The John Hughes Art Festival – an enchanting celebration of creativity and community

Arabella Tedder 11 February 2022
Image Credit: John Hughes Arts Festival Facebook Page

The John Hughes Art Festival (JHAF) is an annual festival held at Jesus College in memory of the Rev’d John Hughes, a beloved Dean of Chapel heavily involved in the college community and with a deep love for the arts, who died tragically in a car accident in 2014 at the age of 35. The festival is now in its 8th year, with the theme of ‘Enchant’ as an inspiration for the artwork, design and events. In the spirit of the festival, the members of the committee were asked to pick a favourite piece of artwork and explain a little bit about what it means to them.

Sophie Beckingham, co-director, said her favourite piece is ‘the opening look of Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 1999 show, ‘NO13’’. She continued that ‘the model, paralympian Aimee Mullins, wore carved wooden prosthetic legs made to look like victorian boots’ and loved that it ‘discuss[es] the relationships between craftsmanship, technology, and the human body that the Industrial Revolution brought.’ Rose Asquith, also co-director, shared that she ‘loves the beautiful furniture created by David Roentgen.’ Rose claimed that ‘not only is every piece he made incredibly intricate and beautiful, but it was designed to be used for multiple purposes’; she believes they are ‘the perfect confluence of utility and beauty.’

Gallery workers, such as Alex Vardill, ‘enjoy[ed] Alexa Meade’s work, who paints directly onto human bodies and objects, collapsing the depth of her models so that they appear two-dimensional when photographed.” Alex enjoyed that ‘it also looks like art and reality have been inverted, or that the artist is somehow inside her own painting.’ Millie Slack’s favourite was ‘Richard Long’s ‘A Line Made by Walking’, created by continually walking back and forth until a line became visible’ because of its ‘relationship between artist and the land’ noting that ‘there’s gentle emergence of shapes that will eventually be absorbed back into the earth, [and finds] a definite comfort in the certainty of this act.’ Ellie Doran instead focused upon ‘a small sleeve detail from an eighteenth-century dress’, suggesting that ‘it defines our interaction with every-day objects, such as clothes, and gives them special meaning.’ At the moment, ‘the work of the textile artist Sylvie Franquet, who mixes and remixes old tapestry kits, using neon thread to embellish humdrum, mass-produced artwork of reading women, with quotes from Audre Lorde and Virginia Woolf on witchcraft, inheritance and intellect’ is Alex Haydn-Williams’ favourite. Similarly, moved by its ‘natural[ness] and raw[ness], the drawing of a deer found on the cave walls at Lascaux, reminds gallery-worker Isabel Painter of her ‘own human desire to produce art.’

Moving over to events, Lucy Atkin’s favourite piece was ‘The Dance by Paula Rego.’ She noted that it made her ‘really emotional, as a sort of dance through life, lit by moonlight.’ Joe Smith was equally impressed by Lindsay Seer’s ‘Optograms (mouth camera)’ and its work with light. Sagarika Koppera enjoyed Agnes Denes’ ‘Tree Mountain – A Living Time Capsule,’s’ ability to ‘speak to humanity’s connection with nature, proposing art as an agent for healing, its aesthetic design complementing environmental efforts.’ Suining Sim, on the other hand, was drawn to the work of Zhao Yang. Suining notes that ‘melancholy runs through most of his work, but my favourite carries a touch of absurd whimsy — Planet features a skull that you realise is a bodybuilder looking in a mirror which reveals him to be a sad cone.’

As for the publicity team, Astrid Godfrey’s favourite piece was ‘The Kiss’ by Klimt, noting that she ‘even has a poster of it above my keyboard, just to completely fill the girl-who-doesn’t-know-much-about-art stereotype.’ Astrid lovingly described ‘The Kiss’ as making her feel ‘warm and safe.’ Arabella Tedder expressed a love for ‘Ophelia’ by John Everett Millais, explaining that ‘ever since [she] studied Rossetti’s poetry; the lushness and abundance of life, the greenery at the edges of the piece, are a melancholy contrast to the dying body they are inching towards, itself almost alive, like she could get out of the water at any second.’ And, finally, graphics designer, Isabella Palliotto, said that ‘Anges Martin has always fascinated [her].’ Isabella admires ‘her work, characterised by repetitive lines and grids superimposed upon grounds of muted colour, [which] elegantly negotiates the confines of structure and space, challenging the boundary between draftsmanship and painting.’

The John Hughes Art Festival is a fun and inspiring festival open to all who wish to take part, with an exciting programme of events over the weekend of 18-20 February at Jesus College – details to come on the JHAF Facebook and Instagram soon! Each member of the committee is working hard to bring this amazing festival, in memory of an inspirational man, to the Cambridge community this February – certainly not something to be missed!