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Oriel Wrecsam., Wrexham.
30 August - 11 October 2008
Reviewed by: Frances Carlile »
I lie awake at night and listen to the birds sing.
In a world accustomed to irony and subversion, it is refreshing to encounter the work of Steffan Jones Hughes in this engaging solo show.
Through intaglio and screen prints, delicate sculptures, and an enormous number of drawings, he explores the fragile nature of identity and belonging.
There are strong elements of narrative running through the work. Birds, simple houses and chapels, people close to the artist, himself, and a few animals are reiterated in individual pared down narrative situations. They appear to be fragments or snapshots of a larger story, but do not follow a sequence.
The exhibition is well orchestrated, with the different elements playing a greater or lesser part, providing rhythm, scale and colour. This is an interesting thought as there is a very little actual colour in the work. Some of the sculpture, tiny pencil drawings on birds eggs, needs to be closely observed whilst the bold screen prints can be read from across the gallery. The most intimate works are the drypoint intaglio prints, including the tender image of a girl holding a lamb.
The major role in the exhibition is taken by the drawings, which nearly cover the largest wall of the gallery. These are drawn in black with a large brush on pages taken from the Guardian Guide and nailed directly to the wall in a grid structure. The various motifs acquire a poetic quality throughout the obsessive and individual redrawing, very far from the age of mechanical reproduction. The effect is that of a collection of film stills or an oversized story board. However, the story is never told, space is left for the viewer to engage with the work or remain on the outside looking in.
It reminded me of a deeply personal fairytale. This sounds like illustrations from a children’s book and yet it is not. The very scale of the work and with the enormous number of drawings and method of presentation, transform it into a constructed object, a sculpture in its own right; albeit a very ephemeral one. Within it can be found fragments of the artist’s life and of those around him, and the questions he is asking himself.
But these are the questions that everyone asks and this is where the strength of the work lies; for in fairytales are found some of the oldest and most profound questions.
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