Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes

Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes. This British artist, renowned for inventing a unique optical illusion, termed “reverspective”; has applied his fascinating technique, to create a new visualisation of the Venetian urban landscape.

Essentially, his art embodies the principle of “reverse perspective”, that takes the form of three-dimensional relief painting; in which the objects that appear closest to the viewer, are actually the furthest away in space.

Evolved from a deep understanding of Renaissance art, he plays with perspective and distance; challenging, surprising and sometimes disorienting his audience.

This inversion of the principles of perspective, consolidated into sculptural painting; leads to an extraordinary viewing experience. Confronting the static art work at a suitable distance, the viewer moves his gaze both laterally and vertically; exploring the changing perceived space.

To quote Patrick Hughes – “The mind is fooled into believing in the impossible, that a static painting can move on its own”.

His “reverse perspective” work, including his Venetian series; has brought him international acclaim and representation by galleries world-wide. To see and fully appreciate the technique, visit his website and select “videos”. 

Certainly, his life’s experience and study of human perception; is embodied in his artwork.


 “Seeing a Patrick Hughes sculptured painting in reality, is really to experience unreality and the paradox of illusory space and movement

Patrick, holding one of his “reverse perspective” prepared structural bases; ready for painting.


Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes. Biography


Early life

Patrick Hughes was born in October 1939 in Birmingham, the eldest son of Peter and Florence Hughes. His father was a commercial traveller in groceries and his mother a housewife. The family moved around, living in Middlesex and later in Hull.

At the age of three or four, whilst staying at his grandparents’ house in Crewe, Patrick would sleep in ‘The Glory Hole’; the cupboard under the stairs, considered the safest place in the house. Lying awake listening to the air-raid sirens and falling bombs of the Second World War, Patrick would look up and stare at the stairs, “We were looking up at these stairs the wrong way round – stairs that only a spider could walk up. It must have made a strong impression: being bombed and in the dark and seeing everything the wrong way round.”

For Patrick, it was an unhappy time and he found refuge in library books and in his imagination. His quote is very telling – “A book is a way out…they are little doors…. you open the hinged rectangle of the book and step into another world…. I escaped from my suburban hell-hole of an upbringing through the book.”

Hughes has made a life-long career out of doing things the “other way round”.


School and Further Education

In 1950. Patrick went to Hull Grammar School where he studied ‘O’ level art; where his teacher Ian D. H. Fothergill, encouraged the students to write about modern art. Patrick wrote in defence of Picasso, but it was Fothergill’s set designs for the school plays; with their use of perspective and painted shadows, which amazed Patrick and left a lasting impression.

At seventeen Patrick left school, home and Hull for London, never to return. He took a job as a window dresser and salesman at “Rubans de Paris” in London’s West End; near to the Portal Gallery.

Free time was spent reading and writing and visiting local galleries; particularly admiring works by René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp and Paul Klee.

The following year, Patrick met his first wife Rennie Paterson, then an art student at Reading. During their marriage three sons, John, James and Solomon, were born.

In 1959, he enrolled at the Leeds Day Training College, to study English literature; with a view to teaching English and being a writer. On the first day at college, he was asked to write an essay on six books he had recently enjoyed. Patrick wrote about N. F. Simpson, Eugène Ionesco, Franz Kafka, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Butler and Christian Morgenstern; but to his astonishment, the English teacher Mrs Hanson, declared “this was not English literature“. English literature was the nineteenth-century novelists; George Eliot, Jane Austen, the Bröntes and Charles Dickens. Mrs Hanson passed him over to the art department and so it was that Patrick’s art career, began out of rejection and suggestion; not through intention.

Fortunately, the Art Department, welcomed and actively encouraged creativity and experimentation. Patrick began making low reliefs in plaster and later, cut-outs in paper and wood; using white emulsion paint as the ground and household gloss paint as the finish.

A surprise gift for his twenty-first birthday, a subscription to Art News and Review; stimulated Patrick to send off slides of his work to the Portal Gallery in early 1961.


First Exhibition

After completing his course at Leeds Day College, Patrick opened his first solo exhibition at the Portal Gallery, London. It was the first one-man show by a so-called Pop Artist and a huge success.

