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  • Online Exhibition: Per Astera by Malaika Z Charbonneau

    Location: Saskatoon, SK

    Malaika Z Charbonneau exhibits her latest markings, using paint and canvas to explore..
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  • “10th Anniversary” Online Art Competition

    Location: Palm Springs, CA

    Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery announces an art call for a..
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  • 15th Solo Art Series – Online Solo Art Exhibition Opportunity

    Location: Palm Springs, CA

    Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery announces its 15th “Solo Art Series”..
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  • 2020 Social Distancing Exhibition

    Location: Vancouver, BC

    $1,000 in Artist Prizes. We know, you’re stuck at home. While many are stocking..
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  • 10th Annual

    Location: Palm Springs, CA

    Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery announces an art call for the..
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  • Call for Art - 5th Annual Animal Kingdom Art Competition

    Location: Palm Springs, CA

    Fusion Art invites submissions for the 5th Annual Animal Kingdom online art competition. For..
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  • Call for Art - Still Life Art Competition

    Location: Palm Springs, CA

    Fusion Art invites submissions for its 14th Quarterly Art Competition – Still Life. For..
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  • National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society 2020 Spring Online International Exhibition

    Location: , ON

    $4500 in Awards - The National Oil & Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS) invites..
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  • Beacon Original Art Spring Show & Sale

    Location: Calgary, AB

    Annual spring 2-day art show and sale with different artists in attendance each..
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  • Nooks & Crannies Outdoor Art Festival: Call to Artists

    Location: Okotoks, AB

    Okotoks Culture seeks proposals from artists to create temporary public art installations in..
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  • BORDERS - ITSLIQUID International Art and Architecture Festival

    Location: Venice,

    CALL FOR ARTISTS BORDERS | Venice July-Nov 2020 ITSLIQUID International Art and Architecture Festival Deadline:..
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  • Acrylic Painting Workshop with Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

    Location: North Vancouver, BC

    April 4/5 2020. Learn how to quickly develop rich colour and surface in..
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  • $550.00 Innovate Grants — Call for Artists + Photographers

    Location: , NY

    Innovate Grant is now accepting submissions for the Spring 2020 Cycle. Innovate Grant..
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  • CALL FOR ARTISTS: CANVAS International Art Fair

    Location: London, UK,

    CANVAS International Art Fair THE LINE Gallery, London | May 07 – October 30,..
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  • 27th Lemonville Group of Artists Show and Sale

    Location: Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, ON

    Please join The Lemonville Group of Artists for their 27th Annual Art Show..
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  • “Sensuality” International Call - Art & Literature Journal - Deadline April 30, 2020

    Location: Toronto, ON

    | Theme: A glance, touch, dance, flower, scent or piece of chocolate can..
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  • Artwork Shipping Scam

    Location: , AB

    This week an artist on our site was corresponding via email with an..
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  • Geoff Farnsworth: Colour Worker

    Location: Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON

    Join the Niagara Pumphouse for the opening reception for the exhibition entitled, “Geoff..
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  • Call for Entries: Art at the Pumphouse

    Location: Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON

    The Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre is now accepting applications for participation in Art..
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  • Exaltation : Niagara Pumphouse Instructors' Exhibition

    Location: Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON

    Niagara Pumphouse is proud to host the Instructors’ Exhibition as its first show..
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  • Art, Wine, Interior Design Show

    Location: Winnipeg, MB

    Art, Wine, Interior Design Show! Exhibitor opportunities for Visual artists, Interior Designers and Wineries. Finding..
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  • National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society 2020 Spring Online International Exhibition

    Location: , ON

    The National Oil & Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS) invites oil and acrylic painters..
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  • Love At First Sight

    Location: Regina, SK

    Love At First Sight / Regina Art Collective members: Dave Gedjos / DeLee Grant..
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  • In Other Words

    Location: Regina, SK

    In Other Words / Regina Art Collective members: Nikki Jacquin / Derek Olson / Mark..
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  • CALL FOR ARTISTS: VENICE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2020

    Location: Venice,

    CALL FOR ARTISTS: VENICE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2020 Venice | April 09 – May..
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  • CALL FOR ARTISTS: THE EXTENDED BODY 2020

    Location: London,

    CALL FOR ARTISTS: THE EXTENDED BODY – MIXING CULTURES ITSLIQUID International Art Exhibition THE..
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  • Appreciation of the Arts

