Ronnie Hughes,Strange Attractors, The Model, Sligo, 16 April – 22 June 2017, catalogue, 71pp

I have not seen this exhibition. I have seen some of his earlier  paintings at Fenderesky Gallery.

This  essay exists  because Ronnie   Hughes generously  sent me the handsome  catalogue published by The Model in 2017. It contains two essays, CV and bibliography and 40 pages of reproductions of paintings  under summary titles Strange Attractors I and II.

The Space Between, 2015, Acrylic co-polymer on canvas,188x183cm

What is in the name?  On the practical level – identification.  But – underneath that clarity dreams a chaos of possibilities, a phenomenon completely vindicated by recent research, like that by Thomas Metzinger, professor and director of the theoretical philosophy group and the research group on neuroethics/neurophilosophy at the department of philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany. From 2014-19, he is a Fellow at the Gutenberg Research College. He is the founder and director of the MIND group, and Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute of Advanced Studies in Germany. His latest book is The Ego Tunnel (2009).  After comparing our thinking to dolphin’s behaviour  he muses that

One of the most exciting recent research fields in neuroscience and experimental psychology is mind-wandering – the study of spontaneous or task-unrelated thoughts. Its results have radical implications for politics, education and morality. If we consider the empirical findings, we arrive at a surprising result of profound philosophical significance: cognitive control is the exception, while its absence is the rule. Much of the time we like to describe some foundational ‘self’ as the initiator or cause of our actions, but this is a pervasive myth. In fact, we only resemble something like this for about a third of our conscious lifetime. 

I  welcome that as a tool against cognitive bias – which is so difficult to shift.   It is also  grounding  for my  utter delight  while reading the  essays A CODE OF THE HEART  for the first time earlier.  What happened to that delight  now when I engage the discipline of “facts”?  Its author, Martin Herbert does not yet list it among his catalogue  essays.

He casually introduces a derivation from the uncertainty principle in his first paragraph:

The artist, via design or fortuity or both cues both positive confusion and the desire to master it and then indefinitely delays such mastery, continuing to tickle eye and mind along the way (my emphasis) (p 13)

It reads like a generic statement for all and any. Given my interest in recognising the power of “wandering mind”, I read the “tickling” as analogous. Herbert zoomed on the same painting as I, seeing the Space Between  as between a diagram and cartoon …” both with cerebral appeal”(p13) and also – as I do- as a cosmos.  His meandering around received view of abstraction and the impact the painting has on him, is graceful and honest.

Contrary to his trust in the titles given to each painting  by Hughes – “as device for translating the signal” I concur only partly, to protect my intoxication with  freedom for the wandering mind,  a gift from the painted surface.  The titles help me to write which image I am thinking of –  identifying device.

Herbert is excellent in working out the link between the titles and  what the painting wants him to see it as. His paragraph on Transponder (2016) moves in a straight line from reading it as a signal knitted from hues, tone and angles  to a question: What is the translation?(p15)

Transponder, 2016, Acrylic co-polymer on plywood, 50 x 46.5cm

There is a group of Hughes’ paintings sharing the visual means (accessible on – that differ considerably in their “tenor” – or mood.  Transponder  is confident to show off cohabitation of right, obtuse and acute angles, as if illustrating Nietzsche’s discussion of  the apollonian and dionysian principles in art.

In comparison,  the  Switch (2013, 44×42 cm)  keeps its secrets, it 

insists on the light and temperature to be even from edge to edge – a governing principle made first, explicitly,  by Paul Cezanne about painting.  Less intense, it lets mind wander into a calm, sleepy, dreamy moments of time when doing nothing feeds creativity.  (D.H.Lawrence)

Herbert’s essay goes on for four pages  bristling with ideas and offering riches of  unborn ideas – I highly recommend to read it.  It fits the ethos of Hughes paintings.

The second essay employs a different wandering of mind.

Weaver, 2016, Acrylic co-polymer on cotton, 188 x 183 cm

It is an unnerving process to stand  on the surface, and to think about what exists beyond it”  so Joanne Laws   opens her  NOTES FROM THE SURFACE:CHAOS SUSPENDED (P 41). Her trust is placed into the possibility of simultaneous realms, including art and so called “lesser art” so famously defended by William Morris.  She confesses “ On more than one occasion, I think about the silk wall hangings and ‘pictorial weavings’ of Annie Albers and her meticulous preparatory sketches on gridded paper.”   This connectivity is not only admissible, but also  a welcome  invitation to mind wandering across traditional  boundaries. She perceives  that proportions of  a Persian carpet appear in Hughes’  Weaver  above ( does not list support). Under the subtitle  Ordering Systems (p 43) she brings a wealth of parallels to what she terms  as Ronnie Hughes’s  “grappling system …. encrypted”: theories of chaos, quantum physics, generic coding… cosmology, colour theory,  symbolism of a wheel,  “even language itself”.   She takes the reader on a journey across cultures and histories.

Her point about language  reminds me:   the title Transponder collapses two words: transmitter and responder. She takes the reader on a journey across cultures and histories.

Almost as if offering me a closing paragraph  – she turns to that red painting,  introduced above and  by Martin Herbert in his essay:  The Space Between (2015): “...we get a sense of things teetering on the brink. A continuous line spirals inwards, like a vortex or a black hole.”  While not disputing her reading, I confess of failing to have that sense before I read her sentence.  Maybe – as a result of reading it from centre out, I saw it flat.   As if supporting  Herbert’s uncertainty principle she introduces “…ambivalence in which dualities …could freely co-exist” in her closing page  headed with ” On Carnival” citing  Circus I-VI (2017)  and  Carnivale (2017)  as drawing in and on those dualities. (p45)

Enjoyable catalogue, beautifully considered, including the whimsical triangles descending wherever on the pages.    The Model, Sligo – a big  thank you.

Images accessed on





















About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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