Shara Hughes - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I’m really interested in nature because we will never see the same thing twice. It’s always changing whether it’s the time of day, mood, temperature, new life or death. Because it’s alive and moving, it gives me freedom to really play around.' —Shara Hughes

    Shara Hughes’ large-scale 2017 work Crooked is alive with pure colour and pattern. Playing with perspective, the artist knits together fragments of multiple imagined landscapes and planes of abstract colour. At the upper right corner, a lush green hill, peppered with yellow flowers, hovers vertiginously next to a winding aquamarine ribbon echoed by the looping forms of vibrant yellow and marigold spiralling out to the left of the composition. Hughes’ distinctive and confident brushwork here fractures the composition further, the rhythmic patterning of longer, isolated strokes in the passages to the left creating a fascinating dialogue with the smoother, effervescent stripes of blues and violets that flow, tightly contained, over the undulating outcrop crowned with trees to the right. The overall effect is kaleidoscopic, as though we are looking at a landscape through a sheet of rushing water.


    Highly energetic and compact, this central composition is encircled by swathes of bleeding colour in sunset tones and overlooked by two blue mountains, reminiscent of the deserts in the American Southwest immortalised in Georgia O’Keeffe’s New Mexico canvases. Unlike O’Keeffe though, whose paintings remain rooted in the contours and intense colours of the desert landscape, even as they hover on the edge of abstraction, Hughes’ are entirely fictitious. Interviewed last year by Emily Spicer, Hughes shared her process, explaining: ‘I don’t have any plans when I start a landscape; it is usually very subconscious and intuitive. I merely play around with colour and texture, whether it’s a work on paper, or a painting, and then something clicks and I start to organise it into a landscape that doesn’t necessarily identify with a specific place.’i


    Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II, 1930, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe. Image: Albert Knapp / Alamy Stock Photo, Artwork: © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / DACS, London
    Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II, 1930, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe. Image: Albert Knapp / Alamy Stock Photo, Artwork: © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / DACS, London

    Landscapes of the Mind


    Hughes paints from memory and imagination, crediting her only source material as the work of other artists.ii The influence of the artist’s contemporaries and predecessors is evident in places, but Hughes’ visual process is distinctly her own. Comparisons can be drawn between Crooked and David Hockney’s 1980 masterpiece Nichols Canyon, most clearly in the vibrant palette and compositional arrangement of intersecting zones of colour and strong, central curved forms. While Hockney clearly delights in pure, expressive colour, he remains committed to a representational language, while for Hughes, colour forms a more elemental part of her intuitive approach to the act of painting itself. Wide strokes of orange and yellow wash which bleed and drip at the extreme edges of the work are contrasted with the compact stippling in the foliage. In this way the pictorial section possesses its own distinct identity, which when united conjures a landscape brimming with joyous discordancy. Executed in the same year as Hughes’ inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, Crooked exudes the palpable exhilaration felt by the artist in what she has described as her ‘proudest achievement’.iii

    '…the landscape is so seemingly simple. Everyone knows what a landscape looks like—there is an entire tradition of painting that informs our expectations. 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
    Links have often been made between Shara Hughes and the French Fauvist painters such as Henri Matisse and André Derain, primarily due to Hughes’ use of arbitrary colour. The artist has cited her favourite painting as Matisse’s Red Studio (1911) and the influence of this masterpiece is undeniable in Hughes’ earlier body of work which focused on whimsical interiors rich in symbolism in the decade preceding 2014. Matisse’s distinctive flattening of space and perspective is a central component of these dreamlike domestic spaces. Its impact is still felt in Crooked, most keenly in the red planes, interrupted by negative space and cobalt blue forms. However, the present work also clearly draws on the visual language of Cubism, apparent in the jagged division of the picture space and dichotomous relationships established between figuration and abstraction. Employing a similarly vibrant palette, Juan Gris’ 1913 Paysage à Ceret confronts the viewer with the scene appearing as if reflected in a shattered mirror. The roof of the small house is shirred off and shards tile pattern are presented amongst flattened passages of yellow and black. In a visual motif even more directly comparable to Crooked, areas of intricately detailed green foliage are contrasted with regions of hillside rendered in reds, pinks, and purples.


