Artist Kristy Hughes’s studio is located in a far corner of her quaint azalea-lined suburban home in Valdosta, Georgia. Charcoal drawings by her husband, Sean Hurley, a lecturer of printmaking at Valdosta State University, hang on one side of the wall, and Hughes’s collages are tacked up on the other side. The floor is splattered with paint; an outstretched drop cloth catches what it can, the rest falls like confetti. Paint brushes rest in idle water; paper and cardboard are scattered haphazardly around the room.
Using strategies of collage and décollage, Hughes creates mixed media works with paper, found materials, and acrylic and spray paint. After collecting objects such as pieces of cardboard, soap boxes, and paper scraps while walking or biking, she observes arrangements of the materials in terms of their shape, color, and texture. “It’s all about negotiating with material physically—giving things that should have been thrown away a new purpose, but also negotiating with feelings of in-betweenness and being uncomfortable,” she says.
A tall, narrow piece of plastic Hughes recently found by the side of the road is propped up near one of her works in progress, and each object possesses similar bright yellow hues. After hitting a dead-end with the work, she noticed a similar yellow tone in one of her houseplants, where it was accompanied by green and dark magenta. This observation of color would guide her process with the work moving forward.
“I use my environment almost like a set of rules, setting up parameters for myself,” she explains. Her work is a representation of her own reasoning, almost posing a philosophical question: what does the process of thinking look like?
By making a work called Cactus Tongued, Hughes attempted to depict her frustration with not being able to articulate her feelings. Beyond two swaths of yellow that meet in the top left corner, the work is dominated by dark blue swaths of paint cut through with leaf-like forms and boldly rendered stripes. In décollage works like these, Hughes considers her work compositionally but also sculpturally, thinking carefully about an object’s physical presence in addition to color, balance, and rhythm.
For Hughes, the process of making each work involves attempting to capture a sense of the multiplicity and variety that can be contained by an individual or experience. “Obviously a person’s experience is not limited to one thing about them,” says Hughes. “Nothing is singular or binary; everything exists in a spectrum, and I’m trying to find the space that connects those disparate parts.”
The artist is partially reacting to the current polarized political moment, when many people are having difficulty reconciling political and cultural differences with their families, friends, and neighbors. Hughes’s own life has required her face such difficult truths, and her artwork provides a way for her to find some sense of emotional resolution.
Hughes points to a line in Walker Percy’s 1961 novel The Moviegoer as the source of a guiding principle for her life and work. Percy writes, “The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.”
Hughes wants viewers to see the search and feel it. For her every work is associated with a certain situation and particular personal realization, but she doesn’t expect viewers to glean the specificities.
“The fact that somebody is just looking at my work— I can’t ask any more of them. But I hope that some of the thought process I experienced while making it comes to light.”
Hughes looks at the work in progress tacked to the wall. “It is a mess, but it still works,” she says.
Work by Hughes is on view in “Piecemeal,” a group show of collage-based works at the Indianapolis Art Center through April 7.
Shelby Evans is a writer and artist from Fitzgerald, Georgia. She is an advocate for rural spaces and art everywhere. Shelby holds a degree in Rural Studies Writing and Communication from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and is currently Artist in Residence at Plough Gallery. Find her online @acquiringshelby on Twitter and Instagram.