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.