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Things we Found at the Lake

Days at the lake, an archetypal Canadian Summer pastime, are presented by Hughes as a site where the banal meets the otherworldly.  As a new Canadian, the artist became intrigued by the confluence of figure and landscape offered by observing bathers at lakes, creeks and pools on the West Coast.  She began to reflect upon her own cultural heritage derived from British folklore and traditions, Western European painting and mythology, and sought to reflect the dislocation she feels as an outsider in her newly adopted country and landscape.  Mundane activity at the lake is juxtaposed with elements reflecting these concerns – the Hobby Horse from British folklore parades, the Morris dancer, Herne the Hunter with a stag’s head, the ‘Mummer’ or masked figure, and the ‘Mari Lwyd’; a horse-headed character from Wales, where her family name originates.  In some pieces bathers are bypassed by groups of archetypal Canadian wildlife creatures – beavers, loons, Canada Geese - in an absurd manner; an outsider’s fantasy of Canadiana and Canadian wildlife.  As well, Hughes makes reference to Western European painting history, mythology and literature, whether directly as in ‘After Titian’, which is based upon Titian’s painting of Bacchus and Ariadne from the National Gallery in London, a depiction of mythological love at first sight, or more obliquely, as in ‘Weedy Trophies’ which refers to the death of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the painted depiction of it by John Everett Millais in Tate Britain.  Hughes’ Ophelia is seen in a dark west coast bog surrounded by snow and skunk cabbages, and looked on by two male figures with dog mask heads. 

In ‘Things we Lost to the Flames’ a trio of young people float around on inflatables, chilling out with parasols reminiscent of Impressionist paintings.  They are seemingly oblivious to the burning shack in the background and the figures struggling in the water in the distance.  The image of the burning shack is based upon the burning of squatters’ shacks built in Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver that occurred in the early 1970s.  The artist was interested in the idea of a lost idealism or utopianism, and of a changed society where property ownership and real estate fetishism dominate, casting a shadow for young people. 

Rites of Passage In this series, Hughes assembles a cast of bathers at a creek pool to create enigmatic narratives reflecting youth rites of passage, the idea of the Baccanale from European mythology, and the inherent dangers of engaging physically in the Canadian landscape or wilderness.  She is interested in the art historical idea of the sublime, the awe and wonder of contemplating the grandeur of the landscape, which goes hand in hand with experiencing the terror and danger to be found there.  Depicting cliff jumping, a popular but dangerous youth activity in the canyon located near the artist’s home, Hughes engages with the idea of the sublime, as well as reflecting upon the insidious nature of peer and crowd mentality, a reference to the uncontrolled abandon of the Bacchantes or followers of Bacchus the God of Wine in Greco-Roman mythology.  Young men are seen as Therianthropes, or humans metamorphosing into animals, as they are driven to follow one another to take a jump from the cliff.  The young women, meanwhile, watch passively or are largely oblivious to the proceedings.  In ‘The Unannounced’, the all-female group of bathers, watchers and jumpers engage in these activities in a more nonchalant manner.       

Rites of Passage

In this series, Hughes assembles a cast of bathers at a creek pool to create enigmatic narratives reflecting youth rites of passage, the idea of the Baccanale from European mythology, and the inherent dangers of engaging physically in the Canadian landscape or wilderness.  She is interested in the art historical idea of the sublime, the awe and wonder of contemplating the grandeur of the landscape, which goes hand in hand with experiencing the terror and danger to be found there.  Depicting cliff jumping, a popular but dangerous youth activity in the canyon located near the artist’s home, Hughes engages with the idea of the sublime, as well as reflecting upon the insidious nature of peer and crowd mentality, a reference to the uncontrolled abandon of the Bacchantes or followers of Bacchus the God of Wine in Greco-Roman mythology.  Young men are seen as Therianthropes, or humans metamorphosing into animals, as they are driven to follow one another to take a jump from the cliff.  The young women, meanwhile, watch passively or are largely oblivious to the proceedings.  In ‘The Unannounced’, the all-female group of bathers, watchers and jumpers engage in these activities in a more nonchalant manner.