by Joanne Davies
You may not be familiar with the name, but it's likely you've seen her work. Sara Hughes’ latest and largest commission is a 2400 sqm piece adorning the NZ International Convention Centre in Auckland Central. The piece was clearly visible on all TV channels in October 2019 when a fire threatened to destroy the building. Amazingly, the glass artwork remains intact and pending final safety testing, it's hoped that none of the 550 glass fins and panels will need replacing.
The Avondale local, is an acclaimed artist - recipient of the Wallace Art, Norsewear Art and RIPE Arts awards. She has completed residencies in New York and Berlin and is a recipient of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship that names Sara alongside Ralph Hotere, Gretchen W. Albrecht, and Shane Cotton.
Sara’s art encompasses many sizes and mediums. From paintings to murals, installations and interactive displays, the work is characterised by vibrant colour and patterns. Dig deeper into how those patterns are formed and what might appear to be random pretty shapes, are developed using colour data collected from nature, or code-derived from the colours of web pages. The surface material, site location and how the work will be viewed, informs the medium used as much as anything. The huge NZICC work is inspired by Sara's childhood rambles in the far north, gazing into the Waipoua forest canopy. Bush-toned ceramic ink baked onto glass fins aims to replicate the feeling of looking up to the light through the leaves. Viewed from Hobson or Nelson Streets, the fins are mesmerising – but don't take your eyes off the road for too long if you're driving past!
In other situations, the work might be cut from vinyl to take advantage of layering and transparency, or in the case of the current interactive work at the Auckland Art Gallery, coloured, magnetised shapes invite people to create their own art on the walls. Paint though, is what Sara understands and works with mostly. She studied painting for both her BFA and MFA and takes inspiration from everything around her. "For me, the most important thing to do as an artist is to “look.” Whether at a gallery or in your house or looking at a billboard or in the middle of a desert, it’s about being visually alert and aware", she says.
The year ahead is busy for Sara with an upcoming exhibition at the Sutton Gallery in Melbourne, a group show at Auckland's Gow Langsford Gallery, and various public projects at different stages of completion. Closer to home, jaunts to Avondale Bike Park and the Hollywood Cinema are on the cards which may well provide inspiration for the next big - or small – thing.
Sara gives a nod to local arts space All Goods, and the Avondale Arts Festival for providing opportunities for young artists to showcase their work:
"Even if you’re very talented, it’s not easy to make your way as an artist. You need internal strength and self-belief, determination and the drive to create work. Then bravely create opportunities to put your work out there!”
For this self-described purist, earning a living is secondary to the art process and learning to deal with rejection is part of that. Her advice to emerging artists is to look for mentors in teachers, friends, and family - to form an all-important “support posse.”
Sara’s own posse includes husband and sculptor, Gregor, and their two children. With two artists in the family, there is an understanding of the challenges and commitments they both face in the art world. The two bounce ideas off each other and have collaborated on projects including “Transit Cloud” a work near New Lynn bus station, along with architect Davor Popadich.