Nineteen-Sixties Pop-Artist Gains Digital Media Breakthrough

3D painter Patrick Hughes with one of his optically challenging works
3D painter Patrick Hughes with one of his optically challenging works

IT CANNOT BE OFTEN that the work of a septuagenarian artist goes viral. Patrick Hughes, a trompe l’oeil specialist from the UK has just opened an exhibition in the art Mecca of Chelsea, New York, one of several held here during his long career. But he comes on this occasion trailing clouds of digital glory.  

Backstory: November 2015 – A tourist from Australia sees a Hughes piece on show in Birmingham, England … is bemused by its puzzling visual effects … shoots a none-too-steady video of it by simply walking his iPhone slowly in front of the work … posts it to social media sites …. and eventually it ends up being seen – if we count all platforms from YouTube and Facebook to WhatsApp and Reddit – by over 19 million people, and still counting …

The best efforts up to that point by the professionals of Flowers Gallery, handlers of Hughes’ output on both sides of the Atlantic through five decades, had not captured such mass-audience interest. A few months later Hughes was telling art-critic Mark Hudson of UK’s The Telegraph: “We’ve tried circular camera tracks, lights, specially balanced cameras that slide up and down. Then this guy just walks past with his camera”.

Take a look at the weirding-out effect of Hughes’ work as recorded in those striking, amateur, 22 seconds:

There have indeed been some highly-skilled professional attempts at doing video justice to Hughes’ techniques, which he agreed in talking with me essentially amount to reversing the usual rules of perspective, and switching the notional ‘vanishing-point’ from its traditional place somewhere in the far distance ... to instead sit somewhere in between the painting and the viewer. “And I shorten the obvious name for it from ‘Reverse Perspective’“, he said, “to just ‘Reverspective’“.

One notable piece of filming-making about his technique is a documentary, ‘Hughesually’, by English director/editor Jake West. In the clip below, Hughes’ own words and West’s camerawork and editing go well together in translating the technique from 3D canvases to electronic screens.

Inevitably, though, nothing electronic can convey the strange sorcery of Hughes work quite like an in-person tour of the physical works hanging on a wall. It’s a rewarding if disorienting trip to the far West end of Manhattan's 20th Street to spend an hour or so among his “exercises in geometry”, as he modestly described them to me. Their home for now is the transatlantic end of an venerable business founded by London dealer Angela Flowers, and now run by her son Matthew. Here Hughes is showcased with the careful attention that comes from a long-lasting (and doubtless mutually beneficial) relationship between creator and presenter.

Hughes’ prodigious output dates back to the heady days of Pop-Art. This current show, heady in a different way to catch 21st century eyes, is up until October 14th.


Read more of David Tereshchuk‘s media industry insights at his online column, “The Media Beat“, with accompanying video and audio. Listen also to “The Media Beat” Podcasts on demand from Connecticut’s NPR station WHDD - and at iTunes.

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