In one painting, we gaze upon bright night skies surreally lit by a glowing purple moon. In another, we peer through fairy-tale woods filled with knobby, bending trees in hues of yellows and pinks. These luminous landscapes are the creations of Brooklyn-based artist Shara Hughes (b. 1981), and are drawn not from the physical world, but from the nebulous terrains of imagination and memory.
In recent years, Hughes, who is represented in Europe by Zurich’s Galerie Eva Presenhuber, has become a favorite of collectors and institutions, with museum exhibitions at the Yuz Museum, Shanghai, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Le Consortium, Dijon, in 2021 alone. Now the Kunstmuseum Luzern is opening “Time Lapsed,” a solo show of her recent paintings (September 17–November 11, 2022).
As the exhibition title would suggest, these out-of-the-ordinary paintings hint at the experiences and perceptions of time’s passing through the lens of nature. Time, in these images, can feel alternately eternal and ephemeral—an ancient forest meeting a fleeting sunset within a single image. Many were created during periods of isolation in 2020 and 2021; with names like A Turbulent Year and In a Haze, these works hint at the blurring of days and weeks many people experienced in isolation, as well as a simultaneous individual reconnection to the environment.
While Hughes’s lavish botanical paintings readily invite comparisons to works by the Symbolist visions of Odilon Redon, for instance, or Vincent van Gogh’s vividly articulated still lifes and landscapes, her often large-scale paintings, with their all-over gestural effect borne of an intuitive process, also hint at influences from such Abstract Expressionists as Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock. The artist does not make preparatory drawings for her works, instead working from instinct and a relinquishing of compositional control that Hughes feels allows for a freer image to emerge.
“These fantasy landscapes satisfy our need for beauty on the one hand, but also arouse a slight uneasiness on the other. The nature depicted seems irrepressible and at times even threatening in its exuberant fullness. Shara Hughes’s landscapes are mood pictures that convey feelings, emotions, or memories,” wrote the Kunstmuseum Luzern in a statement. “Time Lapsed” was curated by Fanni Fetzer and marks Hughes’s first institutional exhibition in Switzerland.
See images from the exhibition below.