For the purpose of these interrogations, the Museum has developed a series of questions for exhibiting contemporary artists in an attempt to enliven and explore the discourse between the artist and the institution – with specific focus on site, interpretation, relevance, process, and sources.
Skylar Hughes investigates relationships, associations, and the artistic process in the paintings and collages on display in One Big Gust of Wind. The works hover on the edge between abstraction and representation, the familiar and the unrecognizable, and conscious and unconscious painterly gesture. One Big Gust of Wind will be exhibited from June 15 through September 15, 2013 at the New Britain Museum. Please join us for the opening reception on Sunday, June 16 from 3-4:30 p.m., with remarks at 3:30 p.m.
Q: Does your work belong in a traditional museum setting? Do you think your work gains credibility by being displayed in a traditional museum setting?
Skylar Hughes (SH): The museum setting is the end point to the venue hierarchy, and that’s not to undermine the ‘Gallery” as a site, because its essential to an artist’s practice, but there is a different drive behind the way the work is shown. There is an inherent “selling” point in the ‘Gallery,’ it’s strategic and of the moment and attempts to gain recognition (not always or necessarily financially), whereas a museum’s collection has ‘earned’ its way there, so to speak. The work’s value has been recognized as something that needs a more permanent and visible place.
Q: Can you describe the “ideal venue” for your work?
SH: The NEW/NOW exhibition space operates in between these two ‘venues’ – a gallery within a museum. It’s a unique place to show work. You are elevated to a certain level, you exist as equals for a time with great artists for whom I hold a great deal of respect for. My work will sit between one of my favorite Fairfield Porter paintings and an iconic, site-specific Thomas Hart Benton mural. It’s a tremendous thing to be given that kind of recognition and an ideal space for this body of work.
Q: Does the viewer matter?
SH: I’ve always considered my work as a kind-of placeholder for a period of time in my life, something to put down not just to show for, but in order to understand and move on from. That necessity has always been a part of me in a natural and honest way, but that’s just a starting point, a drive for the creative process. “One Big Gust of Wind,” insists and relies upon the viewer’s relationship to it. Its juxtaposition of imagery and painterly qualities are meant to maintain an open-ended character, one that calls attention not only to the associations made to it, but the ability to do so.
Q: Do you ever feel “misunderstood?
SH: Much of that quality is an outcome of how the work was made. There’s something beautiful and unique about the possibility of painting; it’s wildly free, but also a struggle to overcome. The work comes out of that creative process and points to it, not necessarily as a painterly or artistic act, but as an act that’s significant in itself. It’s about going after something, chasing something whether or not you catch it. That idea pervades the work. It is elusive and open-ended in order to bring about associations and is meant to suggest that the way in which we come to relate and how we do connect to the work is what signifies and defines its success. That quality sort-of throws out the idea of being ‘misunderstood’ as an artist. It’s natural to look for representation and meaning in what is not readily apparent, the work plays off of that. Whether or not the viewer responds to what I’m getting at isn’t necessarily important. As long as there is something meaningful taken away from the work, in whatever capacity that may be, I feel as though the work has reached its goal.
Q: Does your art engage with societal issues/controversies/trends? Do you consider it among the responsibilities of an artist to provide commentary on society at large? Why or why not?
SH: I think it is the responsibility of the artist to provide an interpretation of contemporary life. Whether or not there is a readily apparent social or political commentary concerning the work, those thoughts and opinions are still relevant in-so-far-that the work has come out of them. Artwork has a context whether or not it alludes to it.
Q: Why should people pay attention to your work? What makes you different?
SH: For me, the things that are important and relevant are more abstract in nature. They are broader thoughts and ideas that can encompass signals to singular events and concrete mindsets, but aren’t limited to them. My work is honest in its dismissal of the ability to provide some kind of mystic truth as it is conscious of being an outcome of the way I see things, it’s my interpretation. It doesn’t offer an answer to those things because I don’t have an answer. Instead, the work points to the attempt at describing and understanding those thoughts, that going after those things is something important in itself and relevant to us all.
Q: What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
SH: I have this little, ebony sculpture of a hand with its pointer finger extended that I keep strung from the ceiling of my studio. I’m not exactly sure where it came from or who made it, but it serves as a gesture to art history. There’s this floating hand in one of Giotto’s wall frescoes in Assisi that I had the chance to see while studying there. It didn’t strike me as much as its intended ‘hand of God,’ but more as a hand to what’s come before. I keep it as an acknowledgement to the progression of things. I like working under that hand with that idea in mind.
Q: Have you ever taken a major risk within your practice? What was the outcome?
SH: Risk taking is an inherent quality of art making, you need it in order to move forward. This body of work as a whole may come across that way to some familiar with what I’ve done before. It is different, certainly, but I think it keeps up with what made that work nice – the atmosphere and mood, its feel and sentiment. I don’t mean to denounce that work or how it was received, I just felt the need to move on from it in order to grow. And besides, being out on a limb is where a lot of good things happen. The beauty of art-making is in its possibility; its wide open, you just need to tackle it, but discovery hardly ever comes from within your comfort zone.
Q: Some people fail to connect with contemporary art because there are no set rules or criteria – beauty for example – to determine merit. As they say, “anything goes.” When making a work, how do you tell if it is successful? Do you have your own criteria that you measure against?
SH: I’ve always taken cues from Rauschenberg and Johns’ championing of the idea that the experience one takes away from “Art,” is open and intended for anyone. That experience is defined not only by what you make of it, but what you bring to it. I determine the success of artwork by its ability to communicate and judge that ability by how open-ended its interpretation can be. My intention is to allow for a broad level of connections and associations to be made to the work, however well informed the viewer may be and however much may be picked up on. If that connection is at the very least an appreciation of the formal aspects, the work has still allowed for that connection. And of course there’s more I’d like the viewer to get out of the work than just that, but it’s open to that too.
Q: If you were asked to “cite your sources”, whatever they may be, what would be on your list?
SH: Citing sources is a difficult thing to do. I could say that a particular piece came out of listening to an album for a time, or refers to a book, or describes how overwhelming living in a city can be, or relates to the way you feel at 7 o’clock when the light is rapidly changing. It’s all of those things. Art making is an interpretation of your experience as a whole.