Dean Hughes - Felt tip pen drawings

Dean Hughes (Artist)

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition


This exhibition presents ‘Felt Tip Drawings’, a new body of work produced during the last eighteen months by the Manchester born artist Dean Hughes. Since the mid-1990s, Hughes has specialised in making small hand-made sculptures that scramble, kink and recode everyday ready-made objects and ephemera. For this exhibition however, instead of working with simple found items – previously, these have included stationary, paper bags, rolls of masking tape, cardboard boxes, and bus tickets – Hughes has produced forty drawings by working into existing doodles made by himself and his immediate family. These matter-of-fact works are altered through a process that involves translating simple monochromatic sketches into multi-coloured diagrams by cutting each drawing along its existing lines, bleeding ink onto the edge of each fragment of paper and reassembling the components to present a series of pigmented patterns that expand and swell beyond their initial parameters.

The series of forty works starts in Moon Grove’s living room with straight, geometric patterns reminiscent of a minimal abstraction made by Frank Stella, Sol Lewitt and Agnes Martin, to progress in the dining room with looser motifs; shapes and silhouettes that recall painters such as Prunella Clough, Amy Sillman, and John Hoyland. Hughes’ new work continues its intimate dance in an increasingly chaotic manner through the remainder of the domestic space.

If Hughes always focuses on candid processes of experimentation that lead to small shifts in perception and interesting paradoxes, then his new drawings hold no exception. In the case of the ‘Felt Tip Drawings’, contradictions lie in ‘doodling’ as a denigrated artform: doodles are mostly viewed as worthless forms of automatic writing resulting in the ultimate low-status throwaway scrap, while the act of doodling itself is seen as a waste of time, a lack of engagement with serious activities. Yet the opposite is also true. Those that doodle – alongside people that exhibit similar habits such as daydreaming or talking to oneself – have been proven to hold high levels of intelligence, simply because such behaviours enable periods of independent lateral thought, often under pressure within stressful environments. Hughes recognises this fact and forces each of his found sketches – again, ready-made streams of consciousness made flesh; impish scribbles as minor acts of resistance – through a filter of reconstruction to produce representations that celebrate the productively useless. For all intents and purposes, these works are exemplifications of disinterest that lead to a higher state of consciousness with the potential for producing new patterns of thought. Hughes’ use of primary coloured felt-tip pens, a lo-tech medium, only serves to push the aesthetic rapture of these reflective works further, with lines that somehow fizz with a modest minimal psychic flow. Essentially, each drawing is an image of itself made strange.

Connected to ideas of paradox, it’s evident that the ludic and the earnest have also always co-existed in Hughes’ work. This fact is illustrated by a serious description of a bus ticket signed by a driver Hughes had shown in 1996 by the British sculptor Anthony Gormley, a flattering remark that was subsequently ridiculed by Private Eye in the famous column ‘Pseuds Corner’. ‘So, to this ticket signed by the driver – a celebration of a completed journey of one man. The Cubists used tickets as bits of life that could be stuck down into compositions of artistic merit. This one is left floating, uncertain of its value but allowing us to reconsider these daily rituals that bring us closer to each other and keep art and life going.’ It’s fair to say that any sincere attempt at a critical appraisal of Hughes’ practice always falls into a trap. Each becomes mired in a no-nonsense, self-deprecating style of conceptual reflectivity written into the heart of the artist’s work.

Hughes’ peers include late minimalists and neo-conceptualists from the 1990s such as Martin Creed, Ceal Floyer, and David Musgrave, as well British artists from a generation earlier, such as Alan Charlton, Richard Long and most importantly the late Roger Ackling, who taught Hughes at Chelsea College of Art in the early 1990s. Hughes has recently written an essay for the catalogue of Ackling’s current retrospective ‘Sunlight: Roger Ackling’, on show at Norwich Castle Museum from to 22 September 2024.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 30 May 2024


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