BOOK REVIEW: E.J. Hughes Paints British Columbia

Another book to add to your shelf

By Marianne Scott

E.J. Hughes Paints British Columbia

By Robert Amos, TouchWood Editions, 2019, $35



Artist and writer Robert Amos produced his second volume on the art of E.J. Hughes, who painted his iconic art at Shawnigan Lake. E.J. Hughes Paints British Columbia follows the 2018 edition of E.J. Hughes Paints Vancouver Island. Stemming from a direct relationship with Hughes before his death in 2007, and collaborating with the E.J. Hughes estate, Amos has had access to the entire collection of Hughes’ work, amassed first by Hughes’ wife, Fern, and later by Pat Salmon, a friend and neighbour who wrote essays about Hughes and looked after his affairs and legacy.

From the luminous cover depicting Mount Cheam and the Fraser River, the pencil drawings on the inside cover and throughout the book, we delight in the vibrant vision of one of Canada’s greatest painters. Amos has supplemented these superbly reproduced works with replicated letters, hand-written notes, photographs, a lively text providing context, and historical and geographic references.

Hughes mastered all the arts of creating an image: pencil, ink, watercolour, oil, acrylic, dry point engraving, linocut—and sometimes these were combined. No matter which technique he employed, the work is bold and imaginative. Often, he’d make a pencil sketch on site, then use it as a memory aid for a later painting. As just one example, he’d sketched an abandoned village in 1937 and later transformed it into an oil painting in 1947, where snow-laced mountains loom over a broken waterwheel, and a series of grayish-yellow dwellings slide into frantic waves resembling sinuous, snakelike animals.



In this new volume, we learn more about Hughes’ early life, his failure to graduate from high school and his 1929 to 1935 studies at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts. Amos traces Hughes’ earliest works there, his marriage to Fern and his six-year army service as a war artist. Many of his immediate post-war paintings are dark and jagged. Then, an Emily Carr Scholarship allowed him a year of uninterrupted painting. He took road trips to the interior of BC, sketchbook in hand. Lawren Harris introduced Hughes to Montreal-based Max Stern and his Dominion Gallery; Stern became Hughes’ sole agent selling his work for decades; they now fetch prices in the millions.

E.J. Hughes Paints British Columbia is an enlightening and gorgeous book about this talented west-coast painter.

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