Shara Hughes, whose invented landscapes have intoxicated me since I saw one nearly 10 years ago, is at a turning point. At 42, she’s getting married to her longtime partner and fellow artist, Austin Eddy. She is making work for her Los Angeles debut, in September, at the David Kordansky Gallery, and she is on the verge of signing with a another, top-tier gallery. Hughes and Eddy recently bought half a town house, with a garden, in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. They’re getting a Boston terrier puppy, tentatively named Puppet, to replace Hughes’s much-loved Chicken Nugget. And she’s thinking hard about saying goodbye to landscape as her main subject.
“There’s a big transition coming,” Hughes tells me. It’s mid-May and we’re in her Brooklyn studio, which is a seven-minute walk from the town house. “I’m not unsure about anything—I feel very good right now.” Although she doesn’t know exactly what her post-landscape work might look like, she’s got lots of ideas. “I’ve been thinking about tapestries or mosaics, doing more public things that take you out of one world and into a different one.” The massive outdoor mural she designed in 2018 across from Boston’s South Station opened her eyes to other possibilities. “I’m thinking outside of the gallery box. I’m not pushing the change, as I think it will come naturally when it’s needed.” The main thing about Hughes’s work is that she doesn’t paint from life, ever. “My works are more about painting than nature,” she has said.
Hughes is medium tall, with long blond hair and a confident, upbeat manner. When I first see her, she’s just back from Denmark, where “Right This Way,” her solo show that opened in May at the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, is presenting a riotous survey of mostly new paintings and drawings. Nobody has ever done landscapes quite like these—forests and swamps and lakes in vibrating, unexpected color combinations, dark blue clouds rolled up like rugs, portraits of the sun burning through the Nordic woods at various times of day. There are echoes of David Hockney, Edvard Munch, Charles Burchfield, and others, but Hughes weaves a spell that’s unique, high-spirited, fearless, and indelible.
Inadvertently, she does a lot of influencing of her own. Imaginary landscapes without people and unbridled color combinations have been turning up in the work of more and more young artists for some time now. “Shara’s paintings are dazzling,” Dana Schutz, one of the most admired artists working today, tells me. “The way she constructs and inverts space is wild and unusual. There are not many painters like her who are unabashedly loose and symbolic. It’s rare for landscape painting to have such a visual force and to be so mercurial.”
Her studio is chock-full of new paintings for the LA show, which is called “Light the Dark.” Most of them are very large and decidedly vertical, which is unusual for landscapes. “I mainly stick to verticals because it’s contrary to how a typical landscape should be oriented,” she tells me. “I think it subconsciously brings the viewer out of the typical landscape genre and back to painting, which is really what my paintings are about.”