    Location: London, ON

    Three day art and music event to recognize local artists in London, Ontario...
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  • Call to Artists - 2020 Sooke Fine Arts Show

    Location: Sooke, BC

    Artists are invited to submit work for consideration to the 2020 Sooke Fine..
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  • ACAF (Accessible Art Fair) 2020

    Location: Brussels,

    ACAF (Accessible Art Fair) is back on October 15-18, 2020 for its 14th..
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  • Call For Artists: The Other Art Fair Toronto

    Location: Toronto, ON

    The Other Art Fair are thrilled to present the newest edition of The..
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  • Marlene Kawalez and Corynn Kokolakis

    Location: Toronto, ON

    Presented by: Cedar Ridge Gallery. Part of the Cedar Ridge Gallery Contemporary Exhibition series. March..
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E. J. Hughes

By Robert Amos April 26, 2004

} E. J. Hughes By Robert Amos SECTION FRONT There is a gentleman who is 91 years of age living quietly outside Duncan. He paints picturesque landscapes of places one can easily drive to, around the southern shores of Vancouver Island. Would it surprise you to learn that he is one of Canada’s outstanding artists? His paintings hang in all the great national galleries of this country, and some have sold at auction for more than $100,000. His name is E. J. Hughes. E. J. Hughes was born in 1913, and already his education was complete and his career underway when Jack Shadbolt and Toni Onley arrived on the scene. More than any artist since Emily Carr, Hughes’s vision has defined this place. Yet he is almost unknown in his home territory. That is about to change, now that a huge retrospective of his paintings, organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery, has come to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. This exhibit, and the accompanying book, will properly establish E. J. Hughes as the senior artist of this province. BOX SCORES - SHOW, BOOK, WEB SITE E. J. Hughes, a retrospective comprised of 113 paintings, drawings and prints, opens at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria March 12. Organzied by the Vancouver Art Gallery, this show makes its final stop here and will be on display from March 12 to June 13, 2004. www.aggv.bc.ca The accompanying book is titled E. J. Hughes, (published by Douglas and McIntrye, Vancouver, 2002, 226 pp. $75). Prints of Hughes’s work are available at www.ejhughes.ca BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY E. J. Hughes was born in North Vancouver in 1913 and grew up in Nanaimo. He has rarely lived anywhere but on the south east side of Vancouver Island. He is the senior artist of this province, by both age and reputation. Hughes’ paintings are hung with pride in all the great galleries of this country and more than once have sold for more than $100,000 at auction. By a quirk of fate, his work is little-known by the people who live here, a circumstance made more poignant because this area is the predominant subject of all his painting. At sixteen years of age, Hughes was admitted to the fledgling Vancouver School of Art, at that time one of the most advanced art schools in the country. He was there during the glory of Fred Varley’s early years on the coast, though Hughes benefitted more from the informed teaching of Charles H. Scott, the school’s first principal. At VSA he enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow students B. C. Binning, Fred Amess, Vera Weatherbie and Orville Fisher. Between 1928 and 1933 he received a firm grounding in the old fashioned basics - drawing, composition and colour - which has served him well over the course of a very long and successful career. While Varley and his band of radicals left the Vancouver School of Art in 1933 over a dispute about salaries, Hughes stayed with his teachers and polished his craft. But all the skill in the world wouldn’t enable an artist to make a living in Vancouver in the Depression. Constitutionally unsuited for teaching art or working as a commercial artist, Hughes had to find another way. He tried making prints for sale, and he tried painting murals in churches and restaurants, but the rewards were few. Hughes’s solution was to join the army, which he did in 1939. He signed up as a gunner, but was certainly aware of the concept of War Artist, a role Varley had played in 1918. The official war artist program didn’t get started until 1942, but Hughes lobbied for the job and was provisionally given a position. He set to work. During the war years he worked like a trojan, completing more than a thousand drawings and many paintings, in Canada, Britain and the Aleutian Islands. During his military postings in Ottawa, Hughes had a chance to visit New York and there he saw paintings which influenced him. In particular, he noted the quasi-primitive paintings of Le Douanier Rousseau and those of the Mexican muralists. In the interest of creating work that would stand out in a gallery, he began to make strongly modelled canvases with intense primary colours and a pronounced distortion of form. Back in Vancouver after the war, Hughes’ work came to the attention of Lawren Harris, a founding member of the Group of Seven, who