Michael Williams: New Paintings

Michael Williams: New Paintings

Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich

12 Oct 2019 to 21 Dec 2019

Galerie Eva Presenhuber presents the gallery’s third solo exhibition with Los Angeles-based artist Michael Williams.

Michael Williams
Fantastic Man, 2019 
Inkjet on canvas
249.5 x 145 x 3 cm / 98 1/4 x 57 1/8 x 1 1/8 in
© Michael Williams. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York. Photo: Marten Elder

In his exhibition, Williams shows several new paintings that further develop his oeuvre. Half of the works are large-scale inkjet paintings depicting portraits derived from photographs. To make these works, Williams first produces a small or medium-scale oil painting on canvas, which he considers a kind of study or, more aptly, something equivalent to a film photographer’s celluloid negative. These are then photographed and used as source material for the inkjet-printed paintings on view. Williams’ new works are preoccupied with the dialectic relationship between painting and photography, yet they seek to dishonor this very dialogue by stealing for themselves photography’s quality of cool detachment.

Michael Williams
How To Be A Man, 2019 
Inkjet on canvas
201.5 x 148 x 3 cm / 79 3/8 x 58 1/4 x 1 1/8 in
© Michael Williams. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York. Photo: Marten Elder

Williams is jealous of the photographer’s ability to indicate meaning in a subject without first having to work through the manifold and historically charged layers, as the painter does. This feeling of envy, however, is not simply an emotional state the artist is in; it is evidence of the complex relationship between the two media. Working in this new mode, Williams has found a strategy to mediate this jealousy. Painting as the “original,” and often higher valued, medium carries with it the baggage of art history and thus delivers meaning only through the aforementioned layers. Taking photos of “real” oil on canvas portraits, Williams appropriates the advantages of photography: a clean indication of the subject matter detached from the struggle of its creation, free of physical traces of his craftsmanship, and the physicality of a corpus made of pigment and canvas.

Michael Williams
Cool Macho Man in Nature, 2019 
Inkjet on canvas
225 x 165 x 3 cm / 88 5/8 x 65 x 1 1/8 in
© Michael Williams. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York. Photo: Marten Elder

In Williams’ photographed paintings all of this—the materiality, the artist’s decisions, the perceptual openness required of the viewer—is only a prerequisite, a negative of what is afterward photographed and printed. As a result, the smooth surface of the canvas, its industrial perfection frees this “negative” from its qualities as a painting—and at the same time from the historical baggage that seems to be required of a great painting. Rather than asking the viewer to parse through the medium, time, physicality, emotion, etc., the portraits are offered up fresh and clean: to be consumed, perhaps in a single bite.

Michael Williams
Southwest Computer, 2019 
Oil on canvas
287.5 x 222.5 x 3 cm / 113 1/4 x 87 5/8 x 1 1/8 in
© Michael Williams. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York. Photo: Marten Elder

Another effect of this new practice is an instantaneous confusion caused by the fact that the inkjet works are installed in juxtaposition to several of Williams’ large-scale Puzzle Paintings. Using his representational drawings as appropriated images, Williams works through an analog process of drawing and collage to produce the source images for his Puzzle Paintings. The finished canvases present a discontinuous whole and summon the fragmented nature of our contemporary everyday. Many of the Puzzle Paintings share a palette and method with the photographed paintings. Williams is seemingly uninterested in the viewer’s need to determine “which is which,” however, the viewer’s desire to make this distinction is inevitable. This somewhat awkward viewing process is among Williams’ chief concerns for the show.

Michael Williams
Diagonal Composition, 2019 
Oil on canvas
249.5 x 182 x 3 cm / 98 1/4 x 71 5/8 x 1 1/8 in
© Michael Williams. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York. Photo: Marten Elder

Though these works are highly conceptual, they bear a strong commitment to classical painting. Whether Williams composes his paintings on canvas or screen, they are informed by art history and pop-cultural iconography, whilst nonetheless leaving space for unexpected events to occur during the process. As a result, they emanate a sometimes ironic, sometimes funny tension that is always seductive to the eye.

