Ronnie Hughes: Manifest

Northern Irish artist takes a new direction at the Millennium Court Arts Centre. Click Play Video to preview

Ronnie Hughes's work can be divisive. Displaying networks of straight lines and angles, circles of colour and the negative spaces between, this internationally renowned artist can bemuse and inspire in equal measure. But there's a lot more to his paintings than meets the eye.

'New England Drawing 94'Manifest is Hughes latest exhibition at the Millennium Court Arts Centre in Portadown. 

Combining paintings and drawings, the work springs from a two-month sojourn at the Josef & Anni Albers’ Foundation in Connecticut in 2006 and a further visit to the Vermont Studio Centre.

The intensity of the two New England residencies enabled Hughes’s practice to germinate in previously unimagined directions, focusing specifically on the process of drawing. 

presents a new body of mainly large paintings and a large number of previously unseen New England drawings.

During his time in the US, Hughes utilised new materials, using gouache and coloured pencil to produce drawings that are directly influenced by the natural surroundings of the Vermont Studio Centre itself.

The measured intimacy and quiet ‘slowness’ of these works are important factors for the artist. 'Blue Forms'

'I'd originally planned to make paintings, but when I arrived at the studio there was this nice old drafting table.

'The first thing I did was go into town, buy some paper and start to make some drawings. I did some painting there also, but the drawings went so well for me that they pushed me in a different direction.'

The emphasis on drawing has since become a major determinant in the evolutionary process of Hughes’s paintings.

'All the drawings were made with gouache or with coloured pencils, or a mix of both. It's a different type of discipline. The nice thing about painting is that you can erase, that's part of the process. But with drawings, you don't have that luxury. There's not as much of a margin for revision.

'With painting, there's always a sense of having to maintain forms within your own language. Style is always something I've tried to resist. If I have any kind of ethos that's what it would be: to keep the exploration open and to have freedom in what I do. 

'New England Drawing 69''In producing abstract paintings, there's a little bit of tension there in that the paintings are instantly recognisable. With the drawings I could draw a tree, for example, which I would not usually do. It was a liberating exercise.'

Manifest is the third project in a series of exhibitions entitled Beneath the Painted Surface, curated by MCAC director and head curator, Megan Johnston. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue publication.