Nick Hughes: Naive descriptions and intricate models

In Nick Hughes’s densely worked aquatint intaglio prints, puppet or toy-like figures float in formal relation to intricately modeled furniture, tentatively moored in deep black and silver-grey surfaces. Each work on paper arranges impressions, or as Hughes puts it, “naive descriptions,” of materials that surround him in both his studio and memory: a wooden souvenir doll; an erroneous colonial-era biological sketch seen in a museum; a perspective-defying circular chair of modernist design. As lived-with objects and images become thoughts, they gain layers of meaning. Hung in collectively titled groups—“Awkward Menagerie,” “Architectural Heritage”—this diverse content comes together in conversation.

Like dramatically spotlit photographic stills—picture the performance documentation of oversized props and choreographed stances integral to Robert Wilson or Christopher Knowles’s recitations—Hughes’s prints suggest a moment captured within a broader set of movements or possibilities. Each character and item, modeled using tender line and tone, becomes part of Hughes’s tactile lexicon or alphabet of objects, reminiscent of Philip Guston’s collections of small textural still lifes that stack and queue up into rearrangeable visual sentences. The pools of darkness in each work foster mind-wandering: the impetus to imagine, connect, and narrate combinations of motifs that slip across the assembled prints.

Allusions to familiar crafts and childlike illustrations coax the dropping of one’s guard to free association—a reading of these works as depicting a Western collective unconscious, which must be uncovered, sifted, and sorted through in order to find new cultural grounding and progress.