Michael Williams
Perfect Painting, 2019 
Inkjet on canvas
231 x 174.5 x 3 cm / 91 x 68 5/8 x 1 1/8 in
© Michael Williams. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York. Photo: Marten Elder

Michael Williams was born in 1978 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He has exhibited widely at venues and institutions such as: Secession, Vienna; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; Ballroom Marfa, Marfa, TX; and the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow; The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, Montreal. His first solo show with Galerie Eva Presenhuber took place in 2014.

Tillmann Severin

CARROLL DUNHAM, RECENT PAINTINGS at GALERIE EVA PRESENHUBER, ZURICH

CARROLL DUNHAM, RECENT PAINTINGS at GALERIE EVA PRESENHUBER, ZURICH

JUN 09, 2019 – JUL 20, 2019
CARROLL DUNHAM
RECENT PAINTINGS
GALERIE EVA PRESENHUBER, ZURICH

Galerie Eva Presenhuber presents the gallery’s third solo exhibition of new paintings by the American artist Carroll Dunham. Since the 1980s, Dunham has developed his visual style while creating a significant oeuvre encompassing painting, drawing, print, and sculpture. Minimalist at the outset, his abstract but organic forms became increasingly concrete, depicting series of recurrent figures. One of them is a character with a phallus-like nose that wears a hat and a suit and appears to originate from 1950s crime stories. Later, Dunham was principally preoccupied with the motif of bathers and the lush landscapes surrounding them, as well as with single trees. The personages depicted sustained several changes but always stemmed from precursory forms in his work. As in the evolutionary thought that every being still bears the DNA of the very first microbes, every Dunham canvas bears the forms and brushstrokes of the works that came before.

Dunham’s nude forms have roots in minimalist language and primitivism as well as the pictorial vocabulary of comics. At the same time, one can discover references to famous motifs of art history, such as bathers, as well as to modern artists, including Matisse or Cézanne. While these references are important to Dunham’s practice, they do not form its core. While broadly informed by art history and referring to his own canon, his works are created foremost in the act of painting, in the space between the hand and the canvas.

In 2013, Dunham painted his first wrestlers, a subject that is unexpected enough in the context of his practice and subsequently with regard to his formal approach past and present. The works show two nude men, who closely resemble each other, trying to pin each other down in an ongoing brawl, neither seeming to prevail over the other. The only distinctions from work to work are the chokeholds and other dynamic postures in which one of the wrestlers temporarily overcomes the other. However, the bruised bodies implicate that neither gains the upper hand for long. Accordingly, the surrounding minimalistic landscapes featuring a single tree seem dateless and placeless. The timeless nature of these depictions can also be said for the motif itself: on the one hand, wrestling features in mythological narratives and often symbolizes two powers – good and evil – fighting each other, for example in the Iliad, in which Homer describes a duel between Odysseus and Ajax. On the other hand, wrestling refers to a biographical fact of Dunham’s real and not at all mythological childhood in Connecticut where he used to wrestle his brother. This begs the question of whether the two identical wrestlers are brothers or enemies – or both.

Formally, the wrestlers are related to Dunham’s bathers notwithstanding their gender: the bulging extremities, the spread out toes, the round buttocks, and the button-like nipples are all familiar features. The combination of white, yet bruised skin and black curly hair resembles the physiques seen in former works, thus exemplifying Dunham’s evolutionary practice in which each painting can be seen as a recombination and mutation of erstwhile works. Zoomed in details of the male wrestlers resemble the female bathers to a tee: a body jumping into water becomes a wrestler being forced into the air by another; female hair becomes a beard if placed onto the chin; and the tips of penises are nothing more than a round shape with a little dot in the middle, as in works where pink blobs with a black line represented vaginas. The potentially sexually charged motif of two naked men grappling is circumvented by the fact that the genitalia of both figures appears as innocuous as their big toes, in keeping with the underlying geometry of genital representations in Dunham’s work.

