

Shara Hughes in the Studio

By Annabel Downes | Zurich, 12 June 2024 | Artists

When you next enter an artist's studio, look down at the floor. Not to the shoes on your feet, but to the peeling lino or the splintered floorboards beyond as, more often than not, they paint a pretty clear picture of the artist that paces them.

Cerulean blue, canary yellow, scarlet red; violet, tangerine, that sickly green you thought only existed in highlighter pens: such are the clues we can glean from the floor of this light-filled, third-floor studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Shara Hughes doesn't do dark colours.

'I prefer to be generous: generous with colour; generous with mark-making,' she tells us. 'It brings an openness to interpretation that you can't quite capture with darker shades.'

Shara Hughes Studio Visit.

Shara Hughes Studio Visit. Courtesy Ocula. Photo: Charles Roussel.

Hughes is standing in front of Cover Me in Darkness (2024), a two-and-a-half-metre painting of an ultramarine tree rooted on a riverbed where that sickly highlighter green ripples through a sunlit pool of water. It's the last, and arguably darkest, in a series of landscape paintings for her solo exhibition Tree Farm at Galerie Eva Presenhuber on Waldmannstrasse, Zurich (7 June–20 July 2024).

'However, there is also something about covering up, not giving too much away, that interests me,' she pauses. 'Sometimes, it's nice to close in.'

That Cover Me in Darkness is the last painting visitors encounter in the show seems fitting: the work's soothing colours and sinuous forms seems light-years away from the almost-gaudy, chainsaw-like tree, Harder Core (2024), which kicks off the series.

After recently slipping a disc in her back, Hughes was put on bed rest for a week; a self-professed workaholic, she quickly became frustrated by her inability to go about her daily routine. Once her time in furlough was over, she immediately set to work on the Zurich show.

'I had so much energy that I just went at this painting,' she says, gesticulating at the harsh jagged lines tacking down Harder Core (2024). 'I didn't know what it was going to be about, but I just really let go. It feels both aggressive and energetic, which I love, but it also reminds me that I need to calm down.'

Hughes grew up in Atlanta, but spent time as a child on her family's pine tree farm in Western Georgia, from which the title of this exhibition derives. Her mother, Patti, was a nurse who worked for her father, Joe, a retired orthopaedic surgeon and amateur artist, who presents a selection of his own paintings alongside Hughes's works in the main gallery.

Shara Hughes, Harder Core (2024). Oil acrylic and dye on canvas. 254 x 127 cm. © Shara Hughes.

Shara Hughes, Harder Core (2024). Oil acrylic and dye on canvas. 254 x 127 cm. © Shara Hughes.

Initially, after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design (2004), and later Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2011), Hughes made paintings of domestic interiors—That's a Wall of Plants (2007), for example—deploying this format as a rubric for any subject that she wanted to depict, whether internal or external.

Soon, however, trees quickly replaced figures as the protagonists, with Hughes preferring that the canvas should 'belong' either to herself or to the viewer, rather than to the depicted human being that adorned it.

Eschewing the more obvious choice to render her 'Tree Farm' paintings in landscape format, Hughes tasks the white cube itself with the role of the landscape: each vertical canvas frames a single tree, some willowy, some spindly, yet all rendered in the artist's unmistakable signature palette.

This tactic marks a shift in the artist's practice. Earlier works, such as The Bridge (2020–21), for instance, were horizontal in format, allowing the eye to wander around the vegetation-dense landscapes or open meadows that framed each tree. Here, every spindly protagonist is barely contained within its hefty two-and-a-half by one-and-a-half metre canvas. And, where light—or context—does shine through, viewers would be hard pressed to identify that life beyond.

As one steps back to admire the paintings at scale in the artist's studio, you almost land in Hughes's latest venture: an army of tabletop ceramics modelling arboreal varieties, laid out across two wooden tables. There must be 40 or 50 of them, each less than 25 centimetres tall.

Shara Hughes Studio Visit.

