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Diane Fleisch Hughes' works shows human expression from hope to fear

| Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011

For Cleveland-area artist Diane Fleisch Hughes, creating art is more than just a means of putting pencil to paper or brush to canvas. It's an opportunity to express the angst of the human condition.

Her solo show at Box Heart Gallery in Bloomfield, "Open Mind for a Different View," investigates not only the figure as a beautiful art form, but also issues of how we, as fragile human beings, function in our environment.

Hughes says that labeling and our ability to rise above and work through what is expected, or, perhaps, how it constricts us, predicts the course of our life. Childhood events and related memories affect our future relationships, worldview and our place in society.

"While these are heady subjects and deserve more thorough investigation, this show is the beginning of that journey," she says. The exhibit features more than two dozen figurative works in a variety of media.

Hughes, who is certified in Ohio to teach kindergarten through grade 12 art, says that working with special-needs children showed her how the creative arts can be an effective communication tool, and allow kids faced with certain challenges to freely express themselves through art, music, drama or any other artistic pursuit that intrigues them.

During the years, Hughes has worked with many special-needs populations, including mentally ill adults, dialysis patients and autistic children.

"This work has led to a change in the subject of my artwork," she says. "I have always been a figurative painter, but I now look to make a statement or ask a question regarding the emotional state of the subject. Although not always obvious, I do want the viewer to connect with a painting and make their own conclusions about what is happening."

All of the paintings begin with a charcoal drawing of the subject or subjects. Then, the oil paint and other elements are added, such as crushed eggshells or sand.

"I let the drawing show through, because I feel the initial linework is the most telling," she says. "It's my initial response to a subject. A beautifully drawn line can be emotional and create the tone of the entire painting. I recently started adding other elements such as eggshells, sand, photos, newspaper cutouts, etc. to build upon the inner conflict of the subject. I now have a back story and history to go with each subject."

For example, with the mixed-media painting "I Want More Than This Kite Can Soar," Hughes tells the story of a girl who is looking to the future with high hopes and dreams. The sand on the beach is made from eggshells, representing "the fragile ego and childhood," the artist says.

"The background shows cows in a pasture, cities, the ocean, all of the places and things she has yet to experience and the yearning she has to do it all," Hughes says. "The kite keeps her grounded -- even though it flies up high and far, it cannot reach far enough. She seems to have a nice life, a nice dog, a fine kite but she still wants more, wants it all."

In "Adolescence," Hughes depicts three girls seemingly bored and uninterested. "Although many adolescents may appear as such in reality, this is a time when they are in transition," Hughes says. "Many are more interested and influenced by friends instead of parents or adults."

Some of the paintings have more serious undertones. Hughes says "Extrovert" is one of a series of ink drawings that describe how we, as individuals, get labeled (by society, parents, neighbors), and our ability to break free of that label and move on to what we want to become or feel safe within that label and acting accordingly. It depicts a "troubled boy" who keeps getting in trouble.

"The 'smart one' always gets good grades and never seeks trouble -- doing things because it is expected of them," Hughes says. "The extrovert is the one who is always outgoing, friendly, the one you want to bring to parties, because they make instant friends.

"I found that working with the mentally ill, many find that they can use their illness to stay within boundaries they have set up for themselves," Hughes says. "Sometimes, this is a safe mechanism, sometimes this can be very limiting. I say this in very broad terms, dealing with any illness is a huge challenge."

The show culminates with the almost life-size work "Denial." Another mixed-media work, this particular painting is from a series of paintings that were done that depicts "The Five Stages of Grief" -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

"I believe these are common stages for any kind of loss," Hughes says. "In my case, I was dealing with a loved one suffering from an addiction. I found myself going through these same stages."

This painting is the denial stage, which is why the figure in the painting covers her eyes.

"I, myself, was in this stage for a long time," Hughes says. "I found painting this helped a great deal to come to terms with what was happening, and also gave me the courage to get through the next stages.

"The subtle writing in the background is all the excuses and things you say to yourself to stay in this stage," Hughes says. "It hangs from a rope with a roughly cut rod to show how tied you feel -- to the loved one lost, and also because of how much is sacrificed when dealing and just trying to survive in that stage."

Hughes says her next work will be large-scale paintings done in the style of "Denial," titled "Saints and Angels." She says they will be based on the lives of saints who were martyred for their beliefs, such as the stoning of St. Stephen and the burning of Joan of Arc.

Additional Information:

'Open Mind for a Different View'

What: New Work by Diane Fleisch Hughes

When: Through Saturday. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission : Free

Where: Box Heart Gallery, 4523 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield

Details: 412-687-8858 or www.boxheart.org

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