With regard to form, the acrobatic wrestling postures appear to be not only dictated by the question of what kind of positions wrestlers can take, but also by the painterly question of how a composition can be dynamic and simultaneously fill the canvas in a perfectly balanced way. In order to create this visual equilibrium, the wrestlers are accompanied by trees, clouds, the sun, and sometimes by quietly watching animals, such as origami-like birds or a small brown dog. No matter how out of control the fight, the compositions fill the canvas seamlessly in a near uncanny way. Finally, the works on show do not only depict varying stages of an endless fray, but they narrate a story: the last two canvases seen in the exhibition are titled Blue Ending and Red Ending. In these works, one wrestler defeats the other. In contrast to the playfulness in the other paintings, the fight has now taken a consequential turn. While in Blue Ending the inferior fighter could be knocked-out, in Red Ending the superior wrestler has gouged the other’s eyes out and holds his trophies up in a drastic victory pose. Losing one’s eyes is not necessarily fatal, but it would no doubt spell the end of painting, whether from the artist’s or from the viewer’s perspective. At the end of the day, the struggle is also about seeing and thus painting. However, in Dunham’s self-generating practice one ending can only be a new beginning. A catalogue with an essay by Naomi Fry will accompany the exhibition.

Carroll Dunham was born in 1949 in New Haven, CT, and lives and works in New York, NY. His first exhibition at Galerie Eva Presenhuber took place in 2014. His work is represented in major museums and private collections worldwide, including Albertina Museum, Vienna; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, LA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; Sammlung Olbricht, Essen; and Tate Collection, UK. Recent solo exhibitions include Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (2014); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2009); Millesgarden, Stockholm (2009); and Drammens Museum, Drammen (2006). Major institutional group exhibitions include Art Crush: Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO (2018); Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2017); Light/Dark, White/Black: Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA (2015); Pretty Raw: After and Around Helen Frankenthaler, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (2015); America is Hard to See, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2015); Des histoires sans fin, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva (2015); Painting 2.0: Expression in The Information Age, Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2015); and Disturbing Innocence, FLAG Art Foundation, New York, NY (2014).

Tillmann Severin

All images > Courtesy GALERIE EVA PRESENHUBER

My Garden of Eden – curated by Bob van Orsouw with many works of his collection at Galerie Christophe Guye, Zürich

My Garden of Eden – curated by Bob van Orsouw with many works of his collection at Galerie Christophe Guye, Zürich

My Garden of Eden
Galerie Christophe Guye, Zürich
9 May 2019 – 24 August 2019

Christophe Guye Galerie announces the new exhibition My Garden of Eden, curated by Bob van Orsouw. The exhibition includes well-known key works as well as more rarely shown works by various artists from Bob van Orsouw’s collection. Particularly noteworthy are Nobuyoshi Araki’s photographs, which present his ‘eroticizing’ gaze that extends to extremely sensual surfaces, the well-known ‘Tableaux’ by Jean-Marc Bustamante, both portraits of young people from a high school in Liverpool by Rineke Dijkstra, the experimental portraits by Loretta Lux, and the impressive architectural photographs by Frank Thiel. Further artists of the exhibition are Grazia Conti Rossini, Armen Eloyan, Gabriela Fridriksdottir, Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler, Klaas Kloosterboer, Paul McCarthy, Russ Meyer, Ernesto Neto, Julian Opie, Walter Pfeiffer, Thomas Ruff, Bernard Voïta, just to name a few. The exhibition is organised by Christophe Guye Galerie in collaboration with Bob van Orsouw.

On the occasion of the exhibition My Garden of Eden the art historian Tobia Bezzola interviewed Bob van Orsouw – curator and former gallery owner – and talked about the collaboration with the different artists:

TB: Where and how did you meet Nobuyoshi Araki for the first time?