was highly influential at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Through his agency, Hughes was awarded the first Emily Carr Scholarship (created with monies from the sale of paintings from her estate). This allowed Hughes to make sketching trips around Vancouver Island which provided subject matter he has used for the rest of his career. His production was slow, but sure. With the help of Lawren Harris, by 1950 Hughes had sold paintings to the Vancouver Art Gallery, the University of Toronto and Canada’s National Gallery. This was satisfactory, but in no way did it ensure his success. Hughes, with his wife Fern, left Victoria which he found too distracting. They rented lakeside property at Shawnigan Lake where he painted in isolation and without the prospect of a career. At that point, fate intervened in the person of Dr. Max Stern. Stern was an art dealer, come from Europe to set up in Montreal in the 1930’s. He was always on the lookout for talent and had done very well by following Lawren Harris’s advice to become Emily Carr’s agent. When he discovered a Hughes painting in a dormitory at UBC in 1951, Stern set out on a search for that artist. He visited the artist’s various addresses in Victoria and finally, at Shawnigan Lake, with the help of the RCMP, Stern showed up at Hughes’ cabin. “There was a shy painter,” Stern has written, “who was not at all aware of the unusual quality of his work, an artist who was not really convinced of his own talent.” Making a verbal contract, Stern agreed to purchase everything available in the studio - about 12 paintings and a number of works on paper - for $500. Further, he explained his intent to purchase from Hughes everything that he painted from then on. This agreement was highly satisfactory to both parties and continued past Stern’s death in 1987 until 2000, the year in which the Dominion Gallery closed. For Hughes it was a godsend. In the beginning he felt well paid for his efforts and came to appreciate that the dealer took on all the responsibility for interacting with the public. Hughes was left to paint in peace, with no worry about sales. Stern was a shrewd dealer and drove prices for Hughes’ paintings ever higher, placing them in the most prestigious collections in the land. It is because of this - that they were all sold from Montreal - that the greatest painter of our local landscape since Emily Carr - is virtually unknown here. Over the years Hughes’ style calmed down. He dropped the dark tonalities when he learned that some people thought he was painting night views. And he took his dealer’s advice on matters of composition, something we can read about in the catalogue. (The Hughes-Stern correspondence has been deposited at the University of Victoria). Some have expressed shock that Hughes would let himself be advised, but Hughes has no such feeling. He believed in Stern’s taste and acted upon his advice when it suited him. In the end the paintings of Hughes were never compromised by Stern’s suggestions. From this point on, the artist worked with a single-minded diligence painting the scenery of B. C. - “the best place in the world for landscape subject matter,” according to the artist. At his dealer’s suggestion he made trips across Canada and worked in the Interior of B. C. but each of these is an aberration. He was at home here and enjoyed the Saanich Inlet, Saltspring Island, Cowichan and Maple Bays and Nanaimo harbour. Throughout his life he has painted subjects studied around this coast. Those who follow the trajectory of his career will notice a slow evolution. His colours became lighter, his compositions less peculiar, and in the end he shifted from oils to acrylic paint. Now, no longer wanting to stand at his easel, he paints in watercolour exclusively. And yet his unwavering attention to his task imbues virtually everything he touches with magic. Ian Thom, Senior Curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery, wrote the catalogue to the current exhibition, a book which is definitive on the subject of Hughes. Here’s how he sums it up: “Links can be made between his work and a variety of traditions, but this does not explain the singular power of his art to affect the psyche. Hughes’s oeuvre is a great deal more sophisticated than it might initially appear and is very carefully calculated. Hughes is far removed from folk art and is “primitive” only in a way that he intends to be. Even a casual study of his drawings reveals that there is no margin for error in his work, which, however is far from being either clinical or cold. Thre is a depth of feeling for nature and our place within it. “ Hughes is a sprightly 91 years old, living in Duncan, and is particularly delighted that this grand retrospective of his life’s work is “coming home” to be seen by the people who can appreciate it best. After seeing his paintings in the gallery, when you come out into the daylight you will see the world anew - a world enriched for being seen through the eyes of E. J. Hughes. A VISIT TO THE STUDIO OF E. J. HUGHES No one can dispute that E. J. Hughes possesses a unique and wonderful talent to paint, and to see. The seclusion in which he lives has focussed that talent. With unwavering concentration, Hughes is able to turn the mundane to magic. Hughes had an excellent training from teachers who themselves were properly taught