Hughes’s aesthetic is consistent with a variety of art-historical styles, from Pop to surrealism, but it belongs to no one category exclusively. In creating illusory senses of space, he shares as much common ground with M.C. Escher as with Salvador Dalí (“As a surrealist sympathiser, I have no faith in realism, or indeed in reality,” the artist once stated). And with regard to René Magritte, another clear antecedent, Hughes has explained that “he knew how to get behind the surface of things, with a hundred strategies and witty discombobulations. I don’t particularly like what Magritte’s paintings look like, I like what they think.”
Hughes’s technique is paradoxical, depicting scenes so as to create the reverse perspective of his surfaces’ physical positions in space. He calls this visual trick “reverspective.” Using angular boxes to create three-dimensional forms, he challenges his viewers’ preconceptions about depth. With Populart (2015), an imagined interior contains Jasper Johns’s Flag (1954–55); Andy Warhol’s Brillo Soap Pads Box (1964) and silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe; Hughes’s own Over the Moon (1978); Robert Indiana’s Love (1995); a pink Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons; and Roy Lichtenstein paintings. With each wall recess, another iconic work is revealed, collapsing an impossible expanse of history and interior space into one contiguous moment. Wooden slats and a graphic rug line the floor; the ceilingless room reveals gloriously blue tones of the sky above.
In Venetian Vision (2015), the imagined gallery floor gives way to water, and classic Venetian architecture is recognizable but takes on an exaggerated, trapezoidal form. Peggy’s Palace (2015) combines interior and exterior structures into a panoramic view, the apex of which is an ocean wave entering the canal-side sculpture terrace of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. In both works, receding parts first appear as if they are protruding, making a playful puzzle or visual riddle.