This is Irish artist Jane Hughes’s first solo exhibition in Finland, featuring paintings that depict fragments of social history. She is an image hunter. Preferring the textured experience of time spent sifting through objects in a physical space instead of the endless image stream online, Hughes collects images from book shops and markets. For Hughes, it’s through touch we first perceive and make sense of the world around us. The physical, material nature of printed remnants, their colour, texture, shape, size, weight and smell engage our senses, like the pungent scent of an old volume of discarded encyclopedias.
Through the process of reproducing found images into paintings, Hughes distorts meanings in many ways: certain objects are omitted; backgrounds mutate; colours are invented; features are removed from faces, erasing markers of individual identity. Her work depicts a range of subjects such as olympic competitors in strange contexts; an ice skater, without the youthful glamour, beaten yet still smiling, out of the ice rink. There is a swimmer removed from the confines of the swimming pool and a masked wrestler, looking more vulnerable than heroic. There are three uniformed women, their heads cropped, nurses or workers in some institution perhaps. Hughes’ personal selection of images doesn’t necessarily follow any defined logic of history, place or time; the selecting is intuitive and the series develops its own visual narrative. The palette used hints at a variety of cultural contexts; a Finnish blueness, an Irish muddied green and brown, a Soviet yellow ochre and pale cold greens on a Moscow subway, to the warm browns and faded soda-pop colours of early American advertising.
The titles of artworks suggest additional layers by including years and events or lines from literature. The Magician Priest refers to an actual catholic priest who performed as a magician in the west of Ireland in the 1970s. The exhibition title refers to The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer first published in 1951. Hughes is fascinated by his descriptions of group behaviour and insights into social psychology which are still relevant today. The painting process is a way for her to take part in a cultural dialogue with images of the past, to delve into the nuances and layers of social histories and social psyches.