Legendary British artist Patrick Hughes talks to Time Out about his perspective-busting show in Harvey Nicols
What do you make of Dubai? Well, I would say it’s an act of the imagination. It’s an extraordinary act of will and imagination to create this here out of a minor seaport. And it shows what you can do if you wish to. The wonderful imposition of wealth, will and whim – it shows what you can make if you want it enough.
What do you look for in a subject when you decide to render as a reverspective? Some subjects have been brilliant for me – like doors, because a door is supposed to move and a door also has that vague symbolic meaning like the doors of perception of Aldous Huzle. One door opens and another closes, it reveals or obscures. In the Venice pieces – the canal is so fluid by definition and so the palazzo can move across the Grand Canal with the sky behind. But a subject like JBR is also an obvious one for me because it’s architecture and in a way perspective in art was invented by an architect, Fillip Brunelleschi in Florence. It’s an architects tool. I also do a lot of galleries, of Warhol, or my own work.
The landscapes often look quite surrealist… People have asked me many times – why aren’t there any people in your pictures. I tell them, it’s so you can go into the pictures, into the landscape. It’s an emptiness that you get in a surrealist landscape, one that allows you to go in. Take this situation, we’re conscious that we’re sitting in this room but if in ten minutes time we all get up and left one person in the room, it would be quite a different experience for them. They wouldn’t have anybody to look at, they’d experience the room in a different way, alone. I think you capture that same atmosphere with an empty landscape, it’s a blankness that you can project yourself through, see through and journey through.
Do you think that perspective and experimenting with perspective has traditionally been a very European interest in art? Well one of the great theorists of perspective was an Arabian geometer called Al Haitham in the 10th century, who examined and built the camera obscura, the origins of our modern camera. So it was partly Eastern geometry that kept that knowledge and awareness of perspective alive after the Greeks until the Renaissance. It’s odd, for instance in a lot of Japanese prints in the 19th century accommodated perspective, around the time of Hokusai. But then discarded it and went back to a layered, spatial perspective – their kind of perspective you could say.
There are cultural differences, but now because of the ubiquity of the camera, moving or still, we’re all inevitably perspectivist because that is a perspective system. With the internet and this kind of communication, it brings everything together – there’s no perspective as such any more in a cultural sense. Everything is brought to you; I think spatial awareness has gone beyond a visual perspective.