Shara Hughes - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • An Elysian landscape befitting its title, Shara Hughes’ Milky Way, 2017 is a terrific example executed the same year as her breakout presentation at the Whitney Biennial. The present work exemplifies Hughes’ celebrated process in which she paints directly from imagination. In her own words: “I don’t have any plans when I start a landscape; it is usually very subconscious and intuitive. I merely play around with color and texture, whether it’s a work on paper, or a painting, and then something clicks and I start to organize it into a landscape that doesn’t necessarily identify with a specific place.”The result is an emotional, instinctual vision that unites the most splendid of natural forms.  As commented by former MoMA curator Mia Locks after a visit to the artist’s studio in 2018, “Pouring, splashing, spraying, dripping, churning, or scraping—there are innumerable physical actions Hughes might use as she negotiates form through paint. Her initial mindset is open; she lets herself play.”ii

     “They 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

    There is a kinship between Hughes’ intuitive process and the swirling forms of the natural world. Hughes’ landscapes seem to be otherworldly, momentary places, as if they could disappear should one turn away. It is this quality which also imbues Milky Way with a sense of magic. The superterrestrial scene looks as if a portal to another world: the composition is defined by the striking Y-shaped tree in the foreground and the celestial glow of bursting stars in the background. The structure introduces a certain level of flatness to the imagined world, as if unable to pass deeper beyond its visible limits. As Hughes has 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.’”iii



    In 2014 Hughes turned to landscape painting in a marked departure from her earlier closely observed interior scenes. With a shift in artistic philosophy, Hughes current work draws influence from German Expressionists’ emphasis on psychological states and inner worlds rather than representing visible reality. With sparks of vibrant color, Hughes’ Milky Way responds the emotional experience of witnessing clear starry skies. The cuspated, blue peaks of the foreground are reminiscent of Kirchner’s dramatic mountain scene Schiahorner mit Enzian (Schiahorner with Gentian) while its swirling, inky trees recall the softer Post-Impressionist strokes of Vincent Van Gogh’s olive trees. Like her forebears, Hughes reinvigorates the historically conservative landscape tradition with her more radical approach, introducing an undercurrent of thoughts, feeling and memories into her psychedelic vision.



    i Shara Hughes, quoted in Emily Spicer, “Shara Hughes – interview: ‘I wanted the works to feel like figures you would visit at church, something divine,'" Studio International, May 12, 2021, online

    ii Mia Locks, “Working Tension: On Shara Hughes’s Landscapes,” Shara Hughes / Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 11

    iii Shara Hughes, quoted in Ian Alteveer, “Shara Hughes in Conversation,” Shara Hughes / Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 17

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      New York, Paul Kasmin Gallery, SEED, June 21–August 17, 2018

    • Literature

      Shara Hughes: Portraits, 2019, Zurich, n.p. (illustrated)
      Shara Hughes / Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 42 (illustrated)


Milky Way

signed, titled, inscribed and dated "SHARA HUGHES 2016 "Milky Way" NYC" on the reverse
oil, enamel, spray paint, air brush and acrylic on canvas
60 x 54 in. (152.4 x 137.2 cm)
Executed in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $698,500

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023