Busted spark plugs, rusted shrapnel and bullet-ridden propane tanks may not sound like muses to many people, but to artist Jason Hugger, such discarded objects inspire surrealistic desert landscape paintings.
In “Desolate Wind”, what appears to have once been part of a small circuit board now looks like a large structure in a stark, flat patch of land, its diminutive diodes reborn into windows, its small switching transistors turned into eye-catching embellishments.
“The Sunbird” is an oil-on-canvas depiction of an old, bent saw blade rendered huge and looming over some smaller, unidentifiable metal bits in an undulating wave of maize-colored desert. There’s a large hole near what would have been the hilt of the saw blade, emulating an eye, which helps to give the object the appearance of a bird skull.
In these paintings, as in most of Hugger’s works, the subjects have angles, curves and depth that give them the appearance of animation – sort of like dilapidated architecture dancing in the desert. You could call Hugger’s paintings “still life,” but it might be more accurate to call them “new life.”
“The types of objects I select to use as reference for my paintings are usually heavily rusted and broken pieces of metal. Often I am not able to identify them and I find that intriguing,” Hugger says. “Reusing them gives them a second life and a beauty they may not have originally had as tools or other useful items.”
Hugger started drawing in perspective and realism when he was a teenager and received a scholarship to attend the Columbus College of Art and Design, from which he graduated cum laude in 1995. While he was finishing his college education in Ohio, he participated in a group show at the 11 East Ashland Gallery in Phoenix, where an exciting local art scene was beginning to emerge. “It was during the spring time and I fell in love with the desert,” Hugger says. “The city of Phoenix was also very appealing. I drove out to the desert and found the landscape to be surreal. The plants, the cactus, the saguaros – all of it was weird and beautiful to me.”
His bond with the desert deepened while he was stationed in Iraq in 2004 as a member of the Arizona Army National Guard. “The desert was much more desolate than the Sonoran desert, but had a stark beauty of its own,” recalls Hugger, who lives in Phoenix with his wife. “I made a lot of sketches during my tour and they definitely had an influence in my surreal desert landscapes. I don’t paint cactus in my desert landscapes but they do inform my imagination when I put together a set up for a still life.”
Painting is an exploration for Hugger, who uses extremes in scale and perspective and color and light to create drama. “When I paint a still life, I am not just describing the objects in front of me,” he says. “I am also exploring the scene as if I were going there in person.”