Hugh Byrne: Point and Line

Barnard in collaboration with Ebony Curated is pleased to present Point and Line by Hugh Byrne. The title of the artist’s most recent body of work indicates a primary thrust which has extended across the artist’s career and practice – a reduction to the most basic visual forms and an investigation of the visual problem solving the relationship between these forms calls for. And yet “reduction” is perhaps a misleading word to use. As the paintings in this show display, these essential formal elements allow, in the tensions and harmonies between them, for layers of complexity to be built and experimented with. Byrne’s practice is as such a visual repartee between form, line and colour, a subtle dance and play in the search of balance and harmony.

This attention to the basic formal elements indicates the influence of the De Stijl and Bauhaus movements on Byrne’s work. Byrne continues the tradition established by such artists as El Lissitzky, Josef Albers and Piet Mondrian in exploring the possibilities for subtle yet exponential visual complexity that strict attention to basic formal elements, flattened picture planes and limited colour palettes call for. Byrne likewise aligns himself with these artists in maintaining a highly subjective, emotional engagement with these elements, which might mistakenly be relegated to the realm of impersonal, objective abstraction. Byrne, like those members of the De Stijl and Bauhaus movement – and other contemporaries currently contributing to a resurgence and re-evaluation of abstraction within contemporary art – instinctually understands the potential for emotional, and indeed spiritual, impact embodied in the relationships between line, form, colour and space.


Accompanying Byrne’s understanding of the cerebral and emotional aspects of visual elements is a strong emphasis on materiality. Using latex paint, as opposed to more common mediums of oil or acrylic, allows Byrne to quickly rework sections and alter colours. This physicality extends to Byrne’s experimentation with additional materials of concrete, metal, maple and walnut, while indicating a fascination with sculptural forms and the built environment. Indeed, Byrne’s visual practice is thoroughly embedded in and directed by a continuous engagement with urban space, architecture and the lived experience of the city.


Herein lies an interesting contrast between the highly flattened, two-dimensional images on show and the profound, embodied understanding of the dynamics of three-dimensional space and materiality which directs the artist’s process. This tension, apprehensible upon close meditation on the works, results in sensorial impact, subtleties of emotion and evocation of dynamics of space. This emotional aspect of the work is further heightened in view of Byrne’s own personal attachment to certain colours and forms, which in turn are developed from random forms and architectural elements apprehended in the city and during various travels. A visual vocabulary has thus been built over years of experimentation and observation, and evolves as the artist engages in ever more complex visual relationships. This most recent body of work displays a foray into more organic shapes, variations of tone and fluidities of line and form.