Hugh Byrne's art: A harmonious reverie of form, shape and colour

Published Aug 1, 2017



At Ebony; Until September 2.


I was beckoned to have a closer look and indeed I did just that.

The artist Hugh Byrne explains his methods: “Through the process of making abstract art, I am trying to understand why certain colours, textures, shapes or materials have a pull on me and how best to group these individual and sometimes disparate components into a fully realised and pleasing object.”

Such concerns perhaps explain equally well why I felt drawn to his work. There is a sense of structural tension as squares and rectangles of pure colour shapes mingle and are applied in certain sequences, sometimes superimposed.

Yet there is somehow a resolution, a harmonious reverie of form, shape and colour.

The artist explains: “My work is the result of identifying a problem, solving it and then letting that decision influence the next problem or solution. In this way the artworks become tangible compilations of decisions, organised in one place as a painting or sculpture.”

This is neatly explained and one does get a sense of a structural unity, whether in painting or sculpture that is the sum of such decisions.

In effect the work becomes a meditation on form and colour.

Do such formal concerns eschew the world, a sort of Sabbath from the everyday? If so, one might level a certain criticism that befalls formalism to such experimentation?

I believe that would be a pointless exercise, for one can have a literal subject matter in art just as much as one might investigate art for art’s sake. The justification for the latter is a kind of pure research into the elements of art themselves, a kind of pure mathematics which might then be realised practically at a later point, such as in architecture or design.

You may retort that such investigations happened already in Western abstract art as well as pattern making (with content) and the like in other cultures long before that.

Such concerns are not problematic as Byrne simply builds on that tradition in a unique way. He uses materials ranging from latex paint to concrete, powder-coated metal, maple and walnut. His is an investigation of materiality and structure, of architectural simplicity.

It is a kind of research into the elements in themselves, eschewing narrative and extra-aesthetic content. Is it then simply an aesthetic hedonistic exercise with no content?

The content is the very struggle of such elements in themselves. In this sense it is a meditation on the medium through the medium, a kind of self-reflexive game. I find this is a content, like thinking about the process of thinking itself observing and watching, rather than being embroiled in the narrative, often confused content of thought.

In that sense, the polarities of one position versus another are not in terms of a “what”, but rather an awareness of the structure of how a “what” is constructed.

Such construction then comes to the fore as a certain harmony of various elements, a geometric scaffolding and yet with a curious organic element as well.

One might intuit a musical play at the heart of these “experiments” and thence derive a content: they are metaphors for the drama of existence, as one begins with an idea or experience and then that develops in complexity, all the while revealing a certain play and sequence.

However, the artist intelligently makes decisions about when that play ends and the object - the painting or sculpture - now emerges.

Revelling in the curiosity of what usurped my attention and beckoned me to come closer, I now recognise that it was the sense of dynamic.

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