BvO: That was 1995 when I was looking for a Japanese position in photography that I could include in my program. On the recommendation of “Camera Austria”, an Austrian magazine, I travelled to Japan. A former assistant of Araki introduced me to Japan. That was 25 years ago, and she still accompanies me and interprets. It was she who made it possible for me to get the prints and organise the transport.

TB: And did you do the first exhibition in Zurich with Araki?
BvO: That was in 1995. And I found out that in 1992 he exhibited in Europe for the first time ever. It all started with a travelling exhibition called “Tokyo Nude”, which I exhibited en bloc.

TB: How were the reactions to Araki in Zurich?

BvO: I received a lot of press inquiries and television also showed up. David Streiff, who was head of the Federal Office of Culture at the time, spoke on television. The next day there were 250 people in my gallery, although it was a Monday and the galleries are actually closed. However, it was partly a strange audience.

TB: In what way?

BvO: “Bondage” is unfortunately completely misunderstood here in the West by many. In Japan it is an ancient and very well-known tradition. But here it was suddenly open to the public and so many voyeurs came. For my assistant it was very unpleasant.

TB: Another important artist for you is Bustamante. You worked with him from a very early stage.

BvO: Yes, we worked together very early and for a very long time. We are still very good friends today. Bustamante has his own photographic position. In his photographs, he always selects individual sculptural elements, that could be a crane, a boat or a truck, or a billboard in the landscape. He always sees these objects as independent, found, discovered sculptures. He has also photographed construction sites or a cemetery from above. And he sees this cemetery, like the other objects, as a sculpture.

TB: Were you also directly involved in his Swiss project?

BvO: Bustamante had a private and a creative crisis. I invited him to come to Switzerland at that time. I financed his trip, the hotels, etc. to see what emerges from this. He really went and drove through Switzerland for ten days. This was the basis for these large-format Swiss photos, which were also shown in the Kunstmuseum Luzern back then.

TB: Another artist I remember seeing at your place very early on, before her works went around the world, is Rineke Dijkstra with her portraits of young people on the beach.

BvO: Yes, that was in 1996. That was the second exhibition I had at the gallery in the Löwenbräu area. It was Rineke’s first big solo exhibition ever. It hit big; but at the same time there was the big scandal about the pedophile criminal Dutroux in Belgium, and we got very antagonised. We had also made a book and mailed many of them. Several books, however, were returned in outrage. Also, the American museums, which wanted to show Dijkstra, cancelled all of them. But a few years later it was shown at MoMA and also by big international galleries. With her I also worked on a Swiss project, which finally didn’t materialise. It was about boarding schools, boarding schools that were to be demolished.

TB: Another artist with whom you are still friends and work today is Julian Opie.

BvO: Exactly. Julian was the first exhibition at Löwenbräu. I chose him because he occupies a significant, independent position, he starts from photography or video, only then is the computer used. He is one of the first to really use the computer, perhaps as one of the earliest, as a working tool. His visual language is truly phenomenal. It worked well; we’ve been working together for 25 years. It is still a very independent, wonderful position that appeals to young and old.

TB: You’ve also worked with Walter Pfeiffer before he really gained wide recognition.

BvO: Yes, that actually happened at the same time as he had his exhibition at the Fotomuseum Winterthur. But I knew his works beforehand. There were a lot of people who smiled at his work and said that he couldn’t photograph at all. He stepped into commercial photography with the wonderful colourful imagery he had. Throughout his life he has always photographed with small-format cameras, and because he trembles a bit, this can only be done with a flash, from which he creates his own aesthetic. And the whole set with the models was mostly in his small apartment, he didn’t really have a studio. Now he has become some kind of star photographer, he will soon have a big exhibition in London in “The Photographers’ Gallery”.

TB: Architecture has always been a big theme for you. Frank Thiel comes to mind here. When did you start working with Thiel?

