Artists Statements

Statements made by Patrick Hughes

Making things in perspective is taking experience as a solid rather than an ever-changing relationship.

I hope it is an experience unlike any other, in which viewers see the impossible happen. And I hope that they then think a bit about why that is. If lookers and see-ers experience the paradox and reciprocity of the world and themselves, they get a sense of the flow of life.

I am of a logical cast of mind, and find common sense hopeless. I embrace and celebrate the paradoxical. A paradox to me is like a pearl.

Eager for one's train to leave the station, one might see the train on the adjacent platform leaving in the opposite direction and for a few excited moments think one was on the way, only for hope to be dashed.

Why not make a railway line in perspective, make it actually come to a point, an outrageous exaggeration? I came to realise the importance of the ideas of perspective, of the vanishing point and infinity and the point of view and the horizon, the psychology and philosophy of it.

I am interested in a Paul Klee-like way with the geometric design of art and in a Magritte-like way in getting to the bottom of representation and reproduction.

I thought there was room for a paradoxer in art. Looking around I could see only René Magritte belonged to this tendency, although he used what I think of as a deplorably old-fashioned painting technique. With Klee and Steinberg, I thought that one should invent a newer way of representation, rather than paint pictures that look like poorly-painted photographs.

As a surrealist sympathiser, I have no faith in realism, or indeed in reality. Reality is much stranger than we think. I first became familiar with art through reproduction in books, often black and white reproductions. It does not occur to me that there is any great virtue to seeing the ‘real thing’. Magritte wrote on 27th September 1965 ‘I think … that the reproduction of a painting is good enough to find out what is interesting about it, just like a printed book gives us as much as the manuscript’.

To Hughes, art is a lingua franca – a language everyone can read. Not for him the egotism of the unmade bed or the pickled sheep. “I am not interested in the personal in art,” he says.

Humour added to high art is wonderful. The best thing that the art of the twentieth-century has done. Humour is tragedy elevated to the level of art! The wrong way around is more revealing. Tragedy is always the right way around, just worse. Humour is terribly important - Magritte's pictures are funny. Heraclitus' philosophy is funny. And the best teachers are funny.

I made the Sticking-out Room in 1964 in reverse perspective. I made it on a table, and thought it would merely obtrude, but when I put it on the wall I saw it, like everyone else, as receding. Knowing what I know now, I should have known it would. But I did not.

For the first thirty years of my career I was looking for a single, reverberating image. My pictures then were aphoristic, highly-honed visual paradoxes. Each picture was an attempt to propose a solution to a problem of my own devising. But these pictures were me telling you things. In the second half of my career, starting in 1990, I decided to concentrate on reverspectives, which enable the see-er to experience paradox.

People experience the reverspective as a disorientation. As they move to the left, the picture seems to move to the right. As they move down, the picture moves up. The crucial difference from my earlier work is that, instead of telling people contradictory things, I am giving the observer the experience. With their own eyes and feet giving them contradictory information the see-er decides that the picture they see must be moving, even though they know it is not.

When I say my works are made in perspective, they are, but it is not a coherent perspective. De Chirico experimented with contradictory vanishing points and isometric projection in the same picture, in his parody of Cubism. Each part of one of my paintings may be in perspective, but, overall, they are incoherent.

What I do in my art is two-fold. I make the world not as it is but as it appears – in perspective. Then I put the planes together the wrong way round, insinuating that the vanishing point is not before us but behind us.

The reason that the pictures seem to move is because our eyes are telling us we are moving in one direction and our bodies are telling us that we are moving in the opposite direction. All our lives our feet and our eyes have been in perfect synchronicity, so now that the eyes are lying to the legs, or the legs are lying to the eyes, we cannot accept this. But there is a way out of this difficulty: we presume that the planes in the paintings are moving. We are used to seeing things turning and moving in front of us and this presumption puts our bodies back together again.

The magic of the reverspectives is that I have managed to create an art that comes alive. Each plane of the picture shrinks or expands to accommodate the movement of the onlooker, in perfect harmony, like a good dance partner. Contrasted with the drips of Jackson Pollock, which record actions long past my pictures still keep the ability to turn and twist. Movement seems to be a condition of life.

The thing I have come to realise is I am not really interested in libraries or mazes or arcades and, come to think of it, I am not actually interested in perspective. My real interest in the end, what I find sublime, is the flux and the flow of it all. The library and the perspective are just means of enabling the strange relationship between the spectator and the picture - that state of flux. I love the ineffable part of it, the motion and the movement - the reciprocal relation like there is between people having a conversation. That's the interesting thing - the dialogue. I am not ultimately interested in skyscrapers or picture galleries, they are just means - not necessarily to an end, but I would rather say to a beginning. The beautiful thing to observe is when people are looking at them and moving and, I suppose, thinking and wondering.