UA Alumni exhibits paintings in Dinah Washington Arts Center

UA Alumni exhibits paintings in Dinah Washington Arts Center

Mottled shades of brown and green dance across the rocks of Zion National Park. A woman rests with a hat over her eyes, shielding herself from the warm sun. Each of Deborah Hughes's paintings has its own focus--a rock cliff, a stone ledge, a gravelly path--but the diverse group of canvases all have a few things in common: color, attention to detail and, of course, rocks.

The Arts Council of Tuscaloosa will host an opening reception for “On the Rocks,” an art exhibit of paintings by Hughes, a University of Alabama alumni, this Friday from 5- 8 p.m. at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa. Most of the paintings in the exhibit feature Hughes’ travels through the western United States and Canada.

“I get really excited out there in the national parks, of course. They’re the jewels of the country. I love the whole west coast, probably every inch of it. I love the redwood forest, for being there, smelling it, the air, the way it feels to walk around on the pine needles,” Hughes said.

The show features paintings from throughout Hughes’ career, including works created anywhere from five years to one week ago. She said she first recognized rocks as a recurring theme in lot of her work and isolated it as the theme for this exhibit after spending time as the curator of the University Medical Center. She chose many of the pieces for this show around this theme, though she said she let a few flowers and portraits sneak in.

“A lot of the work here is from southern California, because that’s where I first fell in love with the idea of painting in the outdoors and painting Plein Air,” said Hughes. “I manage to go back there a couple times every year and I paint some every time I go.”

Plein Air work is Hughes’ current artistic focus. Plein Air artists are known for creating their pieces on-location, which Hughes said is a commitment that drastically changes the dynamic between the artist and the subject.

“You get to be out in the area. I just feel like you can see more, and you can feel more about what you’re seeing,” said Hughes.

Hughes herself travels frequently around the United States and the world in search of new locations to paint. She said that though she enjoys Plein Air work, she struggles to complete her work in one sitting and often returns to pieces once she is home, working off reference photographs.

“I can’t help but look at [my paintings] later and work to refine and add to them, so I sometimes call myself a Plein Air pretender. Plein Air you’re supposed to do it all in one sitting. I would like to strive to be able to just go, and do it, and leave it,” Hughes said. “But I’m working more in a zone that seems to take me to further examination and more work in the studio.”

Hughes said that while painting on location, she focuses on being present and dialoging with her environment. This dedication to seeing her surroundings in each passing moment is apparent in her final product, which often features landscapes that seem to move and shift across the canvas. Her choice of bright colors and bold strokes create the images seen throughout the exhibit of the Tuscaloosa area and the West Coast.

Hughes received her Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of Alabama, where she later worked as an Art Director of Educational Media. Since then, her portfolio has expanded to include a wide variety of art forms, including sculpture, mixed media, posters and graphics, interactive media and web design, but throughout this exploration she has continued to enjoy oil painting and utilize this medium to express herself artistically.

Wherever she has gone in her life, Hughes said she always felt an urge to create.

“It’s just this thing that if you’ve been doing it all your life and it’s become a part of your identity, you feel guilty if you don’t do it. You think you’re supposed to be continuing on doing it,” Hughes said.

As she walked around her gallery, Hughes points out details in each painting and recalls the specific weather and circumstances in which she created each one. Surrounded by five years’ worth of work and development, she expressed her hope that she will continue to grow as an artist in the future.

“I’m hoping that my work will change and surprise me. That would be good,” said Hughes.

The show will run from March 4 to April 1 at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center. The exhibit is open from 9- 4 p.m. daily and is free and open to the public.

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