BvO: I’ve never really worked with Frank, but I’ve worked with him a lot. We were friends, I was in Berlin a lot for a while, got to know each other. I arranged various architectural projects for him. And Thiel is the one for me who captured the whole building boom in Berlin with his camera, e.g. Potsdamer Platz. Now he exhibits nationally and internationally everywhere. His oeuvre is extremely independent and today he not only photographs construction sites, but also people in South America, for example. In addition, he always works on a large scale.

TB: Artists I also have a vivid memory of from your exhibitions are Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler.

BvO: The two of them came to me and absolutely wanted to exhibit at the gallery, that was also 1996, I think. Then I did a small trial phase in the back room or showroom. I wasn’t so sure, but I did a lot of exhibitions with them. Later they emigrated to the United States, where they still live. They also had their first big solo exhibition with me in the gallery. Two years ago, they were also at the Venice Biennale, where they received an award for their work in the Swiss Pavilion. For them, it’s always about film, cinema and language, and how to deal with them; that permeates their entire oeuvre.

TB: I remember the first exhibition I saw of you was still in the 1980s, in your apartment. If you look back now, what has remained of your interests? Are there also things that were temporary? Can you perhaps conclude by drawing a general summary of the many years in which you have worked and lived with artists and with art?

BvO: What has remained for me is the love for art. For me, it’s not just about the works, but also about sitting down with the artist and striving for something. I was very often in the studios, which I still do. That’s something wonderful. Because for me artists are often still pioneers in various fields and personalities that I don’t want to miss. And when I see what I have done, hundreds of exhibitions and fairs, I have to say that it was and is a great time.

All images > installation view My Garden of Eden by Bob van Orsouw courtesy Galerie Christophe Guye, Zürich

Risaku Suzuki, Water Mirror / Christophe Guye Galerie, Zurich

Risaku Suzuki, Water Mirror / Christophe Guye Galerie, Zurich

 – 
Christophe Guye Galerie, Zurich

Risaku Suzuki’s works repeatedly show his profound reflections on the particularities of the photographic medium and the constant questioning of what it means to ‘look’. With his mythical pictures, ‘Water Mirror’ invites us on a fascinating journey of perception and is probably one of Suzuki’s most representative works.

Risaku Suzuki, born in 1963 in Shingu City, Wakayama, began using photography as medium for his creative output after graduating from Tokyo College of Photography in 1987. Today he is one of Japan’s best-known photographers. Suzuki has exhibited worldwide and received numerous awards, including the Kimura Ihei Award, the most prestigious award in the field of photography in Japan. In addition to photographing his hometown Kumano, which might be called his lifelong project, he has used different approaches to shoot a variety of subjects, ranging from cherry blossoms, snow, Mt. St. Victoire in the South of France, and Cezanne’s studio. His various projects, however, consistently display a critical awareness of the act of seeing and the unique characteristics of the photographic medium.

‘Water Mirror’ is a condensation of all that makes Suzuki’s photography so appealing: his profound ruminations on the subject of photography itself and the continuous questioning of what it means to ‘look’. The series ‘Water Mirror’ explicitly shows the artist’s engagement with the origins of representation and the principles of the photographic medium, which become deeper and deeper in the three years in which he took the pictures.

“Our eyes gather and sort visual information and the brain creates a coherent understanding of a scene as a whole. But the water surface is an exception, as it acts like a mirror creating complicated optical effects. For example, when you are on a lake and look into the water, it looks different depending on where you place your focal point. Let us focus on the reflection in the water. Trees surrounding the lake are just as lush and verdant in the reflected image, while clouds that ought to be far up in the sky float there tantalizingly, almost within arm’s reach. The sight of a space seemingly of extraordinary depth appearing in the flat surface of the water is one of mystery, and our gaze is lured, sucked even, deep into this world we can see.”

Risaku Suzuki

Just as with a mirror you can see how the trees are captured in the water that reflects them. When you look at the water through the lens of a camera, the leaves are shown in utter verisimilitude, making it impossible to distinguish the reflections from the actual trees standing in the soil and air.

