Shara Hughes - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "[My paintings] start from a place of playfulness. It’s usually about the material and color in the beginning, then they kind of evolve into psychedelic type spaces that almost seem to occupy your mind more than a real space."
    —Shara Hughes

    Painted in 2017, Shara Hughes’ The Not Dark Dark Spots is a spectacle of the artist’s imaginary landscapes that have brought her international recognition. Monumental plant forms dominate the foreground, guiding the viewer’s eye into a fantastical vista where sea and sky, night and day, the natural world and the manmade one all coexist in a singular panorama. Rendered with a lush palette reminiscent of Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian vignettes, Hughes’ versatile brushwork suggests a cloudy sky, calm waters, and twinkling city lights on a horizon. A paramount example of the artist’s invented dreamscapes, the present work featured in her first major institutional survey at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis from 2021 to 2022.


    Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night Over the Rhône River, 1888. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource

    "Pouring, splashing, spraying, dripping, churning or scraping—these are innumerable physical actions Hughes might use as she negotiates form through paint."
    —Mia Locks

    Hughes’ landscapes can be more accurately defined as mindscapes, as they derive purely from her memory and imagination. A departure from her earlier interior scenes which were riddled with symbolic narrative, the landscape paintings, begun in 2014, mark the pivotal juncture when her practice shifted from programmatic to intuitive. In her spontaneous approach, Hughes develops her landscapes “backwards”—contrary to artists such as Cecily Brown who mold the figurative into the abstract, Hughes relies on abstraction as her starting point to find representation. As such, Hughes’ subject in The Not Dark Dark Spots is not nature, but rather the painterly forms themselves.


    [left] Milton Avery, Dunes and Sea II, 1960. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Image: © Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York  [right] Edvard Munch, Moonlight, 1895. The National Gallery, Oslo. Image: © DeA Picture Library / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "I wondered how I could take something that is seemingly so known and make it mine, while still getting all the satisfaction of painting, and the history of painting, in one."
    —Shara Hughes

    Hughes’ only “source material” is the work of other artists. In the present work, we see a nod to Milton Avery in the flat coastline and echoes of Edvard Munch’s moody landscapes. Yet despite the myriad art historical influences evident in The Not Dark Dark Spots, Hughes’ artistic choices ultimately derive from her unique painterly sensibility. The work’s vertical orientation, for example, is a deliberate choice to guide the viewer through the painting. As she explained, “[My paintings] are different from a panorama-like landscape that suggests it keeps going beyond the edges of the picture. I’m conscious of the vertical format that I choose for my paintings and of making sure that the viewer is more or less aware that I’m painting it this way for a reason, as in ‘This is where you enter and this is where you escape.’”i 



    "All landscapes are constantly changing, whether it’s the time of day or the temperature or the weather patterns…The constant state of change creates so much possibility."
    —Shara Hughes

    In the present work, inlaid strokes fill the spaces between broader swathes of paint, engendering a sense of time and space collapsing in on themselves—a signature quality of Hughes’ oeuvre. Here, it is unclear where the sky ends and the sea begins, nor whether the scene depicts a sunrise or sunset, moonrise or moonfall. By conflating nature’s various elements and shifts into one composition, the present work manifests how Hughes employs the landscape as a device to capture the inner world. As she expressed, “I think that nature reflects emotions in so many ways. Beauty, pain, peace, sadness can all be seen in one day.”ii 


    Cut from the Archives




    i Shara Hughes, quoted in Ian Alteveer, “Shara Hughes in Conversation,” Shara Hughes / Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 17.
    ii Shara Hughes quoted in Emily Steer, “Shara Hughes Uses Painting to Reflect the Turbulent Human Mind,” Elephant, March 16, 2020.

    • Provenance

      Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2017

    • Exhibited

      Katonah Museum of Art, LandEscape: New Visions of the Landscape in the Early 20th and 21st Centuries, March 17–June 16, 2019
      Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Shara Hughes: On Edge, September 3, 2021–February 27, 2022

    • Literature

      Shara Hughes, Shara Hughes: Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 74 (illustrated)

Property from an Important New York Collection


The Not Dark Dark Spots

signed and inscribed "Shara Hughes Greenpoint Ave" on the stretcher; signed, titled, inscribed and dated "SHARA HUGHES 2017 "The Not Not Dark Spots" NYC" on the reverse
oil and dye on canvas
68 x 60 in. (172.7 x 152.4 cm)
Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $1,603,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278
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Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Associate Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022