Michael McHugh | The Island
Föenander Galleries is thrilled to present Michael McHugh’s new exhibition The Island
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 rationale, which breaks forms down into layered and lively compositions of geometry, pattern, texture and colour. Works are sometimes sombre and brooding, and other times energetic, vibrant and emotive, with textural layers echoing moments in time.
McHugh maintains an active drawing practice in the planning stages which aids the compositions and techniques utilised in his large-scale paintings. His distinctive botanical language, juxtaposes hard graphic forms, against fluid painterly gesture, both of which hang together in what has been described as a ‘riot of colour’. His process involves collage-based colour studies, in which he works with drawings, texture and pattern – breaking images apart and reforming them. McHugh pushes at the boundary between the familiar and the un-familiar, confounding expectations of scale and perspective, while merging memories and experience of the world he encounters.
McHugh inspiration for this series of works came from a recent trip to the cook islands, as well as more local observations from his own back yard in Sydney.
“While walking along the beach during low tide, I photographed seaweed dumped on the beach and rocks from the storm the night before. These natural forms were quite strange: some were long and stringy, while others were torn and appeared desperate to hang onto the rock or sandy surface they had been washed up on. Although ripped from their underwater environment, they still looked quite beautiful and serene, just lying in the sand waiting for the tide to rise and to be taken back out into their watery world. All of this was perfect material for drawings and ultimately, paintings.”
“As detailed as these new shapes became, it wasn’t until Michael visited the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and the LuEsther T. Mertz Library – one of the largest botanical research libraries in the world – that he could really see the scope for this imagined world of plant and sea life forms. The Library is the very same one that Thomas Jefferson worked from – Jefferson was apparently obsessed with books, archaeology and architecture. Its collection focuses mainly on botany and McHugh was drawn to the scientific cellular structures it contained. The botanical gardens were beautiful, well-kept and manicured, but it was the library, with its many books from around the globe showcasing different worlds of botany and botanical forms, that were so inspiring to McHugh.
Returning to the studio with notebooks filled with drawings and colour studies, McHugh eventually got to work painting. “My idea was a simple one.” said McHugh, “With hotter temperatures, rising sea levels and plant forms disappearing into the sea due to salt intrusion, what would this new plant form DNA look like once mixed with marine life?
The backgrounds of the canvases changed in this collection of work as they became almost water drenched and layered with weed and underwater colours, while others screamed of saturated sunlight skies with new plant forms floating or falling through the atmosphere. Gradually, a version of the drawings of the cellular structures seen in the scientific journals and the Mertz Library in New York became incorporated into the painted works. And so to ask, does this collection of new hybrids actually exist? McHugh replies “Absolutely not. These works come from my imagination, as does the name of the collection. Nothing is real, but everything could be. And perhaps it is for a moment – as the viewers’ eye travels around the canvas and they lose themselves in the world of Hybridology, where colour, form and detail come together, allowing them to experience a moment of joy”.