Abstraction takes on a newfound importance in this body of work, as Mc Hugh seeks to explore new visual and verbal languages. Pure colour undulates and pulsates in a new series of oil paintings. Light dissolves line and forms coalesce without border. Research and source material are largely bypassed in favour of experimentation and direct expression through paint, colour and form. Nevertheless, the canvases are painstakingly crafted, owing more to the delicacy of Vermeer than to gestural abstraction. Small, glistening and pearlescent, the paintings come in and out of focus, teasing the eye as it searches for meaning.
The paintings are accompanied by over 100 notebook drawings made during and in response to therapy sessions. Developed, in the artist’s words, “as a way to make sense of the world,” the works are Mc Hugh's most autobiographical to date. Ranging from linear abstractions to meticulous but hallucinogenic articulations of form, the drawings are diaristic and exploratory in nature, but have been heavily layered and reworked over a period of years to create dense palimpsests of image, line and text. The series’ title, io, means light, life in the invented language aUI, believed by its creator WJ Weilgart to give his patients access to unconscious feeling.
Linking these two bodies of work is an overreaching search for a new form of expression, testing the limits and implications of language, both verbal and visual. Like io, many of the works bear titles from invented languages. Loje, jelo, laso, means red, yellow, blue in Toki Pona, a philosophical language seeking to communicate by the simplest means possible – these are the language’s only words for colour. Orzchis caldemia, meanwhile, uses the 12th-century German abbotess Hildegard von Bingen’s mystical Lingua Ignota. Such experiments with language, and the possibilities they open up, inform the probing, exploratory approach of the exhibition.