Maria Hughes & Jamie Reid

Maria Hughes and Jamie Reid
Egg Space Gallery, 16-18 Newington
31st May - 18th June 2006

Reviewed by Amanda DeAngeles

With the assistance of Headspace and Transvoyeur, husband and wife team, Jamie Reid and Maria Hughes are exhibiting some photographic work at The Egg Café in Newington Buildings, Newington St (off Renshaw St), Liverpool (top floor, no disabled access unfortunately)

Jamie is a tall, broad man with long, bunched-back hair. He dresses like a roadie, but exudes an air of confidence and strength. I asked him about Maria, a petite blonde, and how they met. I wasn’t aware they were married (fooled by the ‘right on’ use of her name). Jamie told me when they first met, Maria was already working as a photographer and she told him that he came to her in a dream. (I must remember that).

Do you have any spiritual influences, gurus, living or dead who have influenced your work?
Probably more than anyone else William Blake, and of modern artists a German called Joseph Beuys.

Your artistic development: was it through experience and travel or educational?
All sorts - I’ve painted, drawn, done visual projects ever since the mid-sixties.
I’ve exhibited paintings in Japan, New York, all over the world. Many have been collaborations with different events, people. Probably never in major galleries, just things we’ve done off our own back.

Modern technology with art: are you purist photographers?
It’s all snaps.

Regarding digital art, Jamie says:
Particularly with modern architecture, you can tell the architecture is just from the computer, not from the spirit.

Are there any images you desperately have a desire to capture?
No. Faraway places, maybe Mars or the outer cosmos would be interesting.

What is your opinion of galleries sprung up all over the city and tiers of professionalism –art museum /art shop/ art temporary space in cafés, restaurants etc. (such as THE EGG CAFÉ)
My experience as an artist in Liverpool has been more underground. I find it ironic personally: loads of places where I’ve shown my stuff don’t exist anymore - they’ve closed now, like Quiggins, Jump Ship Rat, and The Irish Centre. They’ve been places not rigged with the stigma of galleries and museums.
So many people involved with culture, so many people making decisions in Liverpool are from outside.

Everyone is interested in who gets money from where in this city. I’ll boldly ask: have you had any funding and if so from where?
No, never.

Have you made any money from your art?
I did an exhibition at Microzine Gallery in Liverpool a few months back, it’s the first time I’ve ever sold anything, in Liverpool.

So you’re in it for the pure love of it?
Pretty much so. A lot of the things I’ve done have been very eclectic – community based. The established places in Liverpool never opened their doors for me so I’ve travelled. I’ve probably done more work in Ireland than anywhere else.

Any future ambitions to fulfil: travel, projects, personal or business relationships?
I’d like to organise a big retrospective exhibition and tour it around the world, but not to major cities. I’d like to take it to parts of Africa, India, and Japan - places I feel an affinity with.

Have we in Liverpool, in your opinion, got a long stretch ahead before we match other cities in the world famed for art, in spite of the forthcoming stage of European City of Culture in 2008.
I hate this whole aspect of culture! Like everything else art is turned into a competition.

You are heavily connected with visual arts just by being part of this independent field do you think Liverpool deserves the accolade ECoC?
I think everywhere and anywhere does, but it should come from below, not above. It shouldn’t be imposed; so much of the whole ethos behind cities of culture is a homogenised idea of what culture should be - to create an outward appearance, which is often very conservative.

Considering the forthcoming biennial is this September do you think Mike Noon from the Arts Council, Liverpool and John Brady - Creative Facilitator of Liverpool Biennial Independents, are doing a good job for the creative independents in the city?
As I say it’s got to start from below. You know - the whole education system. Arts and music are almost out the syllabus now.

Will this year’s biennial capture general public attention as much as the controversial nude photographs Yoko Ono provided almost 2 years ago at the last biennial in your opinion?
It depends on what happens but I found the whole Yoko Ono thing an absolute high. I mean, it just left me completely numb really, one way or the other; it was just something the press latched on to.

Is there anything you’d like to tell NERVE about your future projects, your hopes for independent art in the city?
We’ve been at war for the past two years and that doesn’t seem to come into the reckoning. Art, music, culture - creativity should be at the forefront of education: I mean a fundamental change in the education system. We’ve become a creatively repressed country: everything is so imposed. We have got to get rid of the whole ethos of politics of fear. There’s a lot to be done.

I find the images you have provided at this exhibition are very calendar-like, in some manner – you work with the seasons with this theme.
Very much so.

Do you concentrate purely on nature . . . or do you have other avenues, form, for example - do you do portraiture?
No, it tends to be just trying to reiterate the beauty that surrounds us. We are meant to be custodians of this planet and we’ve just done our level best to fuck the whole place up.

I viewed the photographic art in the non-smoking part of the café first.