The result is a mimetic representation that only exists within the photographs. These scenes would not exist without the intervention of the camera and the lens. In their presentation, Suzuki nonchalantly interchanges the positions of air and water by switching the vertical orientations of the photographs. Sometimes he shows the reflection exclusively. Sensing a slight strangeness, we re-examine the photograph. Trying to determine whether the photograph is of trees or their reflection, we realize that originally, the photograph is itself a reflected image. Looking at a photograph and looking at a water mirror become parts of an interlaced visual experience.

Since the methodology of ‘Water Mirror’ was developed from the production process of photography and was created in this form as well, the works themselves have become an idiosyncratic photographic theory. With its luscious, thoughtful images, ‘Water Mirror’ invites on a fascinating voyage of perceptions and will probably become one of Suzuki’s most representative works.

Images > Courtesy of the artist and Christophe Guye Galerie

Tables, Carpets & Dead Flowers / Hauser & Wirth, Zürich

Tables, Carpets & Dead Flowers / Hauser & Wirth, Zürich

17 Nov – 21 Dec 2018
Hauser & Wirth / Zürich

Taking inspiration from Rodney Graham’s ‘Dead Flowers in My Studio’ (2009) and Dieter Roth’s Tischmatten, ‘Tables, Carpets & Dead Flowers’ examines the chance encounters between artist, artwork and the studio space.

Taking centre stage of the presentation will be a large, four metre long carpet from Dieter Roth’s Bali studio near Reykjavik. Embedded with traces of studio life, including the scribbles and drawings from his children’s visits, this expanse of material is at once a visual document and a chance product of the artistic process itself. Formally reminiscent of works by Joan Miró or Arshile Gorky, Dieter Roth’s studio carpet is exemplary of a seamless combination of art and life. His renowned Tischmatten (table mats) can also be read as cumulative diary of the artist’s activities.

Following on from this line of inquiry, a selection of Paul McCarthy’s White Snow monochromes from 2012 will be on view. Originally these were pieces of plywood which covered the artist’s studio floor during the creation of his White Snow Forest film set and installation. By catching the remnants and residue of the fabrication process, McCarthy’s monochromes become documents of the work’s journey from the studio floor to the gallery wall.

‘Tables, Carpets & Dead Flowers’, organised by Florian Berktold, presents works by artists including Guillermo Kuitca, Sterling Ruby and Ian Wallace. Further important works will include a selection of David Smith’s Untitled series of sprayed enamel canvases, Lee Lozano’s drawings which depict her studio surroundings, Keith Tyson’s ‘Studio Wall (Punchcard)’ (2017), Isa Genzken’s Basic Research paintings and Roni Horn’s ‘Pair Object Vis: For Two Locations in One Place’ (1998/2007). Horn’s metal cone-shaped sculptures are rolled over the floor, picking up the residue from uneven surfaces and initiating a conversation between the artwork and its environment. Isa Genzken’s Basic Research paintings similarly react to the setting of the studio space; by laying monochrome painted canvases on the ground and raking over them, these works become physical impressions of the artist’s surroundings.

Also on display will be Matthew Day Jackson’s ‘Lumpenproletariat’ (2010), a sculpture made of collected debris from the studio floor and sculpted into a life-size, sci-fi figure. The debris of the studio particularly plays an important role in Otto Muehl’s ‘Untitled’ (1988-91). Before commencing his prison sentence, Muehl destroyed the letters and documents left in his studio by burning them, their ashes were then applied to his canvas. Last but not least, the exhibition explores the artistic possibilities when it comes to cleaning: Dieter Roth’s Tuchlauben collages comprise dust and scraps that he swept together from his studio in Vienna on Tuchlaubenstrasse. Günther Förg also finds use for his rubbish in his Untitled assemblages. In this manner, the contents of the studio become base material for the artists.

