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As pandemic rages, Phoebe swallows her fears

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Artist Phoebe Hughes (Photograph supplied)

In 2020 Phoebe Hughes swallowed her fears and started talking to strangers.

It was a "nerve-racking" experience in the early months of the pandemic for the then "shy" 22-year-old, but she forced herself to do it for her art.

Two years later she is at work in London, England, preparing a collection of oil paintings to exhibit at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art in June.

"I studied fine art at university, painting specifically. But I stopped painting, mainly because I was doing commissions and just fell out of love with it," she said, explaining how she returned home after university to save money so she could travel through India, Australia and New Zealand.

"And then when the pandemic hit it ruined all of my plans. I had to have a reassess. I thought I would give my art another go, but reclaim my subject matter and the way that I painted."

Instead of the commissions she had been doing she decided to paint what she was interested in.

"I'd moved home for the year so I'd travelled around Bermuda a lot more than I had previously when I was in school.

"I just fell back in love with all the colours and the people. I wanted to paint Bermuda from a less touristy sense. I didn’t just want to paint the ocean; I wanted to paint the people that I'd worked with and experienced. And so I started mid-pandemic."

She set herself a "nerve-racking" task of "walking up to strangers on a whim" and explaining her idea of "painting the everyday".

A gombey her father had known for more than 20 years was the only pre-arranged shot; the upcoming show at Masterworks will also feature a postal worker, a taxi driver and a group of friends dining together at BQ Beach Grill at John Smith's Bay.

Steve Smith, Joann Adams, Brenton Burgess and Cheryl-Ann Griffin were thrilled last month when Phoebe presented them with a framed print of her painting.

Phoebe Hughes captured retired educators Steve Smith, Joann Adams, Brenton Burgess and Cheryl-Ann Griffin at BQ Beach Grill at John Smith's Bay (Photograph supplied)

"Her original is an oil painting sized three-and-a-half feet by four-and-a-half feet," said the retired educators, who told The Royal Gazette about the artist and her work. "Phoebe wanted to share the painting with [us] to show her gratitude. Ultimately the greatest gratitude came from the group of individuals she had painted.

"[We] were overwhelmed, overjoyed and ecstatic to receive a framed, dated and autographed print of the picturesque painting that truly represented [us] and the venue. These prints of the stunningly-beautiful painting, were an unexpected and thoughtful gift … given because [we did] what most Bermudians would do; encouraged and helped a fellow Bermudian to pursue their dream!"

According to Phoebe it was her way of paying back the strangers who enabled her to follow her passion.

"It was just sort of a thank you to them for taking a chance and saying yes," she said. "I've had people turn [the offer] down so I'm really grateful when people say yes to me. I feel like this is the first time I've really been passionate every day to wake up and it's not a chore to get to work."

Her hope is that once the exhibit is in place, anyone who sees it gets a sense of her island home.

"I wanted [the pieces] to work as a collective together. I didn’t imagine them as one piece; I imagined them as multiple pieces in a room together so that when someone walked in it would feel like Bermuda."

Her interest in art began at the age of 12 when she took a summer course at Parsons School of Design.

"They taught us oil paints and I feel like that was the turning point for me; something clicked. I don’t know if it was the medium that made a difference but, after that I went to boarding school in England and had an art scholarship and that really transformed me."

Despite that, she surprised herself when she decided to pursue a degree in fine arts and turn it into a career.

Phoebe Hughes is to hold her first solo exhibit in June at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art (Photograph supplied)

"It's quite an antisocial job and when I was painting things I didn’t want to, I was relatively miserable. But then changing up the things I was painting, the scale I was painting, that made a big difference."

In Bermuda, she started travelling everywhere with her camera in search of scenery or people that she thought would be interesting to paint.

"I spend a lot of time manipulating the pictures," Phoebe said, in explaining her painting process. "There is a base point that I work from. The colours obviously are changed; sometimes I'll Photoshop different things in the background.

"The pictures that I work from are messy. I'm more interested in the paint, the materiality of it as well. Of course you need a successful composition to create a successful painting but to me that feels like the starting point and then all the experimentation comes when it comes to the canvas – sometimes I dye my canvas before, sometimes I put it in the washing machine …. I feel like there's so much more to create a painting than necessarily just the image."

Phoebe Hughes is to hold her first solo exhibit in June at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art (Photograph supplied)

Having nixed her travel plans she decided to return to London where she would have access to multiple art galleries and the companionship of her partner and friends.

"I missed going to galleries so much when I was home. I didn’t ever think that that would be something I missed but to be able to have access to so many galleries and so many opportunities here … I would love for some day to pursue a more international base, [to show] in different galleries around the world. So I felt that London was probably a better option for me. But I'm home a lot and I definitely see myself ending up in Bermuda full-time."

Follow Phoebe Hughes on Instagram: @phoebehughesart

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Published January 07, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated January 08, 2022 at 8:13 am)

As pandemic rages, Phoebe swallows her fears

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