Shara Hughes - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 13, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "Hughes reminds us that even when a painting feels bright and colourful, there is a conflict inherent in the process of its making."
    —Mia Locks

    A vibrantly full composition that overloads the senses, Shara Hughes’s Gihon River instantly demands our attention, taking the viewer on a journey through the art of painting as she brings to life a domestic scene with varied brushwork and rich, primary colour. Through a masterful handling of paint, Hughes creates multiple flat planes of perspective, within which traditionally inanimate objects become vivid and spirited. An Art Deco chair superimposes a chaise longue set on a patterned rug, the vertical composition of which leads our eye towards a portrait of a stag. The central scene is framed to the left by an open doorway to a second interior space, through which we see a chair, a sculptured torso and potted plant, and to the right, the Gihon River is seen visibly flowing through the bold red frames of the windowpanes.


    Hughes follows a fiercely intuitive process in her approach to painting. Working from her imagination, she never paints from real life. Nothing is premeditated, not the palette, nor the medium, leading to a diverse yet highly balanced artistic language. Gihon River expresses Hughes' artistic amalgamations of style through the combination of abstraction and figuration. Beginning with abstract renderings on the canvas, she draws out figuration from the most obscure places, painting herself into and out of compositional problems, a process which meditates upon the conduct of the artistic creator.

    "For me, the reason why I make paintings, and the magic that happens while I’m making them, is because I don’t have a plan. And they always surprise me."
    —Shara Hughes
    The involvement of the viewer and their experience is taken into careful consideration in these paintings. Hanging on the back wall of the room, reminiscent of Sir Edwin Landseer’s great Monarch of the Glen, the stag calmly returns the viewer’s gaze. The inclusion of exit points, namely the riverscape and the glimpse to the second interior, act as compositional devices which spark the eye’s curiosity. Moreover, they allow us to palpably perceive the space; we viscerally sense that if we were to turn our view to the right we would confront a cold spray from a powerful river, and if we were to advance into the backroom, we question what could lie around the corner. Whilst drawing us in, the variations of depth, such as the two-dimensionality of the furniture; the fact that the water to the right could almost be a painted curtain; or the more painterly depth of the space in which sits the sculpture, stop us from becoming totally absorbed by the painting. In an almost limbo state, we are denied entry to these places which exceed the limits of the canvas, as both our perception and self-awareness are strained. As Hughes says: ‘I take you to the edge, but I don’t go off it.’i


    Gihon River includes important references to art history, highlighting Hughes’ artistic influences. Hughes’ use of bright colour, vivid inclusions of jarring patterns are reminiscent of David Hockney’s Large Interior, Los Angeles. The loose brushstrokes that describe the river, the washed hues of the central wall that reverberate between blue and turquoise, and the loud red of the window frames, has much to do with Fauvist masters, pieces such as Matisse’s Open Window, Collioure. The sculpture to the left of the composition could be a reflection on a past viewing from antiquity, whilst the central animal portrait connotes more Romantic imagery.


    Henri Matisse, Open Window, Collioure, 1905, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
    Henri Matisse, Open Window, Collioure, 1905, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Artwork: © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS, London 2022

    Whilst embracing aspects employed by art historical heroes, Hughes achieves a wholly unique artistic language. A medley of styles, inspirations, and explorations are injected with personal symbolisms. Since 2014 Hughes has focused on landscape painting and used interior paintings to create personal spaces of her own. Executed during a personally turbulent time when the artist had just moved to New York, these works act as quasi-psychoanalytical inner places to express her interior self. Due to their cryptic nature, they are enigmatically symbolic, fusing different undercurrents of thoughts, feelings, chance happenings and memories. As in Gihon River, Hughes evokes a psychedelically lucid dream, a conflict of the human psyche, which tests the rubrics of the genre of painting as much as it tests its viewer.


    After being included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York, Hughes has taken part in various group exhibitions at institutions such as Phoenix Art Museum; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk; Katonah Museum of Art; MASS MoCA, Massachusetts; and Dallas Art Museum. Her work forms the part of a diverse list of permanent collections which include the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Jorge M. Perez Collection, Miami; the M Woods Museum, Beijing; the Si Shang Art Museum, Beijing; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington; to name but a few. Her current solo exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Luzern, in Lucerne, Switzerland is on view until the 22nd of November.


    i Shara Hughes, quoted in ‘Barry Schwabsky with Shara Hughes’, in Shara Hughes, Andreas Grimm, ed., Berlin, 2021, p. 107.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Scandinavia

    • 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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Gihon River

oil and acrylic on canvas
120.9 x 132 cm (47 5/8 x 51 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2005.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for £214,200

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey

Specialist, Associate Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7318 4084

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 13 October 2022