HUGHES, RONNIE (b. 1965), artist. Hughes prefaced a catalogue of an exhibition of his work with a poem by Roberto Juarroz, containing the lines ‘The word is full of voice/ though no one speaks it’ (Manifest, frontispiece). The lines are especially apt because Hughes’s work concerns the possible meanings encapsulated in the most banal manifestations of our world, and the hints of what are obscured by what is actually presented. Thus, the abstruse shapes in his paintings may allude to familiar, but often forgotten, things that lie dormant in our mental landscapes, only to leap into life when the allusion becomes clear. Espresso Mundo’s (1996, IMMA collection) (225) lozenge-shaped forms, possibly referencing anything from boiled sweets to planetary systems, or simply what you see when you stick your finger in your eye, call attention to the image’s potential to carry meaning in ways that are scientific and humorous as well as aesthetic. While he might be considered a painter in the formalist, abstract tradition, Hughes is one of those artists who are opposed to the oppositional and hierarchical interpretations of the terms ‘representation’ and ‘abstraction’.
Born in Belfast and educated at the University of Ulster, Hughes lives in Sligo and teaches at the Institute of Technology there. He has been a regular exhibitor at E.V+A since 1990. His work appeared to change dramatically in the mid 1990s, but there is a clear trajectory from an early three dimensional work, the installation Consummation (1992), comprising a large armchair made up of crates of empty beer bottles and shelves of bottles each carrying a label with a tourist image of Ireland, to his paintings of immigrant workers in the People’s Collection in Sligo, and his more abstract work from the mid 1990’s (see ‘Abstraction’) Keepsakes (2000, Sligo), referencing the destruction of the Spanish Armada off the Sligo coast, could be described as a physical embodiment of his use of form to encapsulate multiple meanings as glass ‘cannonballs’, each containing objects selected from the local community, were placed along the beach, only to be scattered by the tides.
Hughes has executed public art projects, notably Keepsakes, and has taken up residencies in Ireland, Canada and the USA. His work is in the collection of the British Council, the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, and in Ireland in the AC/ACE, ACNI, IMMA, UU, CIAS and other collections.