James Hugonin Channels Synesthesia in Vibrant, Color-Filled Paintings

James Hugonin’s large-scale, mosaic-like compositions induce a kind of synesthesia. Through the artist’s keen sensibility for color, his paintings, made up of hundreds of tiny rectangles in varying colors, summon euphonic rhythms.

  • Left: James Hugonin. Studio during the making of Binary Rhythm (I), March 2011. Right: Notebook for Binary Rhythm (IX) 2015. Photographs: Nick Kennedy. Courtesy of the artist and Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh.

An exhibition of seven identically sized, complementary abstract works by the English painter currently mounted at Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh, marks the last installment of his “Binary Rhythm” series. Over the course of the past 30 years, Hugonin has devoted himself to the production of large-scale, oil- and wax-on-gessoed-wood compositions comprised of minute, rectangular fragments of vibrant color, placed within a faintly perceptible silverpoint grid. 

Absent of any immediate context, overt hierarchy, or a discernible focal point, Hugonin’s meticulous compositions focus on the shimmering, undulating effect achieved by subtle gradations amid individual blocks of color. The effect produced by the oscillating pigments resonates on both a technical and figurative level, in the tensions between randomness and systematization, movement and stillness, and the aural and ocular.

  • James Hugonin,  Detail: Binary Rhythm (VIII), 2014-15. Photograph: John McKenzie.  Courtesy of the artist and Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh.

Hugonin’s paintings, with their delicate, pixelated blots of pigment, seem to owe a certain debt to Seurat’s Pointillism. In Hugonin’s hands, however, the visual effect produced by the aggregation of minuscular shapes of color does more than just strike an optic nerve. The animated quality of the colors gives rise to a sense of rhythm, the cadence of which is largely dictated by the arrangement of colors. This is not surprising, given Hugonin’s keen interest in music as a mode of communication. The stacked colors seem to gently reverberate, almost faintly ding, if you spend enough time with them. If given a chance, Hugonin’s “Binary Rhythms” will make a synesthete out of you. 

—Grace-Yvette Gemmell


James Hugonin - Binary Rhythm: Paintings 2010 - 2015” is on view at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, Oct. 10–Nov. 21, 2015.

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