Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
The work I produce is driven conceptually by my own lived experience as a queer, non-binary person. I explore human themes such as touch, belonging and sensuality through the use of ready-mades and objects constructed in my studio to create anthropomorphic sculptural moments which are out of time. My studio at The Auxiliary in Middlesbrough is at the heart of my practice its where I produce the work, but for me idea generation takes place in a much more fluid way, when watching music videos and listening to the radio, reading the news, or on a walk, ideas often pop into my head and start to manifest and develop. I also find that when making, creativity often manifests and develops new strands to explore. Music is integral to my practice and because my work is conceptually driven, I use lyrics to title the works which helps a viewer decode it. The materials I use are often industrial or have very defined histories and uses, this is another way of leading a viewer down a certain path to explore a specific idea I’m addressing. I use the visual language of seduction and glamour to attract viewers, this often takes the form of shine. The work has clues for the viewer to contextualize it much like an Agatha Christie novel and I revel in creating these layers, codes and identifiers within the sculptural and installations.
Who are your biggest influences?
Artistically I've always been obsessed with Ryan Gander because of the materials that he uses and the clean sharp aesthetic that is minimal yet tells a story. These are very compelling attributes which I first encountered at 180 the Strand in a show called ‘Everything at Once’. Lee Bul is another one of my favourite visual artists, when I saw her work at The Hayward Gallery, I was struck by the way the works absorbed you into them, making you forget everything beyond the gallery walls.
Finally, Chris Burden’s work from his performance work to static and kinetic sculpture just blows my mind, I really want to go to Los Angeles so I can see some of his works in the flesh. Screens are ok but when I view exhibitions, I have such a visceral reaction to the works and the curation of a space. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve missed in 2020.
I mentioned music is a big part of my creative process so here are three songs that are constantly on repeat for me at the moment.
Can you talk about the role glamour plays in your practice?
Glamour in my work is a vehicle, it acts as a way to grab people’s attention and in our consumption driven world it does this job well. Glamour as well as seduction helps me reach out to the audience through visual language that is almost universally known, transcending barriers and engaging a wide audience on topics of my choice from the touch of a lover to trans rights. I’m from a working class background and lived in social housing growing up, when I watched TV and saw Grand Designs or watched MTV I could escape, glamour enhances the everyday and that has really stuck with me.
How important is material in your work?
Material properties, their histories, shapes and function are all integral to my practice. In the work, I use the material’s history to create a new narrative, one that is made accessible through the readymade or material properties. For this reason I do not cover anything with paint, the materials need to be able to speak their own truths and I have no wish to cover this up with a new surface. Surface and shine are characteristics I desire in materials which I select, the shine demands attention and this links back to my interest in glamour. The transformative aspect of my work is rooted in the juxtaposition of materials together and with their environment through curation.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I think for me a pen and paper has to be the one thing that I could not live without. I go through stages of doing lots of drawings to work out ideas for sculptures and drawing allows me the time to hone in on what it is I’m trying to represent, what shape will best convey the feeling or desire I wish to elicit in the viewer. Also I don’t need a studio to draw. I can do it anywhere and that’s been really helpful in 2020.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
The book ‘Seduction’ by Jean Baudrillard has been important to my practice over the last year. Reading more about seduction has given me a wider understanding of seduction’s role in society, the play and duels that challenge the strategy of appearance and how this can be used in storytelling and narrative.
The Album ‘Magdalene’ by FKA Twigs has also had a deep impact on my work over the last year. My work ‘Why don't I do it for you? Why won't you do it for me? When all I do is for you?’ (2019) was named from the song ‘Cellophane’ on the album and the music video is one of the best I’ve ever seen, FKA Twigs is unrivalled in her storytelling ability.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I have a duo show with Garth Gratrix at Pineapple Black in Middlesbrough early this year. The show is titled ‘Why, I’d trash him from top to bottomous’ and is visible 24/7 as it is located in their window gallery space. I was also recently selected for the Plymouth Contemporary Exhibition which runs from March this year until, I believe, July.
I have two residencies booked in for next year. The first being a few days in Blackpool for the Coast is Queer. The second is my first international residency in Austria for three weeks in August, located in Graz at BB15 for the Art & Magic residency, where I will be finishing a number of new works and conducting a duo show with a local artist.
To find out more about Will's work visit their website: www.willhughesartist.com
‘Can you fix me up, Can you wipe me down’ (2020) Dimensions of each sock: L 41cm x W10cm x D1cm Materials: Nike socks, White thread, 5500 Swarovski® Crystal Beads Pear shape. Title taken from ‘Sweat’ by David Guetta feat Snoop Dogg
'I'm just gonna dance all night, I'm all messed up, I'm so outta line’ (2020) Dimensions: 150 x 57 x 24cm Materials: Silver tinsel wigs, polystyrene, window wiper motor, conduit pipe. Title taken from ‘Dancing on my own’ (2010) by Robyn
'I'm not here for love tonight, The way you touch just don't feel right’ (2019) Demensions: Variable Materials: Variable but can include Stainless steel Straws, ear ring, flame glasses lens, etc. Title taken from ‘Cyber Stockholm Syndrome’ (2017) by Rina Sawayama.
Why don't I do it for you? Why won't you do it for me? When all I do is for you? (2019) Dimensions 60 x 92 x 15 cm Materials: Stainless steel tiles, stainless steel rod, 10mm glass effect perspex, smart film, 12mm MDF, fabric, test tube clamps, timer and Swarovski crystals. Title taken from ‘cellophane’ (2019) by FKA Twigs
‘3am, Mustang speedin’, Two lovers, headed for a dead end, Too fast, hold tight, he laughs.’ (2019) Dimensions: Birch Ply: 30 x 122 x 75 cm (each) Installation: Variable Materials: 18mm birch plywood, coloured ribbon, yellow light, aluminium fans, metal mesh, mdf, stud work timber. Title taken from ‘Jon Wayne’ (2016) by Lady Gaga
Image credit: Will Hughes