Michael McHugh | Archipelago

Michael McHugh | Archipelago

McHugh’s paintings reflect an instantly familiar vision of exotic forms and nature’s exuberance, as well as a highly personal perception of subject matter. His playfulness is complemented by an abstract logic, which breaks forms down into layered and lively compositions of geometry, pattern, texture and colour. His distinctive botanical language, juxtaposes hard graphic forms, fluid painterly gesture, both of which hang together in what has been described as a ‘riot of colour’.

This exhibition has been some years in the making, and in the spirit of some of the world’s best known, botanists, scientists, artists and researchers, McHugh curates and assembles a range of plantopia from the Pacific Islands, an area he has been traveling too since a child. Since the easement of recent travel restrictions, Michael McHugh has made a concerted efforts to escape to the Pacific Islands, in search of a new plant order; loosing himself among a range of islands and archipelagos.  Some trips were well planned while others where more in the vein of ‘let’s just see what happens.’

A seminal trip in this recent project – with his son Henry – saw McHugh visiting the islands of Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji, researching, drawing and photographing local flora, which in many ways was the catalyst to realising there was much to explore around the islands. Further visits to the Cook Islands and Fiji, cemented the direction for this exhibition after spending time observing the filtered sunlight and how this interacts with the brilliance of local plant forms.

It was this extraordinarily combination of colour, form, detail and light, that first struck the artist as he set about capturing this exotic matter with detailed botanical drawings. Sat outside his Bure, McHugh spent most days painting, trying to capture that intense light and the saturated colour. The forms captured in his initial drawings are re-arranged and tweaked, as they are worked into final paintings – in the process – creating a personal take on the botanical forms and DNA.

“When you first look at the different layers of organic plant forms within their environment”, says McHugh, “the saturation of the sun and heat dials up the intense hues of the greens and yellows, and especially so against the backdrop of vivid blues of ocean & sky. It became a perfect living laboratory, experiencing first hand this extraordinary partnership of light, colour and form. The absolute intensity of the blue skies, teal seas, set against the heterogeneity and hues of native flora – feels like a Utopia to me”.

“As the light changes throughout the day, from moments where the light is so intense you can’t help but squint – as with the paintings ‘Happy Hour’ and ‘Coral Cove’ – to just being fully emersed by the apricot and crimson sunsets. ‘Honeycomb’ reflects the butterscotch tones of those wild sunsets, and that moment when the setting sun creates a rippling effects in the water – while in lots of ways ‘Reunion’ is a anthropomorphic line-up of these new forms all coming together, perhaps waiting to witness another sunset, or perhaps just celebrating finally being together”.

McHugh’s new pacific paintings create highly personal organic worlds – full of vivid colour and form – but authentic to time and place and reflection of the artist’s love for the Pacific Islands. He asks us all to join in this celebration and protection of the natural world in all its splendour.