As a painter, Ilse Hughes is very involved with colour. These 25 pieces (acrylic on canvas excepting four watercolours, all 2012 or 2013) dazzle with jeweled tones of sapphire and ruby and emerald. Impressionism is all about light, and light is all about colour, so these strong, polished works, which are mostly of St. John’s and different outports, with one or two of the French countryside, are bold and vivid.
A fair-sized view looking towards the bottom of Signal Hill shows how Hughes manipulates the paint to shape the composition, with trees blocked out in splonges, houses and buildings in dabs of squares and dots, and the sky a susurration in yellow. Another large one of downtown has the array of jellybean row houses offset with outlines of white, curls of lilac in the green trees, and a peach sky. Still another looks to Signal Hill through red trees and against an aqua sky. The colour choices are often unexpected but they play well together.
A more rural vista shows a line of red sheds and white boats, and the curves of the watercraft are as sweet as a dove’s. A look across a field is fronted with spiky petaled flowers in purple and cream, with these definite lines counterbalanced by wider strokes of red blurs in the yellow grass and dark navy pools in the lighter blue ocean, and the latter are as articulate and defining as the former. The whole canvas is full of paint that has been thickly applied and adroitly employed. There is energy in all the forms, movement and reflection throughout, and even the shadows are not black but, for example, crimson or marine.
Most of these bigger outport pieces have an interplay of beautiful foliage in the foreground, saltbox houses or a harbour or a wharf (or all three) in the middle, and overhead a subtle sky in contrasting colours, like violet and gold. Dividing the canvas like this allows for bands of different techniques in bright animation. Some areas are densely configured, full of activity, and others, usually the water or the skies, are quieter, anchoring, serene. The smaller watercolours, meanwhile, are jigsaw intricate with their marks, and full of breath.
Other paintings observe the industrial North side of the St. John’s harbour, where the docked ships are serviced, or display a community nestled in a bowl of a deep green mountain, purple rock and orange brush, looking like the most tranquil place on Earth. The very largest painting presents a field of sunflowers so bright and warm it could probably heat your house through January.
Light spills everywhere. There is always sun. The palette can be fairly representational – here is an ochre stage or a white house, there is green grass or blue ocean — but it is also intuitive, of the moment, and it is hot, with pink stones in a meadow, orange wavelets in the sea, and scraps of scarlet in the tall wild grass.
Ilse Hughes “New Paintings” continues at the Red Ochre Gallery until Nov. 14.