Shara Hughes - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • '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 HughesUnfolding in a dizzying play of colour and pattern, Wavy Navy balances pictorial complexity with a striking simplicity and immediacy that has become a hallmark of American artist Shara Hughes’ vibrantly imaginative landscapes. Included in her 2015 exhibition Far Out at the American Contemporary in New York, the present work represents a pivotal moment in her practice as she shifted her focus from interior subjects to the expansive, otherworldly landscapes which garnered her immediate critical acclaim. Rhythmic and mesmerising, Hughes structures her composition here through a series of sharply juxtaposed passages of energetically rendered pattern executed in jewel-like hues of cobalt blue, turquoise, and Verdigris green offset by splashes of magenta and golden yellow. Creating a powerful sense of fluidity and motion, Hughes’ shifting perspectives and confident jumps between tighter rounded curves and longer, snaking lines speak more directly to the sensation of rushing water rather than to its visual depiction alone.


    Entirely imaginative creations, Hughes’ riotous landscapes incorporate natural and recognisable motifs alongside less immediately legible elements, deftly balancing an oppositional pull between representation and abstraction that reflects our more complex and ineffable psychological landscapes. As the artist explains: ‘I think that nature reflects emotions in so many ways. Beauty, pain, peace, sadness can all be seen in one day with the passing of time or with a weather pattern. Nature is constantly changing, you will never see the same flower twice in the exact same way.’ii


    Detail of the present world 
    Detail of the present world 


    Hughes and the Modernist Landscape


    Demonstrating a robust engagement with early modernist aesthetics, Hughes’ kaleidoscopic landscapes have drawn favourable comparison to the intensely saturated hues and gestural application that characterised the Fauvist landscapes of André Derain, Henri Matisse, and Maurice de Vlaminck, infused with the darker psychological elements evident in key examples of German Expressionism. Primarily interested in capturing the emotional response to a landscape rather than an accurate depiction of observable reality, the intensely dynamic canvases of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner offer a particularly compelling art historical precedent for Hughes’s project here, especially evident in his vertiginous and highly saturated mountain scenes. Nevertheless, as critic Roberta Smith has been quick to point out, Hughes does not simply apply these art historical lessons in her canvases, but generates a vital contribution to contemporary art as she ‘combines these historical traditions with current ones […] There are plenty of nods to historical precedents, and yet Ms. Hughes’s paintings look spontaneous and unaffected, as if, paradoxically, she has done no homework at all'.iii


    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Waterfall, 1919, Private collection. Image: Heritage Images / Fine Art Images / akg-images
    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Waterfall, 1919, Private Collection. Image: Heritage Images / Fine Art Images / akg-images


    Operating like a window onto an imaginary, open world, the surface of Wavy Navy is alive with its wonderfully ambiguous shifting forms and textures stacked tightly against the picture plane. Inventive and intuitive, Hughes works quickly in bursts of inspiration, using pure, unmodulated colour in a range of mediums including oil, enamel, acrylic, and spray paint as a means of bringing ‘the viewer into the painting, not just through images, but by mark-making and different types of materials.’iv In her wonderfully agile treatment of line, saturated palette, and flattening of form, Hughes creates a sense of the transparency and luminosity that we might associate with stained glass – a form fittingly taken up by a range of modern masters including Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, and, more recently, David Hockney. In discussing her practice, and especially in her approach to landscape, Hughes draws a similar comparison herself: ‘Back to the window-into-a-world thing, I like the viewer to be aware of where the edges are. I’m conscious of letting you know where you should step in and where you should stop […] as though you are walking through a door or a big window.’ Rather than asking us to look passively through the window, Hughes asks that we cross the threshold with her, into worlds of pure colour and light.


    Marc Chagall, Central window from American Windows, 1966, Art Institute of Chicago. Image: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY / Scala, Florence, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    Marc Chagall, Central window from American Windows, 1966, Art Institute of Chicago. Image: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY / Scala, Florence, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022


    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. Already this year Hughes has been the subject of solo exhibitions at FLAG Art Foundation, New York and Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland. In 2021 she exhibited internationally, with shows at the Yuz Museum, Shanghai; Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Garden Museum, London; Aspen Museum of Art, Colorado; and Le Consortium, Dijon, France.


    • 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.


    i Shara Hughes, quoted in Katie White, ‘Landscapes opened a whole new world for me’, Artnet News, 17 August 2020, online.
    ii Shara Hughes quoted in: Emily Steer, ‘Shara Hughes Uses Painting to Reflect the Turbulent Human Mind’, Elephant, 16 March 2020, online
    iii Roberta Smith, ‘What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week: Shara Hughes’, New York Times, 15 June 2017,  online
    iv Shara Hughes, quoted in Gesine Borcherdt and Barry Scwabsk, Shara Hughes, Berlin, 2022, p. 113. 

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Grieder Contemporary, Küsnacht
      Private Collection, Austria (acquired from the above)

    • Exhibited

      New York, American Contemporary, Shara Hughes: Far Out, 26 March – 26 April 2015 (titled as Navy Wavy)
      Küsnacht, Grieder Contemporary, Abstract Horizons, 29 August – 17 October 2015


Wavy Navy

signed, titled, inscribed and dated '56 x 48 "Wavy Navy" 2015 SHARA HUGHES NYC' on the reverse
oil, acrylic and enamel on canvas
142.2 x 121.9 cm (56 x 48 in.)
Executed in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 

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Kate Bryan
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022