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Manuel "Manny" Hughes

Manuel Hughes Biography

Born in Forest City, Arkansas in 1938, Manuel Hughes was the second of three children born in a highly segregated nation.  His parents moved to St. Louis, Missouri in order to make a better way for their family during a challenging time in American history when war and depression dictated the separation of families for survival and the allure of factory jobs and urban opportunity spurred on the Black migration.  Manuel was left under the loving care of his maternal grandmother on a farm with a barn full of tools and boxes of antiques that provided fond, lasting memories that resonate in his artwork.  For Manuel the farm was heaven and his grandmother was an angel.  “She was the kind of grandmother everyone would have wanted”, he has said with great reverence. During those formative years he was sheltered from the harsh realities of growing up black in early 20th century America.   

When Manuel was 7 years old, he joined his parents in St. Louis.  The abrupt separation from his grandmother was traumatic and had a lasting effect on Manuel.  Now in a hostile environment where he had to fight literally and figuratively on a daily basis to survive, he found solace in his art.  Drawing inspiration from his own African American experience during the civil rights movement and from the poetry of Dylan Thomas and William Butler Yeats, Manuel Hughes developed his own style.  He received Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Fine Art from the University of Missouri.  

A realist, Manuel Hughes paints still lifes of ordinary objects - collected, found, and borrowed - focusing on their details with technical precision to heighten their reality and release their essence.   The objects are arranged in ways that make the viewer think about the relationship of the objects to one another and their relationship to the viewer.  Some of the images may make one uncomfortable, while others cause pleasure or consternation due to their quirkiness.  The interpretation is unique to each viewer.   Manuel Hughes works in series.  In the sixties Manuel Hughes’ work was a visual manifesto about growing up Black and Proud during the civil rights movement out of which emerged his "Fallen Black Man" series.  The most iconic image in this series is a self-portrait with his Afro and carrying an American flag.  Not wanting viewers to expect only one kind of imagery from him, Manuel Hughes set out to find a racially neutral artistic expression that would at once identify the art as his own and the result was his signature “Ribbons" series in the seventies which was wildly successful and collected by corporate investors.  The shadowing technique he mastered makes the strips appear to float off the canvas. Ironically, this route closed many other doors to him despite his strong black identity, since the subject matter was not immediately identifiable as “black art”.  In the eighties, Manuel began his stark "Hanging Flowers" series; and, in the nineties Manuel was nationally recognized and gained representation by the renown OK Harris Gallery which sells his instantly recognizable “Tin Cans Series”, which unlike his other series which are minimalist in sensibility, are detailed and laborious to complete, packed with information, vibrant colors and subtext.   

A contemporary of William T. Williams, Hank Gentry, Ed Clark, and Richard Mayhew, an academic and mentor, Manuel Hughes is the type of artist that is well respected by, and an inspiration to, other artists.  Always the optimist, and friendly conversationalist, opportunities came easily to him.  He taught fine art painting at Grambling State University, Hunter College, and for over 30 years at Pratt School of Design where he challenged his students to capture the details in the mundane, shaping the careers of several generations of artists.  He has served on numerous art boards and grant committees, which provided him additional opportunities to influence the art that we see today.  

His paintings are in the collections of several museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Newark Museum, the Everson Museum, the High Museum, the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Saint Louis Art Museum.   Some of his corporate clients include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Chase Manhattan Bank, Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Metropolitan Life.  

Manuel Hughes is recognized by several art authorities with references in several art resource books including:  Lonnie Pierson Dunbier (Editor): “The Artists Bluebook 34,000 North American Artists to March”; Ray Davenport: “Davenport's Art Reference: The Gold Edition”; Peter Falk: Hastings (Editor) “Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975”; Samella Lewis:  “Art/African American”; John Baur: “Whitney Museum of American Art Catalogue of the Collection”; Theresa Dickason Cederholm:  “Afro-American Artists: A Bio-Bibliographical”; and,  Robert Doty: “Contemporary Black Artists In America”. 

Manuel Hughes now lives in France with his second wife Elisabeth and their daughter Jade Fleur who provide him a constant source of joy.  With working studios in both Harlem and Paris, and represented by several galleries including Peg Austin, OK Harris and Hubert Gallery in New York and Hammonds Hawkins Gallery in Massachusetts, Manuel Hughes keeps extremely busy.