Kathee Kiesselbach: Emotions a catalyst for creation

Published 7:43 am Friday, April 26, 2013

Artist Sally Hughes’ work is a reflection of her emotional attachment to the subject.
“I find, as an artist, I am limited to subjects to which I have an emotional attachment,” she said. “The pieces I’ve done using the people in my life as subjects look wildly different from one another because the people are wildly different from one another.
“The portrait of my kind, mild-mannered mother reflects her qualities while the portrait of my rough and tumble father reflects his.”
Hughes was born in Chicago, attended the University of Illinois at Navy Pier, majored in graphic design, minored in painting and was taught by professional artists and designers. She chose graphic design while looking through the course catalog because it offered many electives; she picked drawing, painting, sculpture, theoretical and applied mechanics and biology and was entranced by them all.
New to visual art, she came without preconceptions. A serious student among other serious students, she loved the city, the program, the learning; she finished her four years out at the University of Illinois Champaign.
Landing like Dorothy at Container Corporation as a package designer, she found a familiar design atmosphere among the team there. CCA had been founded by a German immigrant industrialist “who believed in the value of rational design and “design education” as advocated by the Bauhaus (1919), whose aim was unification of the arts through craft; a single utopian craft guild combining all the arts into one creative expression. Many of Hughes’ Navy Pier in tructors were second generation Bauhaus.
But as the only female designer, and a new, naive one at that, she felt different from the others, and, in hindsight, realizes that it was expected that she would work until she married, then quit to become a mother and housewife.
Naturally, her employer was less interested in making an investment in mentoring and grooming her for advancement.
She worked for another dozen plus years, finished a master’s degree in visual communications at Illinois Institute of Design and taught a bit before opening her own studio in 1990.
“As a designer, it was my job to apply an objective eye to projects; to analyze my clients’ messages and the nature of their business, create an image appropriate to their business and audience, and develop a piece that met their objectives within a production budget.
“After my mother died, I closed my studio and concentrated on telling the story of her final illness in a series called Bearing Witness.”
Hughes used objects well-known to health care workers and those they care for.
“The objects I used were those that gave comfort to my mother at the end of her life,” Hughes told me.
“I learned to view them as tools to make my mother’s life as good as it could be and I tried to present their abstract beauty in ways that give them the dignity they deserve.”
After working almost exclusively on Bearing Witness for two years, Hughes began to work on a series called Ordinary People.
The third project Hughes works on is Plants I Have Known — about the plants she has “tried to know,” she clarified.
“I started gardening 30 years ago after we bought this house in Lakeside, Michigan, with half an acre of mowed area with variegated hosta foundation plantings, and two and a half acres of woods. I slowly leafed through catalogs, circled what I thought were the prettiest flowers and placed the first of many orders. I can still see the lush photos of Alpine lupines and dinner-plate dahlias I just had to have.”
After becoming frustrated that she couldn’t adequately duplicate the beauty she saw, she decided to concentrate instead on capturing their expressive quality, “… the wild yellow and purple exuberance of spring, the lush sophisticated maturity of summer, the busy, hoarding, house-keeping of fall, and the quiet sleep of winter,” Hughes said.
Hughes related that, in creating her work, she “searches for a medium, technique and emotional quality appropriate to my knowledge of a subject and work on canvas, corrugated cardboard, plexiglas, or acetate with oil paint, acrylic, water color, graphite, feeding tubes, syringes and handmade paper using realistic, abstracted and expressive techniques.”
The resulting artwork is refreshing, uninhibited, youthful, outside the box, thoughtful, emotional and with all certainty reflects the interior of Sally Hughes.