Richard Hughes, here at least, makes two sorts of sculpture. The first sort are laborious and painstaking; lavishing attention on recreating objects that, one might suppose, do not deserve it. ‘Roadsider (First Of The Morning)’ is a clear plastic bottle lying on its side, half-filled with yellow liquid, a blue cap firmly twisted on. The title gives a clue and we are told that this is a bottle of piss, flung from a car window by a driver, unable to hold on for the next rest-stop. It is, however, no such thing—Hughes has cast the bottle and its contents from a single mould, filled in three stages with resin. ‘Last Drag (Peach)’ is a sorry old pair of worn-down flip-flops, bearing the legend ‘Life’s A Beach’, again a reproduction, in polyurethane foam. The ruined footwear sits in front of ‘After The Summer Of Like’, with which Hughes introduces a fiction, or elides memories. A sun-bleached and battered sofa, peppered with fag-burns, is a breeding ground for hundreds of tiny mushrooms of the magic variety, faded to white. It must have been a good, if seedy summer, the last teenage adventure.
All this is almost a reversal of kitsch applied to life instead of art—an elevation of the insignificant by making copies. It is unclear whether Hughes wishes to suggest that any moment is worthy of nostalgia and deserving of pathos, or if his careful reconstructions are more simply bathetic, a rueful, almost grudging awareness that, in memory, we hold in high regard, times and places that others would dismiss as mere trifles.
Next come works that transform junk instead of recreating it. ‘Love Seat’ is crafted from a fetid duvet, cast-off mannequin legs, long-johns and old socks. This tangle of half-bodies, if you catch them at the right angle, form a hand making the peace sign. In another grubby double-take, Hughes has hung a bundled puffa jacket on a rack of hooks. Again, this is a hand, this time smoking a cigarette formed by the hanging rail. The peace sign and insouciant drag on a fag return us to the elevated insignificances of the more polished sculptures, but, following ‘After The Summer Of Like’, introduce a new element, one that hints at wider cultural, or, better, counter-cultural concerns. This ties in with Hughes’ past work, where bagged rags have been arranged into a copy of the cover of Love’s Forever Changes, or walls have been stickered with discount offers for unwanted vinyl albums.
Finally, somewhere in-between the arranged flotsam and carefully modelled jetsam, lies ‘Smouldering Edge’. Hughes has painted the gallery walls in sickly day-glo orange paint, over-painting it with blank white, then peeling back edges to reveal a glimpse of mouldy cod-glamour. In doing so, Hughes reveals himself. The little memories remade and little gestures made live in a space that has been lent a history of former glory, of sad charm, a temporal space at once personal and universal, of happy memories no one else can understand, unless they were there, then, too.
Jack Mottram is an arts writer