Picture of the Week: Troubles by Christine Hughes

July 2, 2023

Christine Hughes, Troubles, 2018, enamel on panel, 30 x 40 in.

Christine Hughes is an artist and WSU alumna based in Hudson Valley. Although Hughes has lived in New York since the 1980s, she maintains strong ties with Detroit. She earned her BFA in Painting at Wayne State, and also studied at Western Michigan University and Cranbrook Academy of Art. Hughes lived and exhibited her work in New York City for 21 years. She has been featured in numerous exhibitions, including 29 shows in New York City, 17 in upstate New York, and 15 in Detroit. Additionally, Hughes received several awards and honors throughout her career, including a residency and exhibition at the Millay Colony and the Pollock Krasner Grant in 2022. Her work is currently part of 30 private collections, many of which own multiple works.

Hughes creates her artwork intuitively. She was first influenced by Detroit’s Cass Corridor Movement, which is known for its gritty, industrial aesthetic. She incorporated this influence in her early works when she would utilize compost and fragments from nature. However, this differs slightly from her paintings, where she recently began to experiment with what she calls “Physical Abstraction”. The process of painting itself is very meaningful to her: “The physical aspect of painting, both the holding of the brush and the moving paint around, and the painting [of] a physical object, even if abstract, are what I find important.” For Hughes, painting involves “grappling with the elements of form [and] structure.” Moreover, color serves as “a tool to evoke space or weight.” This is consistent with her 2018 enamel painting Troubles. She paints with a mix of oils and enamels, which allows for her to work on the same composition for hours each day. Hughes composes abstract forms in varying shades of red, pink, blue, and purple, with some black shading and outlines. Her use of darker colors for some of the objects creates the illusion that these ones are heavier than those painted in lighter colors. The forms look like found objects, yet Hughes elects to make these forms unidentifiable. Rather than isolate each object, she groups them close together, with curved forms mingling across the panel. The interactions between the forms reflect the title of Hughes’s work as well. She shares that Troubles is meant to refer to “the tension in painting to keep balance and movement, painterliness, and specificity between humor and absurdity.” Her brushstrokes reinforce the sense of movement within the composition; At first glance the painting looks like a still life, however Hughes’s brushstrokes suggest that many of the smaller forms are constantly moving from various angles and directions. 

Though Hughes is no longer based in Detroit, she preserves some of the Cass Corridor influence in Troubles. She includes curved lines and adds some cross-hatching to some of the abstract forms, creating an appearance reminiscent of the industrial materials used by many Cass Corridor artists. In addition to Detroit’s artistic influence, Troubles also shares some resemblance with the work of Canadian American artist Philip Guston. Guston first garnered success in the 1950s as an early abstract-expressionist, but shifted his aesthetic later in his career. He returned to figurative painting beginning in the late 1960s, yet maintained a degree of abstraction. This is evident in works such as Painting, Smoking, and Eating (1973), The Door (1976), and The Rug (1976). These three paintings, along with other works from Guston’s late career, showcase groupings of abstracted objects with defined lines and cross-hatching. While Guston situates his abstracted forms in identifiable settings, the abstracted forms themselves suggest that Guston’s work possesses some influence in Hughes’s recent paintings, Troubles included.

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: Christine Hughes




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