Local Artist Recharges Batteries During French Residency

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Suzun Hughes and her photos from France.

Suzun Hughes and her photos from France.

by Gene Marrano

Local painter and photographer Suzun Hughes recently spent two months in Paris on a residency; living with other artists from around the world. Her husband John Wilson, a sculptor and co-owner of the Wilson Hughes gallery & studios (117 W. Campbell) went with her and also enjoyed a studio apartment overlooking the Seine River. Hughes wound up taking pictures instead of painting, and has mounted many of them on  cardboard stock. Her iconic and lesser-known views of Paris and surrounding areas are available for sale at the gallery over the next few months.

“The idea [for the residency] is that you have exposure to French culture and [other] artists. There were people from all over the world,” said Hughes. The University of Virginia provided the space; she had to apply for the residency. It was Hughes’ fifth trip to Paris “but I’ve never had the luxury [to stay] for two months. It takes it to a whole different level [as an artist].”  One of her goals was to explore lesser-known artistic venues, to meet more living artists. An exhibit of etchings dating back to the 16th century was “totally bizarre… it was great,” she chuckled.

Images of favorite buildings, scenic views of churches, billboards, French magazine covers, ornate metro train stops, shop windows, the iconic Eiffel Tower, a “living wall” on the side of a building, and sidewalk cafes among other subjects have been preserved by Hughes in her postcard sized archival-quality photos (available for $5 each).

There’s even one shot of a square carousel, and another of what used to be a government mortuary but is now an artist’s center. “It has really cool things to do in it – a really cool space. That was the kind of thing I sought out [with a camera],” added Hughes.

“Being in Paris…was very high energy,” said Hughes of her residency. “There’s a lot of things to see and absorb. You get stimulated by all of the things [around you].

The recent killing of eight United Nation workers in Afghanistan (and subsequent civilian deaths) over the burning of a Quran by Florida Pastor Terry Jones recalls a series of works Hughes created last year. “Hate Crimes,” consists of words scrolled by Hughes over the opaque images of American flags, including a discourse on 9/11 and an earlier Quran burning proposed by Jones that was headed off by the American government

Hughes’s two paintings in the Hate Crimes series can be seen at the gallery, which is typically open Monday through Sunday from noon-4pm. It’s also open during Art By Night, which has now moved to the first Friday night of each month (5-9pm).

“It was such a horrific concept to me [Jones’ threat last year to burn the Quran] that I felt compelled to do this,” said Hughes of Hate Crimes, which describes her feelings about September 11, 2001. “There were Muslims that were killed [there also] in the 9/11 attacks [and they] also participated in humanitarian acts.” Hughes incorporated poetry into the two pieces and “spent a lot of time with it. How often do you really spend that much time with words?” A companion piece focuses on Jones’ original 2010 threat to burn the Quran; on it she wrote out the words to the Declaration of Independence. It incorporates the vertical stripes found in the official but seldom-seen U.S. Peace flag.

“I felt there was a real relationship between the Declaration of Independence and what our forefathers were fighting for – and how we’ve gone off the tracks,” said Hughes. “Our society is so paranoid right now, especially about the Muslim thing. How much homegrown terrorism have we had?” Hughes calls the Quran burning and the violence that has ensued “just as crazy as any bombing. It’s a hate crime [like] 9/11. It’s not what the forefathers wanted for our country.” See wilsonhughesgallery.com