Hilary Hughes

artist and photographer


Archaeology and geology, anthropology and geography – the earth and human sciences have preoccupied me for much of my life. Photography has been my chosen tool for much of this time but its two-dimensionality became inadequate in my search for a way to express and explore the layers, the depth and the element of change over time.

    Some of my work revolves around the visual outcomes of the physical and chemical processes which occur when man interferes with the earth. Inspiration is coming from land use in the form of building, mining, quarrying and salt production, and what happens when the products of this activity – ores, metals, structures – and their ‘waste’ begin to revert to their component elements. For example, by working backwards from metal plates (copper and steel) via corrosion to oxides, I have been exploring how easily our carefully produced pure metals return to more natural compounds. Using materials such as sand, china clay, lime, soil, salts and acids, the paintings are a microcosm of what’s happening in the landscape, expressing the dynamics of change.

    Decaying buildings and abandoned industrial landscapes that have been pillaged, poisoned and ravaged often have a peculiarly compelling and startling beauty. Colours and shapes that are unexpected become a part of the natural landscape: the dramatic and barren white cones of the St Austell clay tips with their turquoise lakes are not what you would expect to see on a granite upland in mid-Cornwall. They are nevertheless eye-catching and have become an acceptable part of the scenery. I hope that these ironies will involve the viewer in the question of what a landscape is or should be, and what a landscape painting is or can be.

    There are also paintings which have grown out of my feelings for place which are not simply visual: walking through woodland in spring; splashing through rain on a winter shore...