Hobart Hughes [aka John E Hughes] has been an active filmmaker, sculptor,
painter, animator, musician and performer since the early 1980s. Hughes’
work is marked by a poetic wistfulness combining gentle humour, poetry and the
From 1984 to 1988 Hughes, along with Bruce Currie, was the co-founder and performer with the multimedia arts/theatre group Even Orchestra whose events incorporated music, film, puppetry and performance art in a variety of settings. Culmination in a tour to the UK where the group won the Zap award at the Brighton Festival in 1988.
During the 1990s Hughes produced a number of web projects including A
History of Walking  and Deep Space Dracula 1999 while also producing short films such
as Dark Aisle and Because You Can [both
1992] that were screened on SBS Television.
Hughes’ sculpture practice dates from his first solo show Animals in a
Flooded Garden at Boutwell Draper Gallery Redfern 2001. The works of carved and
constructed wood were the first that expressed overtly ecological concerns. This remained
an ongoing theme through many of the later works. The next solo show Ruptured
by Delight at Sheffer Gallery Darlington centres around the other major theme
in Hughes’ work, how consciousness operates. In this case how the tradition of monks
in western and eastern cultures mediates levels of consciousness via meditation.
There followed five solo shows at Damien Minton Gallery Redfern the first
being Animals Attacking People in Animal Costumes 2009 (ceramic) then Placed 2008
(cast concrete) followed by Automatic 2010 (carved and constructed wood) Chocolate Box of Paradigms 2011 then finally Evolution of Desire in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (ceramic) 2013.
In 2015 Hughes won the Chippendale World Art Prize for the installation work Hole In the Sky and was awarded a three month residency at
the Ionic Centre for Art and Culture Kefalonia Greece where he exhibited his
next sculpture show Anecdotal Life in 2016. The following year he undertook a
residency at Momentum Berlin where he produced a mixed sculpture installation
exhibition Hole Within the Whole.
In 2020 Hughes was back at Sheffer Gallery for the solo show Replica of a Copy of My Heart, a large scale interactive wooden sculptural installation.
Hughes’ installation work usually centres around the themes of ecology and consciousness and how one affects the other. “If we consider all factors that inhibit human’s inability to undertake meaningful action on climate and ask is the problem economic, political or social, I think no, it’s really a problem of consciousness, of thinking in inadequate terms. It’s the blinkers on awareness that is the real stumbling block.” The work often has optical elements in either how it’s projected or viewed. This preoccupation with optics dates back to the Even Orchestra performances which deployed various mechanical and optical devices in terms of front and rear projections where silhouette back projections were mixed with front projections to create a spatial blended 2D screen. Other devices were deployed, such as a mechanical bird flying in circles above the audience and tubing that ran from the stage to various places in the audience into which flatulence sounds were progressively blown culminating in a kind of rhythm track.
Hughes’ first large scale optical installation work was Fragile Vortex 1997 at Artspace. The work comprised a box covered in collaged street posters into which patrons could enter via a side door. Inside was a mirrored chamber on all sides except one which was a rear projection screen. This screened a stop-frame animation of paper being torn apart at various scales.
The next optical installation work was Collecterscope for Perspecta 1999 at the Ivan Doherty Gallery UNSW in which Hughes assembled 140 magnifying sheets into a dome which surrounded a smaller dome onto which an optically corrected projection was screened. This was followed in 2000 also at Ivan Doherty Gallery by Human Tide in which Hughes created an upside down room in which the patrons wore inversion glasses so the room appeared the right way up.
In 2004 Hughes produced He Who Writes the Text at Sydney Town Hall as part of the collective work, Stations of the Cross. The work deployed projection mapping of digital animation onto a lager than life sized figure. Various other installation works followed including an early adaptation of projection mapping in 2004 in Ruptured by Delight at Sheffer Gallery and subsequently in Two Monks with the Sydney Moving Coalition in 2006 and Epiphany at the Ivan Doherty Gallery in 2007. Hughes also developed the use of a giant water lens in Photosympathise in Sculpture at Scenicworld in 2015.
In 2017 Hughes had a residency at Momentum Berlin and produced Hole Within the Whole for Berlin Art Week, a large interactive installation work that covered the entire gallery.
In 2020 Hughes developed Replica of a Copy of My Heart, a large interactive wooden installation work about ocean acidification at Sheffer Gallery. This was followed in 2021 by Bookworm Hole, a 2 metre diameter water lens and sphere projection work for the Nox night sculpture walk.
In 2019 Hughes started exhibiting with the Tree Veneration Society with video works at for Arboreal Narratives exhibition at Grace Crossington Smith Gallery. Hughes then started producing projection mapped sculptural installations. The first of these was Two Monks in the Arboral Narratives 2022 show in Bankstown Art Centre. Hughes then produced Tree God in Search of a Mythology for the Arboreal Narratives 2023 at Woollahra Gallery at Redleaf.