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  • Introduction


    Delightfully jam-packed with bizarre objects, indeterminate forms and whimsically exuberant colour, Shara Hughes’s Magic Island packs an instant, electrifying punch. Created in 2012, the painting is situated at a pivotal turning point in Hughes’ transition from interior scenes to landscapes. Traversing quite literally between the interior and the exterior, Magic Island challenges viewers to navigate not just the quirky chorus of objects that obstinately deny full comprehension but also through foreground, middle ground, and background.


    Furniture-esque objects attract attention first: a crippled wooden chair, with a rock and curved pipe for support, cradles a transparent vase with its asymmetrical arms; a translucent coffee table, laden with candle, notebook, and an assortment of apparatus that burgeons into an incandescent lamp, sprouts a curious upside-down U-shaped metal tube. The tube is suspended from a metal wire, while a red, blue, and white pulley system splices through the composition, leading the eye past the see-through music stand at the centre to the flowing seas beyond, and finally to the ocean-liner gliding across the horizon out of the canvas. At once defining and denying certainty of space, the bafflingly complex composition is staunchly cohesive, grounding viewers firmly within the artist’s imaginary realm.

    “I make art historical playgrounds in my own way.  The references are celebrations.” 
    — Shara Hughes


    Born in 1981 in Atlanta, Georgia, Hughes earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004. Shortly after graduation, she earned swift acclaim for her large-scale interiors of imaginary rooms inspired by artists ranging from Matisse to Picasso to Claes Oldenburg to Dana Schutz – as well as her aesthetically warped sense of perspective that aligns with the random assortment of objects populating Surrealistic landscapes and interiors.



    Left: René Magritte, The Difficult Crossing, 1926
    © 2021 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Right: René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles, 1952,
    Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
    © 2021 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    While crammed chock-full of art historical references, Hughes’s language is entirely her own. Her genius lies in her extraordinary inventiveness and her intuitive orchestration of conscious and subconscious motifs and trains of thought. There is an immediacy and freshness that is smart, fast, and fluid, bearing a rapid pulse reminiscent of quick gesture painting; it is this quality of nimble agility that defines her work. Hughes has said: ‘I like loose plans because I see everything as alive and changing. The piece struggles then acquires this special kind of pushing and pulling magic that comes with me letting the piece speak, breathe, and change for itself. It’s important for me to not become attached to my primary vision.’i




    Castello di Rivoli

    Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen,  From the Entropic Library - Model,
    © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen 

    “She has a talent for imbuing the most mundane of objects with a definitive human vitality: a coffee cup that might suddenly push itself off the edge of a table, or the arm-like handles of a swimming pool ladder that might wrap themselves around one’s neck.” 
    — Faith McClure  


    In the present work, there are distinct echoes of Matisse’s Interior with Phonograph (1924), as well as to Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s From the Entropic Library – Model (1989-1990). Hughes expertly steers our vision through flat and dimensional space, to-and-fro representation and abstraction, and between the real and the imagined. She has described her process as organic and surrealistic, beginning with a colour wash, an object, or even a phrase in her mind, and then letting her unconscious take the lead. The push-pull effect applies not just within the narrative of the work but also between narrative and colour and texture; as Stephanie Cash observes: ‘At times, when Hughes’s content is mystifying, her playful brushwork and sense of colour take centre stage. Yet she can just as easily shift attention – hers and ours – to the figures and their peculiar dramas.’ii



     Detail of the present work

    Hughes has carried forth her unique vision into the realm of landscapes since around 2015; nevertheless, interior spaces remain the vehicle through which she first solidified her artistic voice. The artist has said: ‘I latched onto the idea of interiors because I was always trying to create some other kind of home, in a way.’iii Interiors also allowed Hughes to celebrate the work of great artists before her; as she stated: ‘So I could paint a really detailed Renaissance painting inside of, on top of, a Bridgette Riley-esque type wallpaper thing. It opened up access for me to flow between everything I wanted to do…’.iv Whether interior or exterior, or encompassing both as in the present work, Hughes’s spaces are both literal and psychological, transfixing in its powerful emotional specificity.


    “Within an interior, you can make a landscape through a window or you can make another person’s painting within the painting […] Interiors became the foundation where I could lay all different artists who have come before me into and onto the painting.” 
    — Shara Hughes


    Hughes’s depicted spaces reflect her milieu, real or remembered or imagined, just as her actual physical working spaces reflect her personality. The artist declared: ‘Anyone who walks into the loft can tell exactly what kind of person I am. I live in my paintings. I always tell people there is really no separation between the canvas, the paint, the brush, and myself. This aligns with my ideas about where the lines are between abstraction and reality that I address in the work. Although not one painting is the same as the next, I really see no difference between the spaces I paint, the space I live in and the same space it all comes from.’v



    Collector’s Digest


    Well-established through a series of smaller exhibitions with galleries on both sides of the Atlantic, it was her inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial that garnered Hughes major international attention. Since her first solo show in 2007 at Rivington Arms, New York, Hughes has been showing steadily in galleries across the US and Europe for nearly 15 years. In 2020, Hughes opened her first exhibition with Pilar Corrias in London.


    Her works are included in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of fine Art, the Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Denver Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


    Hughes’ first major exhibition in the United States opened in September at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Titled Shara Hughes: On Edge, it will run until 27 February 2022. Hughes has also recently been honoured with a solo exhibition at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai – Shara Hughes: The Bridge, which runs from 6 November 2021 – 9 January 2022.



    iThe artist cited in an interview with Kate Donnelly, “Shara Hughes”, From Your Desks, online

    ii Stephanie Cash, “Shara Hughes”, in Artnews, 22 September 2014, online

    iii Rachel Reese, “Shara Hughes”, in BOMB Magazine, 9 April 2013, online

    iv Ibid

    v The artist cited in an interview with Kate Donnelly, “Shara Hughes”, From Your Desks, online


    • Condition Report

    • Description

      View our Conditions of Sale.

    • Provenance

      American Contemporary, New York
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2012)
      Christie's, London, 28 June 2018, lot 218
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Property from a Distinguished Belgian Collection


Magic Island

signed, inscribed and dated 'SHARA HUGHES 2012 "Magic Island" FISHERS ISLAND' on the reverse
oil, acrylic and enamel on canvas
182.5 x 179 cm. (71 7/8 x 70 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Place Advance Bid
Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021