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Artist ID: 2442

I am a scavenger, lover of materials, and take pleasure in seeing things transformed and repurposed. After a lifetime in art, I’ve explored the gamut of expressions, film, found objects with mixed media, Surrealism and non-objective. I like to think “I don’t know what I might do next, and try to surprise myself.
The three pieces submitted for this show were approached in different ways. One starting with a photo reference, another starting with painterly abstraction and incorporating imagery, and one, a direct dialog with a living subject, alla prima. I like to keep in mind a very important piece of advice from a former teacher, “ You better just try to paint how it feels, instead of how it is.”

Deborah Hughes Bio

My path to art began in Meridian, Mississippi where signs of artistic arousal showed itself as I helped my desk mate, Cathy, draw birds and she who remains a lifelong friend demonstrated her literary acumen by showing me what a comma was. An encouraging word to my parents from my third-grade teacher happily landed me in Eloise McLellan’s, Saturday morning art class. Eloise, a saucy, abstract expressionist with a cap of red hair, was very painterly and talked about studying with Hans Hoffman. Her studio down the hill from her house in Meridian was filled with chests of fascinating objects, rich swatches of fabric, and stacks of art books. Throughout the morning, her half dozen or so students were free to rummage, set up subjects, position themselves at easels and paint away as she made her outspoken rounds. This foundation shaped me through my teen years and created a lasting love of painting still life.

In the late 60’s, it was considered a bold move to break out across the state line and pursue the study of art at the University of Alabama. It was heady time in the shifting cultural milieu and the continued wave of abstract expressionism was the major influence on aspiring students of art. Each class day I donned a pair of navy surplus bell-bottoms, mounted a bicycle and coasted into Woods Quad working toward a BFA with an eclectic mix of professors. It was in sculpture with professor Art Oakes that I thoroughly received the directive to break down any previously held idea about “what art is”. My senior work in his class was experimental films shot on the art department’s, super 8-movie camera.

In the early 70’s when I entered the M.F.A program at Florida State. Identifying as a painter, my course in the program unexpectedly led to a graduate show of installations and mixed media sculpture.
An elective class in children’s book illustration produced a graduate assistantship and upon graduation, my first professional job, illustrating children’s reading materials for an experimental project based in the Wakulla County school system.

Just as the grant for Project MARC ended, I was fortunate to be selected by the Fine Arts Council of Florida as an Artist in Residence for Wakulla County. These two years gave me a chance to teach and promote art by having a studio in an old jail building in downtown Crawfordville and turning the historic old courthouse into an art gallery. It was a time of joy in the identity of artist and promoted tremendous artistic freedom.

Fast forward and after my golden time in the Tallahassee area, I secured a position as assistant professor of art at the University of West Alabama.
Weeks before my role as art professor began; I made my first trip to California and was captivated in a lasting way.
Later I accepted a position as Art Director of Educational Media for The University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa. A graphic design career with The University was rich and varied, including award winning theatre and dance posters, magazines, web design and interactive media. It was a natural for me to freelance in the realm of advertising and marketing and from that time on I have maintained a genuine interest in the psychology and power of advertising.

Throughout these 20 years, I continued to create paintings and sculpture independently and was featured in-group and one-person exhibitions throughout the Southeast. Painting has always been a constant, but the love of collecting, combining and manipulating found objects has been a reoccurring theme. Two bodies of work emerged, in the form of box sculptures, the first around 1982 entitled “Self- Contained” was housed inside army ammunition boxes and twenty years later In 2002 a series entitled “Five Days in Kyoto “inside highly polished mahogany boxes.

Upon retiring from the University in 2002, I took a sojourn directly to southern California for 5 months. My 2003 show at the Kentuck Gallery, in Tuscaloosa entitled “Five Months in Carpinteria” represented my following the cult calling of en plein aire landscape painting. Up until this time, I had literally painted everything, but landscapes. While in California I was a founding member of SCAPE (Southern California Artists Painting the Environment) and participated in classes and workshops lead by prominent area artists including Michael Drury, John Comer, and Marcia Burtt. Thus plein aire painting has captured my imagination for the last two decade’s.

I have been active in the Tuscaloosa art community, with one-person shows at The Kentuck Gallery, The Art Council’s Junior League Gallery, University of Alabama Ferguson Center Gallery and the University Medical Center. Around Alabama have participated in The Energen Show, Wonders of Alabama Art, and The Alabama Wildlife Federations’ Flora and Fauna show. In the fall of 2011, I mounted two one-woman Tuscaloosa shows entitled “Wanderings” and “Every Bloomin’Thing”. In 2012 my work was featured in a show at The Birmingham Botanical Garden entitled “Down the Garden Path, and to the Water’s Edge”.

California still calls and I make it a point to contribute to shows on the west coast, most recently at The Wilding Museum of Art in Solvang, Ca. A large body of prints of my paintings hang in the Cottage Hospital Healing Arts program in Santa Barbara.

After a lifetime of making art, seeking out art in museums and galleries around the world, I added a dimension to my activities by founding the “Wellness Walls for Art” program at the University Medical Center on the UA campus. This entails coordinating thematic shows such as A Sense of Place, A Brush With Art – Paintings by The Tuscaloosa and University Painters; About People; and Quilting and Carving. I also serve as curator, orchestrating an ongoing exhibition of art at The Unitarian Congregation of Tuscaloosa, mounting shows such as “The Metaphysics of Black and White” and “Small Curious Wonders”.

My experience as curator with themed shows prompted a search for a unifying theme in my own work. My one person show, last April “On the Rocks”, at The Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center, was the result of seeds sown on the coast of Southern California, which further took root during a trip to the Canadian Rockies.” Rocks were either the subject, the focus, or anchor of the underlying composition
The pandemic has put a temporary pause on my trips to California, My husband, a chemistry professor at the University of Alabama and I got away with living five months in Montreal, Canada, while he took a second sabbatical after 20 years. Around the beginning of our Montreal sojourn, we became first time grandparents. During the times of Covid we took a leap and bought a second home outside Asheville NC.

To sustain an active life as an artist over six decades or so requires going with what keeps the flame alive. Painting on location is foremost about being there, direct observation, and a visual dialog with the environment. Plein aire painting is quite sporting as you carry your equipment over rough terrain, battling the elements, but real challenge is chasing an image around as every shifting point of light changes moment to moment.

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