Well regarded for his minimalist paintings, drawings, and sculpture, Edward McHugh has brought the same command of form, layering, and arrangement to his recent body of photographs. The camera, however, has introduced a new level of spontaneity to McHugh’s work. It has also launched McHugh into a startling exploration of light.
At first glance, McHugh’s studies of light and landscape evoke the painterly and photographic traditions of the 19th century, from the moist, low skies of The Hague School to the turbulent and brilliant seascapes of Gustave Le Gray. Yet his deceptively picturesque scenes draw from a complex range of both contemporary and historic sources to play with our perceived ideas of the beautiful and the banal, abstraction and representation, and the real and the contrived.
Beginning with ordinary locations, such as marshlands beside big-box commercial developments or the boardwalk in Wildwood, McHugh selects a constrained view from which he can suggest an ideal of natural beauty. With these atmospheric scenes, McHugh deftly deceives our visual memories. His images lull us with recollections of Corot’s idyllic landscapes and Whistler’s brooding nocturnes. While striking for their light and shadow, the images are grounded in McHugh’s interest in arranging essential forms and lines. Great solid objects in the pictures, like piers and battleships, owe as much to Richard Serra as to the Barbizon School. McHugh further combines the historic and contemporary by diffusing the imagery, initially with how he takes the photograph and later by coating the print with layers of wax. This softening of the image evokes the sensibility of pictorialist photography while breaking down the pictures into pure abstraction. McHugh skillfully combines these disparate influences to create rich, cohesive images that evince a complex romance with the landscape, one that is interested in constructing beauty rather than in capturing it.
Considering McHugh’s earlier work, Nina del Rio, former Vice President of Sotheby’s Contemporary Print Department stated, “McHugh constructs his surfaces: lines sit atop a gently lit ground built from translucent layer upon layer; one color rests on another, creating unusual depth and ambience.” In describing McHugh’s first attempts at bronze sculpture, Thomas J. Loughman, Curator of European Art at the Phoenix Art Museum, wrote, “…As throughout his entire oeuvre, McHugh has kept true to the elemental concepts that are his foundation. As a result, each work of art succeeds as a well-executed essay of simple form and sublime beauty.” These concerns of layering and simple form, which have characterized all of McHugh’s earlier work, have translated elegantly into his latest efforts in photography.
McHugh was born and raised in Philadelphia and currently lives and works in the city. A photographer, painter, sculptor, and printmaker, McHugh has studied at the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia and Crown Pointe Press in San Francisco. He has had exhibitions at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in Colorado, Robert Klein Gallery in Boston, Works on Paper in Philadelphia, and Connor Contemporary in Washington DC. His work has been reviewed in The Philadelphia Inquirer and has been presented at prestigious art fairs including Art Chicago, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) Fair in New York, and Art Santa Fe. His work is in numerous public and private collections and his printmaking portfolios have been produced by Crown Pointe Press in San Francisco, Ettinger Studio in Philadelphia, and Watanabe Studios in New York.