Critics of the day George Melly and David Sylvester wrote the catalogue. Sylvester said, This artist has the gift, synonymous with creativeness, of being able to be surprised by what the rest of us take for granted. Here is a painter who really has something to say, and his arrival on the scene gives me a rare sense of exhilaration.” Parallels were drawn with the works of Harold Pinter, Paul Klee, Samuel Beckett and Spike Milligan. Patrick sold two-thirds of the forty or so paintings exhibited!

Patrick’s job moved from school teaching to art lecturing, at Bradford School of Art in 1963 and then at Leeds College of Art, in 1964. It was whilst at Leeds, in this productive atmosphere of art colleagues and students; that Patrick made two of his seminal works. The first was “Infinity” in 1963, inspired by standing on the railway station at Leeds and looking at the railway tracks and then his first “reverspective”, the “Sticking-out Room” of 1964.

In 1968-69 Patrick, together with George Brecht the Fluxus artist; they gave lectures about paradoxes and jokes in Exeter, London and Leeds. In 1975, they collaborated on the book “Vicious Circles and Infinity, A Panoply of Paradoxes”. This first-ever book on the paradox, went on to sell 100,000 copies and was translated into Japanese, German, Dutch and Spanish.

Around this time, Patrick began painting vicious circles and versions of the ouroboros in search for a theoretical basis for his ideas. He had moved his family to London and commuted to Leeds to teach.

In 1970, Patrick was one of ten artists invited to decorate a room, at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London. He constructed a 12ft by 8ft “sticking-out room” within the room. By good fortune the same year, Patrick met Angela Flowers who was setting up her own gallery and she asked him to be her first artist. Patrick has shown with Flowers Gallery, until 2018.

That same year, Patrick and Rennie divorced. Later in 1971, Patrick married the artist and writer Molly Parkin, subsequently divorcing in 1981.


Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes. Rainbows

The first half of the 1970s, saw Patrick living in Chelsea and Ladbroke Grove and painting rainbows. Rainbow prints became very popular, made with Coriander Studios for Christies Contemporary Art and also, as postcards for Camden Graphics. Over the years about 1,000,000 rainbow postcards and 10,000 screen-prints have been sold.

People thought the rainbows were cheerful, but Patrick felt they were misunderstood – they were acts of subversion, visual puns. His interest lay in the contradiction of turning or fixing an experience or event; into a solid thing.


Move to Cornwall

In 1975, Patrick moved to St. Ives in Cornwall and leased a studio with a ladder down to the beach. It was here he made “On Reflection: St Ives Bay”, which he describes as one of the best pieces he has made about mirrors. In 1979, he left the village of St. Ives for the village of the Chelsea Hotel in New York; another artists’ colony where he started to write “More On Oxymoron”. He hung out with the artists Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, the musician Klaus Nomi and the theatre director Charles Ludlum. These underground artists were using comedy in their work, which was Patrick’s abiding interest.


Return to London

Patrick returned to London in 1983 and stayed at the Chelsea Art Club and had a studio in Notting Hill Gate, for a short while.

After showing at Flowers Gallery that year, Patrick decided to change his method of working which had typically involved a slow gestation with months of thinking, a few days of making and a few minutes of contemplation by the viewer. He began painting small watercolours, usually three a day. This technique liberated him to have more ideas and variations on themes. Motifs included the crucifix, skeletons, eggs, Yin and Yang, and shadows. This enabled Patrick to see where he was going and what really interested him.


Move to Belsize Park

When Hughes moved to Belsize Park in 1985, he returned to painting on canvas but this time in oils. In pictures like “Self-criticism”, he began to look at the relation between representation and reality. He also re-examined, the rich vein of the old “Sticking-out Room” of twenty years earlier; he explored reverse perspective, shaped boards and all kinds of imagery.


Marriage and move to Hoxton

In 1987, Patrick married his third wife, the historian and writer, Dr. Diane Atkinson. Together, they moved to 72 Great Eastern Street, Hoxton; where they currently live, above his studio.

Sea City. Hand-painted multiple with archival inkjet.


Reflections on his career

Patrick Hughes remarks that from 1959 to 1989, he spent most of my time as an artist pondering over “what to do and how”; but little time actually doing it!

From about 1990, when he started making the “reverspectives”; more time was spent making the artwork, because it was laborious to construct and paint in an illusionistic way; with works taking up to six months to make.

Fortunately, the process changed and speeded up, using computerised geometry software and no doubt the help of studio assistants.