  1. Mating snails on a fence-post not worried about the barbed-wire fence. One of my favourite images as it looks like a giant bulrush, and I’ve never seen a snail orgy. Have you?
  2. A sunflower, careful, the petals from noon till three are blown backward. Is it siesta time?
  3. Cherry blossom in a cemetery. Veins of dark branches weave a contrast. Peace and torture.
  4. A Christmas card of urban terraced-houses in the snow. The bird in flight seems to be wingless. This is a realistic winter image for me (no country house in the Lake District with some barren trees and snowdrift).
  5. The plot wheel: a large rainbow-striped wheel rests against a scruffy shed. Again, a winter scene, but I have no idea of its significance. It is, however, a busy image with lots to ponder over.
  6. Winter sky shows white clouds in a blue sky. I can’t decide if they are wispy or sharp.
  7. The last framed image in this room is an amber sunset in winter with underlining spiky TV aerials.

A poster-style, upside-down pyramid governs a wall, continuing the theme of four seasons, I felt the unicorn was out of place. The top sky images are dramatic and followed by a row of flowers and fruit, of the rest: out-of-focus daisies and a picture of red Acer tree foliage.

The images are calendar-like.

I dislike the pyramid-poster style of display of the collage and black plastic frames with inner white card look amateur and shoddy on other walls. I don’t think the chronology of the four seasons was considered in mapping this exhibition.

I caught up with Maria Hughes a few days later.

Is it sometimes difficult to show your own creativity as a joint project?
No, not at all, our previous joint exhibition called “The 8th Fold Year” had a celtic theme and was deemed a big success.

I like that you haven’t adopted Jamie’s surname, do you assert your equality in other ways?
You know, we’ve been together for ten years and married for seven. I couldn’t get used to signing another name. I’m not a feminist, but if he needs sorting out I’ll sort him out! I agreed to marry, as long as he never asked where I was going or what time I’d be back. He never has. I once hopped on a train headed for Scotland instead of paying the gas bill, it was great! He spends hours painting. We give each other space and it works.

Do you enjoy travel?
Yes, we travel around the country a lot. We like to go for long walks along the Liverpool coast, but it’s sad you can walk and walk with no café along the way to stop and get a cup of tea.

Maria told me she loved New York and would love to go back there, but not to live. She echoes my opinion that Liverpool and New York are similar, save for their city grid-mapping.

This is great because you can’t get lost, unlike Liverpool. So much has changed; so much of our history has been demolished: ‘I’ve been taking photographs for over 30 years. I have a historic record of pubs and clubs that are no longer here. Some of the places had cabaret nights - clubs like the Wookey Hollow, where we saw Freddy Starr. All of them were great, there’s nothing like that now.

Maria reflects on her childhood:

I remember sitting on the *oller, on an old couch somebody had thrown out, when I was a kid – a few of us would build a fire. If there was a football match we’d mind cars, but we’d get a bowl of soapy water and wash the cars to get a bit of pocket money. The sorts of things that amused me as a kid aren’t acceptable now. We never did any harm to no-one. We played out, but only around the block. Kids aren’t allowed that freedom now. If a teenager sprints up the road people get frightened. It’s not right. Not all kids are bad.
I’d love everyone to have no telly, newspapers no communication via computers or phones for a week; just talk to each other and have a laugh.

Maria made suggestions about re-opening the canal route all the way along to Leeds well before it happened. She has many leisure activity ideas for the dockland.

More money should be spent on the things the people of Liverpool need and will enjoy long after 2008. Liverpool has begun to look like every other major city in the UK, with the same big shops.

I asked Maria about her other photographic works.

I have photographs of a block of flats getting demolished. I never dreamed anyone would consider my photographs as art, but one day I was showing the pictures to a friend down the pub and this fella looked over my shoulder. He had a suit on; he told me he had actually owned the block. He said he’d like to have a copy.
I have given so many photographs away over the years – like that one with the terraced houses, “The Interloper” - the one with the bird. I take pictures like that, and give them away to my neighbours and friends as Christmas cards. That one is my favourite at The Egg Café exhibition. Most of my pictures are of the sky and are taken from my kitchen window. They follow in sequence and have a panoramic quality.

The poster wall is just of damaged photographs that were just lying about - we thought we’d fill the rest of the space. Most of the photographs on display are mine, but “the snails” is one of Jamie’s and a few others.

I’m looking forward to the biennial. (Maria says this in a true-Scouse fashion: the Bee-n-arly)

I’m not giving away anything more in words, go and see the exhibition for yourselves and have a cuppa.

I look forward to seeing more of Maria Hughes’ work, particularly the photographs which are historic documents of Liverpool. It was great to meet her.
(Best and warmest blesses, luv).

*oller = waste ground

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