Shara Hughes Studio Visit. Courtesy Ocula. Photo: Charles Roussel.

No two the same, they range from perforated stalagmite-type forms to multi-coloured fungal spores to the umbrella-shaped crown of a dragon blood tree—an extraordinary species, native to the Yemeni Island of Socotra, which I've gawked at while tumbling down an online, arboreal rabbit hole.

'While they each have their own brushstrokes and their own area that stands out,' reflects Hughes, picking up a sculpture resembling a tinsel-clad Christmas tree. 'As a whole, they come together to create this "Tree Farm"' environment that is reflected in the paintings.'

Hughes's paintings are, of course, as much about the artistic process as they are depictions of the natural world. These latest works underscore the artist's alchemical ability to create vertiginous depth through a clustering of acrylic daubs in a densely saturated palette while simultaneously harbouring light from a range of natural sources.

Landscapes such as Come and Get It (2024), for example, seem almost to sparkle from the moondust flecked across its deep violet sky, while Play More (2024) glints with white flakes of falling snow. Resilience (2024)—a smaller, squarer canvas—sees a red root reaching tall towards the sun, a subject to which Hughes has devoted many paintings and a number of shows.

Shara Hughes Studio Visit.

Shara Hughes Studio Visit. Courtesy Ocula. Photo: Charles Roussel.

This devotion brings to mind a strong lineage of female painters—including Hilma af Klint, Georgia O'Keeffe, Yayoi Kusama, and Judy Chicago—for whom the powerful symbol was absorbed into their everday practice.

'It's fascinating to me that the way we see colour is reflected in the sun—at different times of day, colours and light constantly change,' Hughes explained to Ocula. And standing in her light-filled studio on a blissful Sunday morning, with the sun beating down on the psychedelic wonderlands, you come to understand exactly where this fascination lies.

Main image: Shara Hughes Studio Visit. Courtesy Ocula. Photo: Charles Roussel.


Selected Artworks

Giddy by Shara Hughes contemporary artwork painting
Shara Hughes Giddy, 2023 Oil and acrylic on canvas
147.3 x 127 cm
David Kordansky Gallery
Request Price & Availability
No Way Out by Shara Hughes contemporary artwork painting
Shara Hughes No Way Out, 2023 Oil, acrylic on canvas
172.5 x 152.5 cm
Galerie Eva Presenhuber
Request Price & Availability
Wake Me When Its Over by Shara Hughes contemporary artwork painting
Shara Hughes Wake Me When Its Over, 2022 Oil, dye and acrylic on canvas
122 x 101.5 cm
Galerie Eva Presenhuber
Request Price & Availability
New Circles by Shara Hughes contemporary artwork painting
Shara Hughes New Circles, 2023 Oil and acrylic on canvas
121.9 x 101.6 cm
David Kordansky Gallery
Request Price & Availability
Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Follow Shara Hughes
Stay ahead.
Receive updates on new artworks,
exhibitions and articles.
Your personal data is held in accordance with our privacy policy.
Follow
Do you have an Ocula account?
Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Get Access
Join Ocula to request price and availability of artworks, exhibition price lists and build a collection of favourite artists, galleries and artworks.
Do you have an Ocula account? Login
What best describes your interest in art?

Subscribe to our newsletter for upcoming exhibitions, available works, events and more.
By clicking Sign Up or Continue with Facebook or Google, you agree to Ocula's Terms & Conditions. Your personal data is held in accordance with our Privacy Policy.
Thank you for joining us. Just one more thing...
Soon you will receive an email asking you to complete registration. If you do not receive it then you can check and edit the email address you entered.
Close
Thank you for joining us.
You can now request price and availability of artworks, exhibition price lists and build a collection of favourite artists, galleries and artworks.
Close
Welcome back to Ocula
Enter your email address and password below to login.
Reset Password
Enter your email address to receive a password reset link.
Reset Link Sent
We have sent you an email containing a link to reset your password. Simply click the link and enter your new password to complete this process.
Login