Patrick Hughes. In and Out. Hand-painted and photographic multiple with archival inkjet


Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes. Paradoxes and Oxymorons

Patrick has written and collated three books on the visual and verbal rhetoric of the paradox and oxymoron. I have chosen just one. All his publications, can be seen and purchased at his website/shop.

Paradoxymoron: Foolish Wisdom in Words and Pictures. This is the definitive study on the paradox and oxymoron, the two most important topics in philosophy and rhetoric. When language is pushed beyond metaphor into the further reaches of oxymoron, where opposites meet, or into the paradox itself – where truth lies – the results are ridiculously revealing. Hughes’ premise is that logic taken to its logical conclusion becomes absurdity and a sublime sense.
A comprehensive and unorthodox text-book of words and pictures from many periods and places, this book is a warm tribute rather than a cold rebuke to the contradiction in terms. A must-read for anyone interested in looking at things the other way round upside-down and inside-out. A unique look at the daft worlds created in sentences and pictures.
Hardcover: 240 pages. First published by: Reverspective Ltd, London 2011.









Venice Visit. Oil and photographic collage on board construction.     Venetia. Hand-painted multiple with archival inkjet.       


Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes. Quotations

Patrick’s love of language, extends to his quotations, that are quite revealing. Here is a selection, relating to his views on art, his “reverspectives” and reflecting on his career.


To Hughes, art is a lingua franca – a language everyone can read. Not for him the egotism of the unmade bed or the pickled sheep. “I am not interested in the personal in art,”


I am interested in a Paul Klee-like way with the geometric design of art and in a Magritte-like way in getting to the bottom of representation and reproduction.”


I am of a logical cast of mind, and find common sense hopeless. I embrace and celebrate the paradoxical. A paradox to me is like a pearl.”


I thought there was room for a paradoxer in art. Looking around I could see only René Magritte belonged to this tendency, although he used what I think of as a deplorably old-fashioned painting technique. With Klee and Steinberg, I thought that one should invent a newer way of representation, rather than paint pictures that look like poorly-painted photographs.”


Making things in perspective is taking experience as a solid rather than an ever-changing relationship.”


What I do in my art is two-fold. I make the world not as it is but as it appears – in perspective. Then I put the planes together the wrong way round, insinuating that the vanishing point is not before us but behind us


The magic of the reverspectives is that I have managed to create an art that comes alive. Each plane of the picture shrinks or expands to accommodate the movement of the onlooker, in perfect harmony, like a good dance partner. Contrasted with the drips of Jackson Pollock, which record actions long past, my pictures still keep the ability to turn and twist. Movement seems to be a condition of life


The reason that the pictures seem to move is because our eyes are telling us we are moving in one direction and our bodies are telling us that we are moving in the opposite direction. All our lives our feet and our eyes have been in perfect synchronicity, so now that the eyes are lying to the legs, or the legs are lying to the eyes, we cannot accept this. But there is a way out of this difficulty: we presume that the planes in the paintings are moving. We are used to seeing things turning and moving in front of us and this presumption puts our bodies back together again


Humour added to high art is wonderful. It’s the best thing that the art of the twentieth-century has done. Humour is tragedy elevated to the level of art! The wrong way around is more revealing. Tragedy is always the right way around, just worse. Humour is terribly important – Magritte’s pictures are funny. Heraclitus’ philosophy is funny. And the best teachers are terribly funny”.


I can see now from the perspective of sixty years making art, that in the first half of my career I was interested in showing people the paradox of life, but in the second half, with my reverspective three-dimensional paintings, I let people experience this paradox for themselves (just as a good teacher should)”


Another way of looking at the career is that my early work was poetic and my later work prosaic.” 


>>>>   Through his art, Patrick Hughes makes you think about how we perceive the world and the question of what is reality   <<<<



From my series “Foreign Artists working in Venice”

“Turner in Venice”

“Whistler in Venice”

“Monet in Venice”

“John Ruskin – Writer and Artist”

From my series ” Art – Music – Literature”

“The Venetian School of Art”     

“Venetian Artists-18th Century (Introduction)“        Together with 14 posts on the most important artists of that wonderful era

Tempera Painting on Wooden Panels”

“Peggy Guggenheim – Images and Quotes”

“Quotes about Venice”


To see and fully appreciate his amazing “reverspective” technique, visit his website and select “videos”.    “The Website of Patrick Hughes”

Home – Videos – News – About – Gallery – Shop – Contact


Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes    Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes    Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes

Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes    Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes    Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes

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