Images > Installation view, ‘Tables, Carpets & Dead Flowers’, Hauser & Wirth Zürich, 2018 © the Artists / Estate

SHARA HUGHES DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH, GALERIE EVA PRESENHUBER, ZURICH

SHARA HUGHES DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH, GALERIE EVA PRESENHUBER, ZURICH

AUG 31, 2018 – OCT 27, 2018

SHARA HUGHES

DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH

GALERIE EVA PRESENHUBER, ZURICH

Shara Hughes refers to her paintings as psychological or invented landscapes, a term that derives from her working process and describes the way her paintings are created only in the very moment of painting. Hughes states that during painting, her works are created purely from the inside; this inside, however, is strongly informed by a deep knowledge of art history as well as the work of contemporary peers, as her frenetic colors and vibrant brushstroke, encompassing everything from monochromatic fields to harsh strokes and dots, show. Fin de siècle styles, such as Fauvism, Art Nouveau, or German Expressionism, appear in her work alongside traces of contemporary painters such as Carroll Dunham, Sanya Kantarovsky, or David Hockney (a series of her paintings and drawings operates as an analog version of Hockney’s iPad drawings).

Hughes takes the title of her show from everyday language: “Don’t hold your breath”, meaning: Don’t count on it, don’t try to predict the future. But while change is scary, no change might be even scarier, as Hughes knows very well, that her paintings are, by the very process of their creation, firmly set in the contemporary, in the potential for everything to happen and in the impossibility to predict what will actually happen. This ambivalence of starting from scratch, with no limits or directions defined, while time moves forward and the outcome thus sooner or later begins to show, mirrors in her working process: Hughes usually starts with a blank canvas, on which she applies paint in a playful, undirected way. Only after letting forms and colors get out of control, Hughes starts to create an actual work – to deal with the out-of-control, using different materials, such as spray paint or diluted colors, as well as different painting techniques. Her expressive brushstroke, viscously applied colour fields, pointillism- resembling thin dots, and more than generous colour palette create the impression that more than one person had been working on any given painting. In dealing with an initial, formative disorder, Hughes builds her pictorial narratives, resulting in a complete whole.

Another Little Corner, for example, is divided into two parts, each of them rendered in one of the two complementary colours red and green, ranging from vermilion to purple on the one and from mint to bronze on the other side. In this dialectics, Hughes seems to have found a safe space within the harsh color contrast and the manifold parts of the image. But where this space is located exactly – whether in the center of the painting with its nervous colors or in the soothing surroundings – remains unclear. In At The Break, Hughes formulates another binarity. The painting shows a wave right at the ambiguous moment between turning into something exciting or something terrifying – depending on what one would choose to see. Good At Compartmentalizing is, on the one hand and by its title alone, an ironic nod to others commenting in the artist’s work. On the other hand, the painting shows how Hughes’ compositions oscillate between a formal approach and a narrative urge: It depicts volcanoes at the brink of eruption, but that eruption never happens – the lava is kept at bay, within the mountains, by the artist. Compartmentalizing, a formal category, becomes a natural part of the motive – and of the narration it creates.

Regardless of their format, Hughes’ landscapes suck the viewer in, inviting them to contemplate – especially because they lack any living figures, human or animal, which could disturb or distract the connection between viewer and landscape. According to Hughes’ definition of invented landscapes, they create an inner cosmos rather than depicting any real landscape. In combining hypnotizing colours and manifold techniques to create the look of a whole team of painters working on her paintings instead of just one artist, Hughes’ works lay bare a paradoxical, layered subjectivity, creating a vibrant utopian now.

Tillmann Severin

Images > Installation view, Shara Hughes – Don’t Hold Your Breath, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zurich


PUBLICATION LISTED IN THE ITALIAN PRESS REGISTER BY THE SASSARI COURT OF LAW WITH REGISTRATION NUMBER 447/2017.
EDITOR IN CHIEF: ALICE ZUCCA

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