Des Hughes’ work bears witness to an obsessive, physical enquiry into the materials, methods and traditions of sculpture. He re-thinks conventional sculptural materials such as plaster, marble, bronze and clay. Nothing is as it first appears. For example crudely modelled clay is meticulously cast in resin but, with the inclusion of marble dust, it may appear to have been carved and polished from a block of stone or fashioned from a piece of chewing gum.
At the same time he is also considering the purpose or meaning of sculpture-from the functional doorstop to the sacred effigy. Traditions are revised as he rethinks ecclesiastical equipment and relics as macabre, joke-shop props or as Modern, abstract sculptural forms (and vice versa). The traditional materials of sculpture are called into question and a robust sense of imagery recalls classic British horror with a tender acknowledgement of 20th century modernist canon while reimagining a pre-romantic and more medieval moment, whose sombre world-view was of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death.
In the large-scale solo exhibition of work at The Hepworth Wakefield (12 September 2015 – Spring 2016) Hughes has traced the story of Henry Moore’s gift of a sculpture to his hometown of Castleford through press clippings, posters, and correspondence found in The Hepworth Archive and integrated these documents alongside new work in specially designed cabinets, appropriating a style found in the modernist home of Erno Goldfinger. Also on show is a complete series of ‘flints’ displayed for the first time, deceptive bronzes made to look like stones, gently mocking Moore and Hepworth’s doctrine of ‘truth to materials’. As part of The Hepworth exhibition he was commissioned to make a permanent work to replace the Henry Moore sculpture in Castleford. It is his latest outside commission where scale and material have worked hand in hand with the surrounding landscape. Scale has become an important aspect of his practice in recent years with Angry Pins, 2012, frieze sculpture park and New Art Centre, and The Visitors, 2015, Wellington, New Zealand, both are large scale outside commissions that originated from very malleable hand made human scale sculpture, that has been enlarged epic scale to compete with their surroundings.