SKYLAR HUGHES

 

Skylar Hughes, “Grey One”

 

 

June 4 - July 16, 2016 at The Lodge, Hollywood

by Andy Brumer

 

 

The mythic sounding, rough hewn alliteration of this show’s title, “We’re All Stone Raising,” belies the effortless elegance, smoothness of style and gentle demeanor of Skylar Hughes' paintings. The name comes from a song lyric written by the artist, a native of Connecticut now living in Los Angeles. Each small oil on canvas presents a flowing, lyrical and/or dreamlike abstraction of forests, trees, light, lakes, rocks, waves and clouds. Speaking of the work in a statement, Hughes says that the works' basis lies “... in the landscape tradition and use of representational imagery [that] serves as a ground for abstraction and suggestion ...”

 

Skylar Hughes, “Grey One,” 2016, oil on canvas, 12 x 12”.

 

 

Indeed, while clearly recognizable natural imagery proliferates in and energizes each canvas, it is not created via direct observation of nature. More “innerscapes” than landscapes, then, each work stands as an emblem of a fecund, meditative and imaginative encounter between the artist and his blank canvas. However, unlike the Abstract Expressionist’s stormy journey of inward soul searching coupled with their “heroic” outward action of slashing, dripping and splashing paint into pictures, Hughes' mellow approach results in small paintings that nevertheless present complex and surprisingly broad vistas.

 

The paintings’ surfaces do add a bit of a nod to his AE forebears in the ridges of a scalpel’s scar, or a sprinkling of a roughened surface here and there. But the gestalt points more persuasively to the color field tones of L.A.’s Light and Space artists, whose work, likewise and even when discussed as “fetishistic,” had a similarly centering and calming effect on viewers. Think of a slow muted Miles Davis’s trumpet solo or an Erik Satie piano Sonata (each echoing within the chamber a Larry Bell colored glass and stainless steel box). The contained yet spiritualized sensuality of Hughes’ paintings is clear.

 

In one 12 by 16 inch painting titled “All the Kingdom Glows,” a Gauguin/Rousseau-like forest expands to fill the entire small canvas as if by inhaling the very oxygen its virtual trees produce. Vertical shoots of tree trunks interact with a horizontal meandering row of doodle-like verdant leaves, the image forming an airy scrim that fronts a slightly humorous vertically oriented blue “sky.” It occupies and brings to life the entire “working space” (to borrow Frank Stella’s phrase) of the canvas. Yet it’s the manner in which the density and earthiness of the works’ imagery releases such liberating and ethereal songs that lies at the heart of the spiritual achievement of this body of work.

 

Another piece, the 12 by 12 inch “Creek Croaking” depicts a magic fairytale-like environment of a secluded pond encircled by a ghostly gaggle of sepia/pink and purple sketched trees. The foliage might have dreamed itself directly out of the studios of Matisse and Cezanne. One thinks as well of Chinese landscape scroll paintings and the comedies of William Shakespeare, such as “Twelfth Night” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” where a forest’s depths becomes a caldron for magic, romance and self-transformation. The poet Robert Bly once said that when people walk into the woods they instantly fall silent. In the presence of this very lovely, gently understated yet sophisticated body of work, one feels a similar and salutary slowing down as well.