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Beautiful chaos: Shara Hughes

Naked Lady, 2019

Shara Hughes

Oil and dye on canvas

78 x 66 in

Shara Hughes (b. 1981) is an Atlanta-born, Brooklyn-based painter who, relying on intuition, creates fantastical landscapes.

Shara Hughes’ market is hot. Her 2019 piece “Naked Lady” recently set an auction record, selling for over $2M. What makes Hughes unique is her intuitive process, guided by her imagination and desire to organize and make beautiful disparate, often chaotic elements.

“When I’m not in my studio, I can’t think about making paintings. I need to be in front of the work to be completely in the moment of making. I like to have this on the fly feeling because I feel like it comes from the most honest part of being an artist to me.”

Shara Hughes was born and raised in Atlanta, GA, the youngest of four with three older brothers. Hughes was often excluded from her brothers’ play, so she learned “independent play” from an early age. This involved creating art and exploring her own imagination. She developed a tendency toward visual invention, which became clear to her and her teachers after a high school sculpture assignment. Everyone in the class interpreted the assignment the same way, creating similar sculptures. Hughes, on the other hand, took an entirely different, inventive direction. Fortunately, her teachers encouraged her creativity, which led her to pursue art school. She hasn’t looked back since.

Hughes graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004, and after a series of residencies, further studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in 2011. 2018 was an inflection year for Hughes’ career. She exhibited internationally, including for the first time in London at the taste-making restaurant / gallery space The Art Club. Since then, Hughes’ work has been among the most in-demand by any contemporary artist in the world.

Where the Sky Ends, 2018

Shara Hughes

Oil and acrylic on canvas

68 x 60 in

Hughes’ weighty, dreamlike landscapes aren’t influenced by reference photos and she even resists inserting her own memories into the work. Instead, she has an in-the-moment “conversation” with the canvas: make a mark, stepping back, see how that mark impacts the composition, make another mark. In this way, each work takes on a life of its own.

She collages and quilts together different techniques that traditionally might not go together. “Since the beginning, I’ve always been interested in combining different techniques in one that shouldn’t go together, and how do I make my own world out of totally different elements, pieces, patterns and shapes.”

Hughes is well-known for her flower paintings. Her flowers are large and dominate the scenes, creating a portrait-like effect. And unlike traditional still life flower paintings, Hughes’ flowers are alive, active and rooted in a natural environment. She also depicts flowers in a way that is not just beautiful but sometimes aggressive and unsettling. This is an element that her work typically has. It pulls the viewer in with a somewhat familiar scene, but a closer look can be unsettling.

A review of Hughes’ The Art Club show by IdeelArt captures the effect of viewing her work quite well. “The effect is like chaos mixed with stoicism and a side of playfulness, which reminds me that these paintings are not the cynical products of someone trying to make a point. They are aspirational works that do not yet know what they are, the result of Hughes reaching towards something that she does not fully understand herself.”


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