An Interview with Hugo McCloud

It all started one warm afternoon several weeks back when I was finding myself dancing in the streets and discussing art endlessly with a friend. One thing lead to another and that friend and I were suddenly walking through a secret door that lead to a full blow artist studio located at the back of a chic cafe nestled in neighborhood of Bushwick. This studio belonged to none other than painter Hugo McCloud. To be completely honest I was ignorant of Hugo's presence in the art world but after spending some time listening to him explain his work and the process he goes through to complete it I was in a daze of beauty, fascination, an urge to consume all of it's layers thus leaving me with tiers of questions that I felt I needed to ask. Thankfully Hugo being the genuinely kind soul that he is invited me to come back the following weekend for a proper studio visit and interview. Before we delve into all the dirty details of Hugo's work let me briefly state how magnificent I think it is that someone working in a manner that is quite literally very dirty and drawing from subjectively unappealing sources can create such monumental beauty with it. It always astounds me the alchemical magic that an artist can create and Hugo McCloud can definitely be counted in on that category of artists. 

You originally worked in construction. How did you transition from that into the art world?

I wouldn't say construction, I would say more design and build. There were more design like conversations like furniture and architecture with developers. There was always an artistic approach to it, everything was always one of a kind pieces.

Was it a natural transition then?

"It was more this desire to be free, just to be completely free in my creation and to trust that that would turn into opportunty. That if I was real and true to my creating in an artistic approach then it would turn into an ability to continue that because that's the risk of work in the arts. "

Can you explain the process you go through for most of the paintings in your newest series?

There's different parts of it such as the end result which is a process driven point like the wood block stamping which I was really interested in in the sense of textiles like Indian block printing and the imperfection in it. Then there's the painterly aspect of it where I'm actually painting on the surface and then the material aspect of it. So I'm combining knowledge from the design world and the materials that I used then as artistic material now. I put the tar paper and actual liquid tar and then over that we stick the aluminum foil on it and then I paint on it and emboss so it distorts the original image that was painted. This way it's not really about my painterly abilities but the abstraction of it. 

So you went to India to learn wood block carving?

Well I went to India with a friend and the option just came along right when I was studying this. It was important for me to go there instead of me taking something from somewhere else and just copying it. It was important for me to actually go there and see the process from where the birth of it is and then be able to come back and turn it into my own. So maybe it was just a personal thing I needed to do but it justified using the process a little bit more for me.

The design of your wood block prints comes from patterns on mattresses. How did you come about choosing that particular pattern?

As I came back from India I had bought books on ornamentation, patterns from all over the world, and as I was looking at those I was really inspired but at the same time becauase the majority of those patterns had significant meanings for those cultures I couldn't justify using them becauase it wasn't my culture. So I needed to find a source of patterns that were a part of my life and one part of living in these industrious areas and sometimes impoverished areas theres just discarded garbage all over the place and sometimes that garbage is furniture or bed mattresses that are just left on the street for long periods of time. As my desire to really find my own source was in my head I was then looking for something and running around and found these mattresses and these textiles and floral prints and they became perfect sources for my work right now. It was definitely the beginning of my inspiration on these wood blocking prints. 

"The thing that I found interesting about it is that my work is always about finding beauty in the things that are not typically found beautiful or important. A discarded bed mattresses is completely ignroed or looked down on as furniture that is just thrown on the street. There's a reason that its not wanted and then there's another reason that they're there because the city doesn't come and pick them up, it's neglected. So I always found it interesting to take something that had no value and then recreate it and give it value. Something that one person would usually look at it with no desire and then make them look at it with great desire. That's a basis for a lot of my work."

There was recently a fire in your studio that burned one of your paintings and since then you've been getting a lot of really positive feedback on that painting now. What are you thoughts on that?

Well everything definitely does happen for a reason. The end result is just new ideas, I think everything can spark new ideas and the fire brought a new idea that will definitely be explored when the opportunity arises. Because I can't even entertain the thought of doing that now it's going to give me the amount of time that I need to really think about it and digest what it is.

Your work has been received differently in New York versus Europe. You already have gallery representation in Europe with Luce Gallery and are still working on that for New York. Do you feel like there is a difference in the treatment of up and coming artists in New York vs. Europe?

I can't really say ones better than the other because we are in a completely different time for young artists which is evident now in the art world that it's getting younger and younger, the artists that are becoming the hitters in the art world that is. Like I said before I think everything happens for a reason and I think it was good for me to present myself in Europe because I got out of myself a lot of energy and now that I'm doing my second show here in New York I'm able concentrate on it a little more and focus on what it is I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I think as well the momentum that Europe has gotten me allowed me to make me a better and wiser decision on representation and it got me a lot of credibility. 

That said your next show is going to be in May at Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld's new gallery, how did that come about?

His assistant emailed me when I was in Italy installing the first show and I don't know how he came across my work to this day but I know that he's friends with other people I know in the art world. That first show got me a lot of buzz in the states because the gallery is one that only represents up and coming artists from America but all I can really say is he hit me up and said I can do whatever I want and it's perfect timing. 

Many people say that we're losing craftsmanship in the art world, what are your thoughts on that in terms of artists like for example Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons who don't even touch their own work. 

I find it to be an interesting conversation because it can go both ways where ideas are just as important as process but at the same time I think ideas, real strong ideas, are birthed from being inside of your work. So when your hands are inside the work, getting dirty or whatever it is there's opportunity for that change every second and I think when you're instructing other people that are just following your words on what to do they are never going to deviate from that and I think that's where the dangerous thing is because your work to me doesn't have that distinct character and that's where art is, it's imperfect. I'm just not into it that much, I'd rather produce less and keep that creative process to myself than fall into that. I think it's a dangerous thing because sometimes it's only interesting for a second because what they're doing, where is it continually interesting? If I did 50 of the same paintings they are all going to be different, there is going to be evolution in them and that's what's interesting, seeing an artist evolve. I think an artist can always take it to the next level, whether it's received well or not. As long as he's exploring ideas and risk, that's the whole point of being an artist.

"Money doesn't make you evolve and demand doesn't make you evolve either."

Constantly challenging yourself.

Ya, that's what we chose to do, to go against the grain and say something.

How would you describe your work in one word if you could?

Investigation. I'm always asking myself why am I doing this? Why is it important to me? To present myself upon other people, the ego side of it, I have to question those things all the time which then puts my head into so many different places and then puts itself into my work. 

It's a loop.

Yes it is definitely a loop, and definitely a continual question of what is this? Not just why am I doing this but what is this and that forces me to continually search it. I recently needed to step away from my other work like those color ones over there. I needed to step away from the multiple colors and go back to the minimal which originally was a lot of my work. 

What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up this morning?

I need to do some single based color paintings and that I need to get out of the studio.

If your art was a drink what would it be?

I had a liver cleanser juice earlier today so it would probably be something like that. 
Beets, carrots, apples, lime and lemon where it's all these different things mushed up together and makes something amazing, healing and interesting. 

What is the one thing you could never live without?


Hugo's work will be on display at Freize Art Fair with Luce Gallery in May as well as a solo exhibition at Vladimir Roitfeld's.