In Conversation With HUGH BYRNE
For our eighth collection, 'Self-Belief', we approached Cape Town-based artist, Hugh Byrne, to collaborate on our Artist's Sweater. We chatted to him about problem-solving, the importance of experimentation, working with FIELDS, and the pitfalls of over-planning...
Do you recall what first sparked your interest in art - and the moment when you decided to pursue art professionally?
I remember spending quite a lot of time copying cartoons from the newspaper. I was also drawn to how things were made and solving day-to-day problems. I didn’t recognise those activities as an interest in art but both have become significant aspects of my practice now. I went on to study Fine Arts at Pretoria University but only started pursuing art full time about eight years ago.
Could you talk a little bit about your preferred mediums?
My studio practice involves a lot of experimentation with different materials, and the process of finding out what is possible with a certain material intrigues me. However, I guess, paint, wood and cloth material are what mostly make up my works. I’ve always built my own stretchers and frames and so my brain automatically goes to wood as a material when trying to find a solution to a structural problem. If a painting isn’t working out, I'm not sentimental about it and I'm quick to strip the canvas off and restart. This means I've got plenty of excess used canvas around my studio that works its way back into new pieces. And acrylic paint, mostly because it dries so fast and lets me work quickly.Crux II, 2019, Acrylic on canvas
Are your compositions purely abstract, or are some of the forms abstracted representations of your environment?
Initially my paintings were inspired by city architecture but it moved away from that quite early on. Today my art is not intended to represent anything or be an abstraction of anything but that doesn’t mean I don’t pull shapes, forms and colour combinations from my environment. For example, if I see a window with an interesting composition and decide to use that in a painting I am just interested in the form and composition. I’m not trying to represent the window. However, if people see a window, that’s also okay as I’m not trying to hide those facts either. Anything goes really. Previously I made a sculpture out of wooden offcuts, which I then used as a starting outline for a painting. I then pulled something out of the painting and made a sculpture. The practice feeds and is inspired by itself.
Self-Belief, Spring | Summer '23, shot by Ricardo Simal
I’ve tried planning but it never works out. If I have a picture in my mind and try to replicate that with pen or pencil, it almost instantly kills the idea. I do make use of drawings though but more as an input from which to draw inspiration. I find the best approach is to just start. And because I am constantly reacting to previous decisions and pivoting in the direction of a new potential outcome, having a plan is pointless.
Do you find solace in nature and does this affect the way you work?
I spend a lot of time in nature, especially the mountains. I'm drawn to the beauty of it as well as the physical challenges it can present. I'm not sure how this ends up in my work but I’m certain it works its way in somewhere. If anything, it creates a healthy balance to my studio practice.Self-Belief, Spring | Summer '23, shot by Ricardo Simal
How did you interpret the fundamental message of ‘Self-belief’ for this collaboration with FIELDS?
Everyone has periods of doubt and often ideas never end up as anything more than ideas. Despite this, I feel you have to put yourself out there sometimes and that requires confidence and trust in one's abilities, qualities, and judgment. Hopefully this self-belief comes through in the final pieces from this collaboration.
What do you hope the wearer feels when putting your work on their body?
Confidence. I hope they feel it reflects their personal taste and values and brings them a sense of pride and fulfillment knowing that they are presenting the best version of themselves to the world. Hold That Thought II, 2022, Mixed media
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm currently working towards a solo show at EXPO Chicago.
What does fashion mean to you?
I like fashion where function is important. That means my style is quite simple and practical. I need deep pockets so my phone doesn’t fall out and I am drawn to solid colours, like grey, black, blue and greens.Vantage Point, 2022, Acrylic on appliquéd canvas
Favourite city in the world?
All-time favourite artist?
There are plenty of artists out there who produce incredible work and are great for different reasons so it’s hard to pin down only one. But for me, an easy answer would be Matisse.
What would you never wear?
Capri’s. Crocs. Something with a prominent logo on it.
Your favourite piece from the FIELDS collection?
The Weekend Trousers.
Being an artist in South Africa is...
What are you listening to at the moment?
Andrew Bird, Max Richter, Hot Chip, DJ sets off Soundcloud, Podcasts.
What are you binge-watching at the moment
Last series I watched was White Lotus but I usually just watch YouTube and go down those rabbit holes.
What are you reading at the moment?
Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane Installation view, 2023, Hugh Byre's Booth at Cape Town International Art Fair
This interview has been edited for clarity. All artwork images are courtesy of Hugh Byrne, via artsy.net.