    Juan Gris, Paysage à Ceret, (Landscaper near Ceret), 1913, Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Image: akg-images

    Building from these Cubist principles, Hughes’ landscape in Crooked provokes a strong sense of spatial ambiguity. Viewers find themselves constantly navigating between forms that resemble one thing as easily as another. The meandering shape dissecting the left half of the picture plane, which at first glance, appears so obviously to depict a river, could just as easily resemble the magma filled channels to the centre of the earth, or the minute tunnels manufactured by ants. This expanding and contracting of the picture space both invites and challenges the viewer, cultivating an entirely unique visual experience again and again. Included in Hughes’ 2018 solo show Sticks and Stones with Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco, Crooked stands as a forceful expression of the central importance of landscape to Hughes’ evolving practice, and of the complex blend of memory, observation, and intuition that defines her finest work.


                               Shara Hughes Gets Lost in Paint, In The Studio, ArtDrunk.


    Collector's Digest:


    •    Since her first solo show in 2007 at Rivington Arms in New York, Shara 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 first retrospective in a major institution opened at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis in October 2021, followed closely by the opening of The Bridge at the Yuz Museum, her first solo show in Mainland China.


    •    Examples of Hughes’ 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.


    •    Shara Hughes’ auction record was achieved at Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York in November 2021.

    i Emily Spicer, ‘Shara Hughes – interview: ‘I wanted the works to feel like figures you would visit at church, something divine’’, Studio International, 17 May 2021, online

    ii Emily Spicer, ‘Shara Hughes – interview: ‘I wanted the works to feel like figures you would visit at church, something divine’’, Studio International, 17 May 2021, online

    iii Christina Nafziger, 'Shara Hughes', Art Maze Magazine, no. 7, Spring 2018 

    • Provenance

      Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      San Francisco, Berggruen Gallery, Shara Hughes: Sticks and Stones, 10 May - 23 June 2018

    • Literature

      Christina Nafziger, 'Shara Hughes', Art Maze Magazine, no. 7, Spring 2018, pp. 34-35 (illustrated)
      Mia Locks and Ian Alteveer, Shara Hughes / Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 86 (illustrated)
      Todd Bradway, ed., Landscape Painting Now. From Pop Abstraction to New Romanticism, London, 2019, p. 303 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Shara Hughes

      Shara Hughes (b. 1981) earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and later attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. 

      The artist is best known for her colorful landscapes which bridge a gap between the real and the imagined, and the beautiful and the chaotic. Working intuitively, the artist does not typically pre-plan her canvases. Rather her process involves giving form and shape to her previously applied brushstrokes and reacting to her last applications of paint and color through more painting. 

      Hughes has participated in numerous group exhibitions, at venues such as FLAG Art Foundation, NY (2023); ICA Miami (2022); De la Cruz Collection (2022); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2021); Dallas Art Museum, Dallas (2019); MASS MoCA, North Adams (2018); and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA (2015). The artist was also included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Hughes’ work belongs to many prominent museum collections including the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; the Denver Museum of Art, Denver, CO; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; the Jorge M. Perez Collection, Miami, FL; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta, GA; the M Woods Museum, Beijing, China; the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ; the Rachofsky Collection, Dallas, TX; the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; the Si Shang Art Museum, Beijing, China; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the Whitney Museum of Art, New York, NY; among others. Hughes lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

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signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'SHARA HUGHES 2017 London ''CROOKED''' on the reverse
acrylic, oil and dye on canvas
175.3 x 154.9 cm (69 x 61 in.)
Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

£180,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £627,500

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022