Remembering Glyn Hughes

I walked out from the Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre (NiMAC) with Yiannis Toumazis’ words ringing in my ears.

“That’s what good art is all about; that the artist lives through the work and transmits this energy with a different code. I feel very moved because somehow, through his work, you see him, we feel his energy around us; we caught ourselves feeling very emotional on many occasions.”

As the Director NiMAC and currently, the curator of Glyn Hughes’ prominent retrospective exhibition ‘Glyn Hughes 1931-2014’ that opens to the wider public this evening, Toumazis stands as an advocate of one of the few artists who have left such an indelible mark on Cyprus.

Though a Welshman, Hughes’ continuous residence on the island for almost six decades (1956-2014) acted as a catalyst for the development of contemporary art in Cyprus and not just that.

Painter, set designer, director, teacher and educator, journalist, art and film critic, writer, poet, pioneer in performance art and happe-nings in Cyprus, among other things, Glyn Hughes was a multi-faceted personality, full of intensity, colour and light, just like his work.

“It’s an honour that we owe to Glyn; it’s the first time I feel that the whole spectrum of his work is made known and exposed,” says Toumazis, a notion that local artist Charalambos Sergiou confirms as I make my way through a preview of a tribute to Hughes’ work.

“His life was full,” Sergiou tells me, “and he made our life full,” he smiles.

Glyn Hughes’ journey
Hughes left our world in October 2014, lea-ving behind a significant amount of work that has been deemed as crucial to the understanding of the evolution of art in Cyprus over the past 60 years.

Yet reality has it that Hughes’ work, along with his persona and personal drive has seldom been brought to the forefront in an entirety.

Hughes not only touched with his own work; he translated his knowledge to his students at the Junior and English School, he supported fellow artists through buying and collecting art work, he organised innovative events to invigorate the local art scene, whether in the realms of fine arts, literature or theatre, he highlighted trends and personalities through his writing at The Cyprus Weekly and Cyprus Mail Newspapers and conveyed his truly humanitarian character through each of his whims.

“Glyn believed that a country with a good art scene could develop even more; he believed in the artistic power and strength of a country,” says Toumazis.

To this end, this exhibition pioneers in exa-mining the various aspects of the artistic perso-nality of Glyn Hughes from 1931, when he was born, until his death, and presents, besides important works –paintings, costumes and set designs–an extensive archival material, as well as many accounts of people who got to know him during his rich, creative career.

“People think Hughes was only doing these colourful canvases and we try to avoid showing these in the exhibition; you won’t see what you think Glyn is because he was much more than that,” adds Toumazis.

Divided into rooms which feature specific aspects of the artist’s life, NiMAC’s foyer turns to different periods of his work, notably depicting his love for and impact from Egon Schiele’s work.

A room dedicated to his youth and years in the United Kingdom reveals notions of his studies in drama, performing and visual arts for school children, his childhood years, his first drawing, his premature art work and a photo of his mother at the train station as he left for Cyprus in 1956, amongst others.

Hughes’ personal art collection is also intertwined in the exhibition, with works of pro-minent artists such as Hilton, David Hockney, Serge Poliakoff and Vlassis Kaniaris to name a few, which only affirm the creative influence that he had from other artists of the ’50s and ’60s, his interest in what other artists where doing and his awareness on the trends of the time.

Seven huge volumes copied from the PIO reveal all the articles Hughes wrote for local papers here, another façade to his life.

“The way he wrote about art made it accessible to everyone, a true gift in someone who could have easily taken a more technical route only his fellow artists would have understood,” says Athena Karsera who worked with Hughes at the Cyprus Weekly Newspaper.

The rest of the premises are used to highlight Hughes’ first years in Cyprus and the Apofasis Gallery he founded along with his important relation with local fine artist Christoforos Savvas.

Audiences are weaved through Glyn’s contribution to Cyprus first 10 years as a republic, the first happenings in Cyprus, followed with his more mature years, 20 years in Markos Drakos Street, where he lived, his last exhibition, his batiks and application along more theatrical works, six-and-a-half hours of interviews, an installation with cut outs and wooden shadow figures for shadow theatre and his theatrical career.

Embracing Hughes’ persona
Historically, for Cyprus, Hughes’ work has the potential to evoke notions and interrelations of the time. As Hughes sold his art work for pennies, Hughes travelled often and brought his experiences back with him.

Archives of his first exhibition at the Ledra Palace in 1959, lino types he made and used as Christmas cards, his dismissal letter from the Junior School, his landscapes from Cyprus villages and his transition from the early, figurative experimental work to the abstract Glyn we know today, gradually reveal his journey.

Yet Glyn was also very related to the places he lived. Living around the Green Line, a triptych shown for the first time in Cyprus because its entirety belonged to different people, begin to touch upon his inspiration from social and political events that also reveal his humanist tendencies and his own journey in self-exploration.

“You can see his experimentations with works like “Karakiozis in distress”, a self-portrait with Karakiozis and you can also see what was happening in the ’70s internationally,” says Toumazis. “He used fluorescent spray paint, he was buying cheap paint because he didn’t have a lot of money, he was always experimenting,” he adds.

Aside from works depicting his late experimentation with white on canvas, one encounters the work he presented at the Cairo Biennale where he represented Cyprus and got a distinction. One will encounter his own human interest about cholera, his relation with the human body, to the inner self, the agony, the sensual, sexual and existential aspect of his work.

Two works show his inspiration from real life events; a train in India that capsized and killed almost 300 children; a supposed rape incident involving a Sri Lankan maid in Cyprus in the ’80s.

“He liked other foreigners and the expat community; he was a socialist, a man of human mystic, he had all these humanist ideas and always stood by the weak and the oppressed,” tells Toumazis.

His batiks again reflect his experimentation and the times he lived in.

“He called his batiks ‘art to go away with’ and actually he describes an incident, during 1974, when he and his godson, Sotos Florides, had to flee from Famagusta to Limassol, so they used the batiks to cover themselves while staying in the fields at night,” reveals Toumazis.

Which leads viewers to Hughes’ last exhibition when he was living on Xanthis street. This side of the exhibition is accompanied by the last canvas Hughes painted, along with a photo of him working on it.
As Hughes once said: “Cyprus made me a painter, I think this is the island that created me… for me the relation with the place was decisive”.

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