in Britain. He learned to look, to see and to draw - all by concentrated mental effort and without the shorthand of the camera. As a war artist, he spent six years drawing every day, without the distraction of finding markets or earning a living. He and his wife Fern were, by their natures, quiet folks who chose a retired lifestyle. After the Dominion Gallery contracted to buy his life’s work in 1951, Hughes was able to maintain a distance from modern distractions and continued with a meditative calm to produce his patient creations. Through these many years Hughes has been regarded as somewhat of a recluse, and this has served his purpose well. I can report that Hughes is not shy or reclusive - when it suits him. He is lively and opinionated, but also courtly and genteel. When I visited his home and studio recently, he was wearing a comfortable old tweed jacket, white shirt knit tie, and a fine woolen vest. One really has the sense of visiting a man who still lives in 1933. And what a pleasure that is. Hughes seems utterly divorced from an interest in money. He lives in a surprisingly modest house and depends on his associate, Pat Salmon, to deal with the world beyond. The only original work by the artist which graces his walls is a pencil portrait of his beloved late wife, Fern, hanging behind a bouquet of roses. The roses, dried but not discarded, are there to mark their wedding anniversary. I think of him as Doctor Hughes - he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Victoria and has received the Order of Canada. As the only one of his siblings who never got a university education, he takes certain pride in his doctorate. But to judge by the things he surrounds himself with, his pastimes are not academic. Plastic car model are lined on a shelf in the breakfast nook, and stacks of picture books take up more space than a fastidious housekeeper would permit. He also has a considerable collection of jazz LP’s close at hand. The studio of this - one of the country’s most successful and celebrated painters - is the spare bedroom. Spartan in its furnishings, it looks out on a gravel backyard with a pine tree. Hughes is meticulous with his watercolour brushes, laying them in order with the sable tips over the edge of the table to dry. He paints of full sheets of 300lb English watercolour paper, held to a drawing board with thumbtacks. A creature of habit, his materials are few, and well worn. I noticed the glasses he uses for painting - though he sees and hears very well for a man of his age - have a missing arm replaced with a piece of string. Hughes’s time-honoured approach to creating a painting is to sketch in front of the subject, a process which usually involves two days of drawing and a further day for making a colour map of his study. During his more active period, this sketching went on over the course of a summer trip taken every fourth year. Sometime later, he can methodically recreate these notes as paintings, working regularly in the afternoons in his calm, quiet studio. On my recent visit he was in the midst of making a watercolour from a study he made on Savary Island in 1935. Any shortcomings one might notice in Hughes’s domestic arrangements are instantly forgotten in the company of this generous and gregarious man. When I visited he made me quite comfortable, and could hardly wait to take up the conversation where we had left off some years before. He spoke with delight about the quality of reproductions in the new book about him. He was quick to praise the knowledge of men much younger than he is. We returned again to talk about Fred Varley, a dramatic painting teacher of Hughes’s early years. Hughes believes that Varley’s “second portrait” of Vera (in the National Gallery of Canada) is the finest portrait ever painted in this country. And, while he used to favour A. Y. Jackson, he now believes Varley is the greatest of the Group of Seven. But, with good reason, Hughes has always deplored Varley’s neglect of his wife and family, and the terrible waste of Varley’s talent to alcoholism. Hughes positively bubbled over with his new discoveries among artists of the past - Giovanni Bellini is currently on top of his list, as are Thomas Girtin’s British watercolours. We debated the question of who is the best watercolour painter of all - Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent. And he seemed to despair that the public nowadays has gone over for abstract art. I told him not to worry. The public - the real public - love pictures, painted pictures, and that no matter what the institutions of art may promote, the public will never change. Hughes himself has made a virtue of not changing, and that, I believe, is one of the secrets of his success. As Doris Shadbolt wrote in 1967, “his private revelation is of the kind to resist the wearing of time.” I don’t expect to see Hughes at the opening of his show in Victoria tonight. It’s just the sort of “hoopla” that he avoids. Therefore, I am especially grateful to have spent an afternoon with a living legend of Canadian art. In his old fashioned way, he came out onto the front steps of his little house to wave goodbye to me as I drive away. ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2003 Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B.C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at www.robertamos.com