There is no single process for HUSH. The U.K.-based artist mixes methods as he applies a combination of paint (acrylic and the spray can variety), screen print and ink techniques to his canvases. In the end, the results are exquisitely layered paintings that people sometimes confuse for collage work.
Saturday night, HUSH unveiled his latest show “Unseen” at Corey Helford Gallery. The effort involves 22 pieces, including large paintings and smaller studies. This was his first show with the Culver City gallery, which has come to prominence in the past few years for showcasing some of the brightest talents in the pop surrealism and street art world. HUSH himself falls into the latter camp, and he worked on a few street pieces while he in town.
HUSH's love of street art goes back to his youth. “I did a bit of graffiti,” he says of his formative years. “I wasn't a big graffiti artist.”
The ideas of the street art world have a profound influence on HUSH's gallery work. Look closely and you can find his tag scrawled over layers of paint. On the streets, HUSH notes, “people are going over each other's work, adding to the work.” This is true of the environment that hosts the art as well. “You're adding something to the environment and the environment adds something to the piece.” HUSH's paintings reflect these ideas. He'll have a canvas hanging in his studio for a year, maybe more, and will constantly add to it. “Every time I approach the canvas, I will tag them,” he explains. Once he's accumulated enough tags, the paintings begin to take shape.
In “Unseen,” HUSH's work is centered around a group of woman who appear with eyes blacked-out. He removes the eyes in order to keep the audience at a bit of a distance from the characters. “There's a personality there with the eyes, so you can connect too much,” he says. The women represent a feminine beauty, counteracting the popular portrayal of street art as “masculine and aggressive.”
HUSH has been using the same models for several years now. He photographs them repeatedly for points of reference. Sometimes, he will screen print small portions of their image. Most of what you'll see of the girls in the gallery is painted. His techniques always vary. Sometimes he will sketch out the form first. Sometimes, he uses stencils. Other times, he'll just start painting.
The day before the opening, I met with HUSH at Corey Helford, where he was putting the finishing touches on the exhibition. He showed me the paintings and began pointing out details that are unnoticeable from across a room. He points to the portions of the canvas that were left unpainted and the parts that were screen printed. He'll point to a small mark in a painting and explain that it's a reference to an artist whose work he admires. There are loads of references in HUSH's work to artists like Barry McGee, KAWS and Fiona Rae, but the nods are not obvious. You wouldn't know they were there, he says, unless he told you.
“I like to complicate the work,” says HUSH. “I want to give the eye a visual complication. You have to work to see everything.”
In fact, you could spend hours, maybe even days, staring straight at a HUSH piece and not see everything. There is a lot going on here.
HUSH enjoys a bit of anonymity in his work, but he's not necessarily a phantom. If you were at the opening on Saturday night, you probably saw him and might have had the chance to talk to him or take a photo with him. Still, he does work under an alias. “HUSH is the work,” he says. “Do people need to know about me?”
But HUSH's experiences inform his work. Originally from Newcastle, he's traveled the world extensively for his art. This is his eighth trip to California. “I love the acceptance in California,” he says. “I think people out in California are more creatively aware and accepting.”
For someone whose work is both rooted in street art and a commentary on it, that sort of acceptance is important. It's not something that the movement has encountered everywhere. The misconceptions surrounding street art are part of what HUSH challenges in his work. “This movement has been adopted, especially by the public and the youth culture. It's accessible and it makes sense to them and it's relevant,” he says. “That doesn't mean that it's not important. Because something is not understood and not broke down academically doesn't mean that it's not important.”