Throughout his impressive career, British artist Patrick Hughes has been renowned for his innovations in the art of perspective. With close ties to the British surrealist movement of the 1950s and 1960s, this Pop artist created his first “reverse perspective“ paintings over 50 years ago. Since then, he has not only made a significant impact on the British artistic landscape, but also the scientific field of visual perception. Read on to learn more about his fascinating contributions to art history.
Born in 1936, Hughes originally studied to become a writer or an English teacher, though fate eventually steered him towards painting. It was his study of the absurdist authors and playwrights N.F. Simpson, Laurence Sterne, Eugène Ionesco, Franz Kafka and Lewis Carroll that inevitably shifted his focus to the art world. As he once said, “It wasn’t my ambition to be an artist — it happened to me.” The artist brings a similar type of humor to his highly distinctive paintings, which probe the relationship between reality and representation in a way that destabilizes both.
Acqua Alta Again by Patrick Hughes, 2017. M.S. Rau, New Orleans.
Though he credits many of the early absurdists and Surrealists as his primary sources of inspiration, Hughes has never formally attached himself to any movement, keeping himself and his oeuvre separate from groups that emerged in England in the mid-20th century. However, according to George Melly, who wrote the introduction to the catalog of Hughes’ first solo exhibition, he was among the “young British artists who seem to be directly or indirectly moved by the surrealist spirit.” That exhibition, which was held at the Portal Gallery in London in 1961, was organized soon after Hughes completed his studies at Leeds, propelling him into the public realm at a relatively young age.
A Cardboard Box by Patrick Hughes, 2017. M.S. Rau, New Orleans.
Not only was Hughes very well-versed in the history of the Dadaists and Surrealists, including Rene Magritte, Paul Klee, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, he also was a student of the science of perspective, psychology, physics and neuroscience. In this way, he paid homage to the great masters of Renaissance art — Donatello, Ghiberti, Holbein the Younger and Palladio — who were the pioneers of linear perspective and geometric construction. Within his works, he secreted both implicit and explicit references to these early art historical greats, including classical architecture, pyramids and historical instruments. This exceptional combination of classical and surrealist perspectives make his oeuvre something both dynamic and entirely unique.
Following his initial years of success, Hughes created his first reverse perspective (which he dubbed “reverspective") painting in 1964, effectively changing the course of his career. These three-dimensional works were specially designed to trick the eye. Constructed of wooden panels forming three-dimensional pyramids, the resulting illusion of space within the pictorial frame changes seamlessly as the viewer interacts with it, bringing the feeling that one is moving around the room. As Hughes once stated in an interview with Murray McDonald, “I do not make the illusions, I make the coherent structures that are neat and complete; it is the see-er who creates the illusion. You are the person who makes it, with your mind and your legs."
Sea Views by Patrick Hughes, 2017. M.S. Rau, New Orleans.
Sea Views viewed from below.
Sea Views from alternative perspective.
Throughout his career, Hughes has experimented with a number of settings using this unique method. Mazes, art galleries, classical arcades and even sweeping Venetian views have all featured prominently in his works. In 2014, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science from the University of London in recognition of his advancements in the study of the psychology of perception. He is also a published author, having written texts on visual and verbal logic, including Paradoxymoron (2011) and Foolish Wisdom in Words (2011).
Today, Patrick Hughes continues to explore the world through his unique perspective, most recently in a serious of works that explores the centuries-old architecture and canals of Venice. The artist also works in the second dimensional with a series of prints featuring rainbows, a motif he has explored since his early years as a painter. These M.C. Escher-esque creations reveal the versatility and creativity of the artist, whose over 60-year-long career has pushed boundaries and challenged the way that we view the world.
As he once said: “Reverspectives give you air to breathe and a dance of life to pursue. I like to think my work is universally appealing.” An absolute original, today his works can be found in the Denver Art Museum, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, British Academy, Leeds Arts University and many other public and private collections.
Ades, Dawn. Flowers, Matthew. Hughes, Patrick, et al. A New Perspective: Patrick Hughes, Flowers Gallery, London, 2014 “About Patrick Hughes.” patrickhughes.co.uk. Accessed August 20, 2022. https://www.patrickhughes.co.uk/about/