Totem totem

Art Life , Reviews Jul 23, 2010 1 Comment

Please welcome as Sharne Wolff joins TEAM Art Life as our Senior Brisbane [and all points north] Correspondent. For her debut she takes a gander at Natalya Hughes latest show Totem Totem…

It’s not often these days that a jpeg on a Friday afternoon gallery email tempts you to scroll down the page a little more to check out the full picture. Milani Gallery’s email for the opening of Natalya Hughes’ latest exhibition Totem Totem on 8 July 2010 certainly inspired further investigation.

Natalya Hughes, 1st Totem, 2010
Oil on canvas, 190 x 98 cm.

Hughes is pretty much everywhere in Brisbane at the moment, featuring in Milani Gallery’s solo exhibition and simultaneously in two group shows at QUT Art Museum. She must feel like one of those actors who have been toiling away and then suddenly several years work is released all at once. The benefit for art lovers is that a quick visit to QUT Art Museum for the two shows A Generosity of Spirit and Zen to Kawaii – the Japanese Affect gives you, without too much hard work, an overview of how the artist’s work has evolved.

Once through the imposing entry door at Milani (which for some reason always reminds me of the old bank safe my parents had out the back of their rented shop when I was a kid) the Totem Totem exhibition at has a more challenging presence than the works in the QUT shows. The exhibition consists of two parts – five large oils and a few smaller ones together with eleven smaller watercolour works with the subtitle of ‘Floppy’, some of which were completed during a recent residency in Singapore.

This work represents a shift for Hughes. Although the influence of earlier Japanese style works is referenced in most of the new pictures, there is less of the oriental and more of the artist’s personal presence in the room with this exhibition. Although still working in that flat style, the work is generally more figurative. The evolution is evident especially through works such as Special Explosion. But the works from which the exhibition takes its name, 1st Totem and 3rd Totem hung at either end of the gallery, stare out at us through their black rimmed spectacles to every point in the room, perhaps making the viewer feel just a little uncomfortable. Apparently the glasses represent both the artist’s father, who died recently, and the artist herself as identified through her father, in Self Portrait.

Natalya Hughes, Tiger Tile, 2009.
Watercolour on paper, 31.5 x 24 cm

The totems are a useful device for exploring different aspects of the artist’s inner thoughts and current influences. They have an unconventional but wonderful symmetry as the artist uses everything from decorative floral motifs to grotesque body parts, hair, wild animals, fruit, trees and a fez to form each of the totemic structures. Antique cream canvases show off the intricate detail in the work perfectly and in her oils Hughes’ uses beautifully muted ‘art nouveau’ colours – the detail of which is so carefully constructed that at first glance it appears that parts of the work have been collaged from old fabrics or wallpapers. This is not a large exhibition presumably because Hughes has spent time to create such intricate and decorative patterns.

The watercolours, which are mainly sourced from a residency in Singapore, contain some similar imagery – and highlight the new culture in which she found herself immersed. Two text works comprising the words Woman Splashes Vomit on Staircase and Well Dressed Man Eats Banana Beside His Car and Throws Skin on the Ground (both of which are apparently drawn from Singapore newspaper headlines) may highlight the cultural differences the artist faced during her residency and add a lighter tone to the exhibition.

Hughes is a young artist with a solid body of work behind her since graduating with her first degree. It seems Brisbane is well and truly aware of her emerging talent because this show is already almost sold out. It’s worth catching her in all three shows while you can.

Natalya Hughes
Milani Gallery
Until 24 July 2010

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Sharne Wolff

One Comments

  1. Dr. Freud

    It looks like a penis-nose to me.

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