The early scientific doctrine of the philosophy of nature was concerned with drawing evidence about existence through purely empirical methods. Rather than today's more formal methods of hypothesising, experimenting, and drawing statistical conclusions, observation of nature "in the field" was the essential part of the process.1
The title of this exhibition, evoking the name of this doctrine, is entirely appropriate for Michael McHugh's art. The artist studies his biological subjects both in the wild and via research collections in libraries and museums, returning to the studio with photographic and drawn work as well as a head full of ideas and connections.
The resulting art uses these thoughts and images to create highly personal organic universes, full of vivid colour and form. Often the final images are shaped as much by the artist's personal history and memories of his first views of certain plants as they are by studious botanical drawings. McHugh intends for viewers to experience the paintings in a similar way, as part of the experience. “The viewer has the final say” says McHugh, “They bring their own feelings and emotions through their own personal circumstances when viewing each painting. They will see things I don't, the colour and new forms will promote a different emotion than perhaps what I may have felt while painting.”2
By using historical research material, McHugh has returned several extinct species to life, and placed them alongside living species and totally imagined ones. This has allowed him to place together species which have never coexisted, bringing about new ecosystems. The artist has produced a potential universe rather than directly reflecting our own flora, allowing his imagination free rein. He offers a new world where structures flow and grow through the paintings, creating vibrant textures and patterns which overwhelm the scenes.
In these works, the kaleidoscopic interplay of colour and composition has a major role. We bathe in the rich blues of Pollinators and bask in the searing Red Zone, or are simply captured by the verdant and sinuous forms of Perennial. The wall-length Symposium becomes a riotous commingling of texture and hue.