Intricate, sensual, absurd: these are a few words that can be used to describe Ariane Heloise Hughes’ paintings. Through processes of objectification, fragmentation and amplification, her paintings hold a mirror to the age of the spectacle, drawing on the ubiquity and farcicality of the digital image and online viewing space. Appropriating often banal and unwittingly familiar narratives into a visual vernacular full of unusual and exaggerated forms, Hughes’ surrealistic depictions create a world that aims to draw the viewer in, engaging them in a process of active looking and contemplative thought.
The female nude is a recurring subject in Hughes’ work and she employs the feminine body as a pictorial trope to instigate an ironical commentary on today’s culture of voyeurism and the perpetuation of idealised online self-representation. Through anachronistic objects and elements, distortions of scale and uses of colour, Hughes usurps her reflections of now into ostensibly traditional and curious settings. By simultaneously drawing attention to the artifice of the image while presenting it as truth through naturalistic renderings, Hughes is reflecting on the function of social media - the precession of the simulacra.
Hughes’ paintings are habitually inspired by her personal observations, both offline and online. She records and photographs elements of everyday life, often even screenshotting images posted by anonymous Instagram users, and refers to these gathered pictures when arranging new compositions. Through her practice, Hughes elevates these commonplace photographs into something more, bridging them into the line of fine art and a tangible space of her own making. Her canvases are enlivened with layers of paint and colour, materialising with new and unusual visual depths and imparting a distinct tactile quality.
Engaging deeply with the aesthetics and history of surrealism, Hughes’ paintings draw on and exaggerate the interplay between the real and the unreal, at once ramifying and enhancing their reading. She uses traditional artistic techniques to re-engage her audience in the act of looking, encouraging us to consider online habits and the passive consumption of images in our digital world today.