“I made a solid decision after college, I figured if I put the work into my work that other people put into socialising, I could get the shows without the schmoozing. And for a long time I thought it was a pretty bad decision, but it seems to have paid off.” Darragh Hughes has worked hard to get here and finally, it seems, his hard work has paid off as he is about to open his first solo exhibition in The Sebastian Guinness Gallery later this month. For three weeks Hughes will be secreted away in the gallery in the heart of Dublin’s elite Dawson Street, while he creates the paintings for his exhibition Black and White.
The large-scale figurative pieces are being painted on site in the gallery space, an unusual process for both artist and gallery and one which blurs the lines between the romantic ideal of the organic disorder of the artists studio, and the gleaming white exhibition cube. Hughes jumped at the chance to work in the gallery and has transformed the usually spotless white walled space into a temporary studio, complete with magazine clippings tacked to the walls and tables covered in paint splashes and the random paraphernalia of the working artist.
After getting a BA in Fine Art at DIT, “a fairly useless degree when it came to getting work”, Hughes showed in small group exhibitions and worked untiringly in his studio producing pieces “always around the body and about the body”. Heavily influenced by classical Greek art, Hughes uses the corporal form as his subject to create a “trans-historical” image, one that he hopes may be read “outside it’s time”, something timeless and elemental that serves to remind us that the very nature of life can be broken down into two simple truths -suffering and lust.
Hughes source material includes magazine pornography and photographs of the tortured internees of Abu Ghraib, extremes of human behaviour that serve to remind us of our primal nature. Although it would be easy write off the use of these images as sensationalisation and shock tactics, they are filtered through the artists emotional response, which “fits in with the base animality better than thought, a kind of guttural response”. This ensures they do not exist within an emotional vacuum. Hughes wants to give these images back some of their “weight” and believes that “mass-production has devalued images of suffering to the point where they mean absolutely nothing”. His monumentalisation of these iconic images “gives them back some of the emotion they should have.”
His use of water-based media stems from Hughes innate impatience and inability to wait a week for a layer of paint to dry. Using a quicker drying media allows him to work at speed, achieving the same layering and depth of oil paint in a fraction of the time, doing in a day what would take a month with oil paint. The paintings in Black and White are purely corporal and express Hughes “understanding of the way people function… I kind of see human beings as animals, basic bodily urges, sex, violence, domination, sub-mission, as complex as culture and society gets, that’s the undercurrent, the motivation behind everyone’s actions”.
The figures within the pieces are headless, without facial features in an effort to keep them as “Just bodies, no background, just the body” and to stop them being read as individual rather about “human beings as a whole”. This accessibility for the audience to identify with the work is important to Hughes, the idea that these bodies “could be your body”. These are not the idealised bodies of celebrity magazines and MTV, they are stripped back and naked, a snapshot of our “wretched state” and an honest re-presentation of our hidden animality, what we truly are underneath.
Honesty is a word seldom associated with contemporary art and is something artists ignore while producing “badly made stuff about unimportant subjects”. This consequence of Post-Modernism does not sit well with Hughes and he is uncomfortable with a lot of contemporary art where “everything is ironic, nothing is serious, nothing is taken seriously”. Hughes work is a reaction to this world of triviality and demands to be taken seriously. Black and White gives us an insight into what happens when someone who “likes to be in conflict…. And feel like I’m on the outside” gets access the very heart of the contemporary art world and presents work that contains gravitas rather than in-joke irony. Hughes is grateful and a little unbelieving that he is in this position, “I’m still expecting to wake up, rocking back and forward in a mental institution, with a load of people standing around saying, “This one thinks he’s an Artist!” If that’s the case let’s hope he never wakes up.
Images and footage of Darragh Hughes working in the space will uploaded via galleries Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube account during the weeks prior to the exhibition.
By Niamh Murphy
Niamh Murphy is a video and performance artist based in Dublin and co-founder of the Performance Art Live Foundation.