Patrick Hughes is one of the key figures in contemporary British painting and the pioneer of ‘Reverspective’ art. Famous for his three-dimensional pieces and their unique use of optical illusion, Patrick Hughes' art challenges the viewer to question their own understanding of perspective and vision.
Born in Birmingham in 1939, Patrick Hughes became an artist by default. He never intended to begin painting and had instead wanted to be an English teacher. Upon being exposed to the work by the Surrealists, Patrick Hughes' interest in satire, illusion and art grew stronger. In 1959, after spending two years studying English literature in Leeds, his focus shifted and he fully consecrated himself to his art. As he nourished this new affinity, Hughes became drawn to the Bauhaus movement and the work by the Swiss-German painter, Paul Klee. These influences will continue to be made evident through Patrick Hughes' art as he develops his own unique style, otherwise known as Reverspective Art, over the course of the next five decades.
Reverspective art is the epitome of an optical illusion. When looking at a Patrick Hughes Reverspective painting, one will initially believe that they're viewing a painting that is exercising the Renaissance-era technique of linear perspective. But once the viewer shifts to the right or to the left, they will see that the illusion of depth remains evident and seems to follow them as they move back-and-forth, beholding the glory and trickery of Reverspective art.
The process of creating a reverspective artwork does not at all resemble that of a typical painting. Patrick Hughes' technique is different in that he must first craft a three-dimensional wood base. Paying careful attention to the angles, Hughes created a sort of "canvas" that when painted, would trick the viewer into thinking that the picture moves at the same time they do.
Patrick Hughes broke onto the art scene in 1961 with his solo show at the Portal Gallery. His exhibition marked a pivotal moment in contemporary art as it was the first solo Pop Art show. In 1964, just three years later, Patrick created Sticking-out Room, a piece that would epitomise his signature style. This was Patrick’s first reverspective, or reverse perspective work. And although it helped shape the course of his career and his enduring interest in the paradox and perception of space, he did not create another reverse perspective painting for thirty years.
Breaking this thirty-year long interlude, Patrick Hughes created the work Paradoxymoron, a painting that now hangs in the British Library, the place from which Hughes drew the inspiration for this work. It consists of a series of bookshelves that seem to shift as the viewer walks by. Hughes once stated that he is a literature fanatic and therefore the choice to depict bookshelves in one of his iconic Reverspective paintings was quite east. Bookshelves lend themselves nicely to geometric works.
Patrick Hughes' geometric abstract works often have a strong sense of narrative through their depth, and even when working on a flat surface, he still manages to create depth with his intricate skill and refined mark making.
One might notice that there are no human figures in Patrick Hughes's art. This can be said both for the rainbow art, as well as for the Reverspective art. When showing at a gallery in London in the early 2000's, Hughes explains his choice. He states that in his opinion, the viewer is half of the work. He therefore does not need to depict figures in his paintings as it's his audience that completes the overall composition. Hughes finds great pleasure in observing others as they study his art. He watches them shift back and forth on their feet, slowly adjusting to the ever-shifting and mind-bogglingly accurate perspective. He says it's somewhat of a dance and that as they engage with his paintings, they are the finishing touch on the body of work.
During the thirty year hiatus that was his break with Reverspective art, Hughes produced many pieces that are loosely referred to as "rainbow art". As can be seen in works like Night and Day and Solid Sky, the viewer easily recognises a rainbow within the painting. It has, however, been taken out of context and been draped, stretched or stacked across the picture plane. Garnering much popularity amongst the general public, these flashy and off-the-wall paintings were a modern take on Patrick Hughes' view on Surrealism.
Patrick’s ‘relief’ reverspective paintings, together with his rainbow works, have become hugely popular due their playful and intriguing nature, and Surrealist edge. Today, Patrick’s art is shown in the collections of London’s most prominent institutions, from The British Library to Tate Modern, and continues to show in exhibitions throughout the world. The artist-come-author has also produced a number of books, including Vicious Circles and Infinity, Upon the Pun, Dual Meaning in Words and Pictures and Paradoxymoron and Foolish Wisdom in Words and Pictures.