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Overlapping Space


Low recordings echo throughout Hallwalls exhibition space while one walks through the spotlighted oil paintings by George Hughes. His latest series of paintings, Social Predations, engages raw and seemingly unrelated images with violent and disturbing objects. His rich, painterly brushwork expressively unifies the images as he explores the power structure of relationships.

In Crown Royal, a faucet atop an enormous bottle of Crown Royal liquor sprays a spotlight on two magnified flies having sex on a bed. The scale of the room is redefined so that the flies and the bottle are major focal points in the work. The faucet causes the alcohol to appear as a replacement for essential water, and suggests constant supply. The enormous flies, illuminated in a round glow, appear as though they are frozen in a globe of amber and are on display. Where one would expect humans, the flies anthropomorphically and ridiculously become the central characters.

In each of his pieces, Hughes forcibly combines various objects and animal imagery both to accentuate power figures and simultaneously to ridicule them. Animals such as falcons, dogs and teddy bears weave their way into Hughes’ drawings, driving an ironic portrayal of predation. In Falcons and Teddy Bears, the falcon’s head, replaced by the barrel of a gun, aims directly at the haloed head of a ghostly apparition of a teddy bear. A skull sits between them and appears as though ready to shatter into pieces. Once again, the painting has become a violent playground for animals, where characters are simultaneously powerful and silly.

Hughes explores reflection in A Study of Figmentation where he plays with three different planes, two on mirrors and one in the foreground. The smallest plane, in the corner, is a more natural realistic rendition of a dog. A chain leads out and attaches to a reflection, in the second mirror, of an altered human/dog body with a gun replacing the head and legs that are nothing more than stumps. The reflection is of a strange form in the foreground that suggests a grotesque slab of meat, with a pathetic banana erection, as though it were a fruit ready to be eaten. Meanwhile, the back end of the dog stares at itself in the mirror, the perceived image a narcissistic representation of its head as a powerful gun barrel in a ridiculous blouse.

The artist dynamically engages his subjects, combining body parts with weapons and animals with humans to pit irony at the absurdity within human sexual relationships, particularly when combined with violence and alcohol. The paintings are a mixture of random images unified by painterly technique, and cast together under a unified light. His form ranges from cubistic abstraction to expressionism.

albert chao


The unique, movable white walls stationed in the center of the room at Hallwalls separate the two exhibits while maintaining a sense of integration. The bright lighting from Hughes’ display juts around the corners of the partition and slices through the darkness of Cogswell’s; likewise, the sound of Buffalo radio clips from Cogswell’s piece and large silver pipes invade Hughes’ space. Ironically, Cogswell’s art quietly encroaches upon the violent power of Social Predation. She uses this overlap to contribute to the interaction of her work with the site. Her aim is to create a piece that is “seamlessly integrated into the architecture of a space, both physically and conceptually.”

The installation, Buffalo River Fugues, is part of a larger body of work, River Fugues, which explores the nature of water and its relationship to humans. Cogswell’s piece gives the viewer the feeling that, rather than a traditional work of art, they have entered a different part of the building, one not usually seen by visitors. The dark lighting, the winding design of the space and the large pipes, whose form mimics the actual piping of the gallery, prominently invade the viewer’s experience. Each element contributes to establish the atmosphere of a boiler room, or better yet, some type of industrial worksite. A video projection of several emergency candles light the space from small electronic screens and are distributed in intervals throughout the room. The candles burn incessantly, both forward and backward in time, and are blown out and re-lit in an endless loop of overlapping time.

Just as in a musical fugue, the theme of continuous repetition appears in several other elements of Cogswell’s work. The opening of one large pipe reveals another screen with a loop of fire and smoke images taken from steel mills. Meanwhile, the separate entities within the work are all connected through an electrical system that powers the piece and a series of pipes that run throughout. Integration is essential to the installation—the various components within the work, and the piece with the actual architecture of the site, hide traditional borders of art and gallery space. This characteristic of River Fugues deals with the inseparable link between water and the surrounding human community. The small, blue water cooler for instance, a sign of human use for drinking, is connected to a series of several pipes, like immortal metal veins, suggesting a flow of water beyond its limited volume. A small television transmitting an image of Niagara Falls sits atop the cooler, as though the Falls themselves had been processed and compacted for individual use.

Having been born in the United States, Cogswell spent the next 13 years of her life growing up in Japan. The influence of seeing the world through both Eastern and Western culture influences her work. She compares the various components of her sculptures to a Japanese garden, in which “it’s the intervals, the whole space, that make up the garden. You can’t experience a Japanese garden from one vantage point.” In the same way, her art can never be fully experienced at a glance. The space can be approached from more than a single direction and its L-shape lends itself to a gradual process of discovery. Cogswell recognizes that with her work and in life, “there is no way to get everything at once.”

meghan fadel

George Hughes’ Social Predation and Margaret Cogswell’s Buffalo River Fugues are on display at Hallwalls Gallery until December 21. More information can be found at

Design Matters is presented in association with the UB School of Architecture and Planning and supported by a fellowship endowed by Polis Realty. This week’s guest writer is Meghan Fadel, graduate of the English Department at the University at Buffalo.