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E.J. Hughes: The B.C. Landscape

November 29, 2003 to February 15, 2004

E.J. Hughes is famous for his strong, appealing images of the landscape and seascape of British Columbia: distinctive in clarity of form and colour, yet tinged with an air of mystery. His remarkable career as an artist, which continues to this day, spans seventy years and encompasses his work as a gifted printmaker, successful muralist, outstanding Canadian war artist and prolific painter. A true son of British Columbia, Hughes’ stylized realism has earned him a unique place in the history of Canadian art.

In this major retrospective, organized and circulated by the Vancouver Art Gallery, some 110 works created by this renowned artist highlight evocative symbols of life on the west coast – ferries crossing the Georgia Strait, picturesque fishing villages and farm houses, flaming arbutus trees and imposing coastal mountains. Ian Thom, Senior Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery says, “Hughes is at his best depicting British Columbia’s unique beauty.” “He has deep affection for the British Columbian landscape and a vision that is unmistakably his own.”

Despite the changing face of the visual arts, Hughes has remained steadfast in his exploration of a unique and personal approach to realism. His distinct artistic style, marked by the use of flattened space, skewed perspective and simplified shapes, defies parallels with other artists or easy categorization with artistic genres. E.J. Hughes was born in North Vancouver and studied under Charles H. Scott, Jock Macdonald and Frederick Varley at the Vancouver School of Applied Art and Design. After graduating in 1933, and following two years of post-graduate studies, he undertook print and mural projects with fellow art students. In 1939, Hughes joined the military and spent six years expanding his skills as an official war artist. After his military discharge in 1946, he returned to the west coast of Canada and eventually settled in Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island with his wife Fern Smith. The artist now began a lifelong study of British Columbia and its landscape as a professional artist.

While he received much of his training from Jock Macdonald and Frederick Varley, Emily Carr indirectly played a crucial role in the development of E.J. Hughes’ career. Although their work is markedly different, both Carr and Hughes have made significant contributions to our understanding of the region’s landscapes. While Carr depicted First Nations culture, she ultimately found her most personal expression through a solitary experience of nature. Hughes, on the other hand, is concerned with the landscape as a harmonious backdrop for human activity. Always a quiet achiever, Hughes, on the recommendation of Lawren Harris, was the inaugural recipient of an Emily Carr Scholarship. By 1951, he was represented in public collections in Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver – a singular achievement among his contemporaries of the time. In 2001, the artist received the Order of Canada. His achievements and rare success are due to his unique approach to representing Canada with passion and originality. Following its stay at the McMichael, this outstanding exhibition will travel to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in February 2004.

 

The exhibition tour is generously supported by the Audain Foundation; additional support provided by the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage.

 

Echo Bay

E.J. Hughes , 1913 -
Echo Bay, 1954
oil on canvas
61 x 45.7 cm
Private Collection

Comox Valley

E.J. Hughes, 1913-
Comox Valley, 1953
oil on canvas mounted on masonite
90 x 100 cm
Vancouver Art Gallery Acquisition Fund

Arbutus Trees on Gabriola Island

E.J. Hughes , 1913 –
Arbutus Trees on Gabriola Island, 1951
oil on canvas
76.7 x 112.4 cm
Private Collection

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