Ariane Heloise Hughes
Better Luck Next Time
Appearances can be deceiving. Likewise, the present is always constituted by distant reverberations, even when all we see is the unmistakable face of everyday life. Ariane Heloise Hughes’s début exhibition with GNYP Gallery revolves around identity, specifically female identity, conjugating the timeless representations of women with the ways contemporary sensibility apprehends their bodies, passions, fears, and desires. Arcane and modern symbols congregate in these dark canvases, ancient and new stories are interwoven, thus inviting us to a fresh look at old yet contemporary tropes.
It might sound like a paradox at first. Most of the paintings presented in this show revolve around Hughes’ personal life. They depict, in her own words, “heart breaks, rejection, growing pains, loss and moments of (in hindsight funny) misfortune.” However, they do so by employing a quality dear to Western culture since at least when Eve made her triumphal—and sinful—appearance in our lives. That is, these paintings vibrate through provocation, ciphers, seduction, and, above all, freedom. They extrapolate the personal and implicate all of us, regardless of our time, gender, and opinion.
Although the selfie is present, it is inserted in a broader context that disassembles the limits of the present. It is referencing there, on the one hand, the once celebrated depiction of the female body. Still, it also tells something about the contours of our narcissistic era; it appears as a critique of the hypersexualized female form in our spectacle-driven times. It is, after all, a selfie of a selfie, a clarifying distance that changes how we access this ubiquitous genre. Moreover, when a different character in another painting tries to look at herself in the mirror, she can’t recognize who she is—she becomes a sort of deflated sex doll. All it is left is the gloomy remains of a fetishized world, unable and perhaps unwilling to grant the female body a different existence. A different representation.
There is also, in this respect, the swan, maybe looking for Leda. Or the fractured face by despair. All these enduring symbols are reactivated to explain something about our current worries, pains, and encounters with pleasure. Hughes herself is alert to that temporal interplay, that connection with tradition, and the overlap between the personal and the universal: “I intentionally use visual cliches and obvious symbolism to open up the reading and obscure the very personal narrative they’re born out of.” The artist is present, utterly aware of her undertaking.
Hughes made intentionally 13 paintings for her show—the unlucky number. A witty provocation. Another way of relating our technological era with the eternal superstition that, ultimately, betrays who you are. After all, chance, myth, cynicism, lust, and misfortune are all part of the package that informs our personal and interpersonal relationships. These paintings appear to say that, sometimes, we end up like the “pie lady.” If that does happen, then better luck next time. History will for sure keep its unrelenting march. What news form of representation will new artists develop to account for that? Ariane Heloise Hughes just granted us 13 examples.
João Gabriel Rizek
The British-Australian artist Ariane Heloise Hughes describes her work as intricate, sensual, absurd. Appropriating often banal and unwittingly familiar narratives into a visual vernacular full of unusual and exaggerated forms, Hughes’ surrealistic depictions create a world that aims to draw the viewer in, engaging them in a process of active looking and contemplative thought. Through anachronistic objects and elements, distortions of scale and uses of colour, the artist usurps her reflections of now into ostensibly traditional and curious settings. By simultaneously drawing attention to the artifice of the image while presenting it as truth through naturalistic renderings, she is reflecting on the function of social media. Engaging deeply with the aesthetics and history of surrealism, Hughes’ paintings draw on and exaggerate the interplay between the real and the unreal. Hughes holds a BA in Painting from Camberwell University.