Michael McHugh’s ‘Swimming in the Clouds’ on show at the Town Hall Gallery in Melbourne

Michael McHugh has completed his largest work to date, at six meters in length and two meters high. This huge painting is titled ‘Swimming in the Clouds’ and is a celebration of colour within nature, as plant forms float away and down throughout the canopy.

Showcased at the Hawthorn Arts Centre, the exhibition emphasises the urgent need for climate action. 

McHugh’s art practice takes various forms, manipulating the plant shapes to explore the rich diversity of our natural environment. 

“Drawing underpins all my work and I am constantly reworking shapes and compositions and redrawing to get to the final stage of the painting.” said McHugh. 

“Most of my drawing comes from the field – from walks and trips away and from taking photos of patterns, colours and plant forms that I think I may use at some stage for future work. Some drawings start by looking at plant shapes that are extinct, while other varieties may hold a nucleus from DNA found centuries ago. No one plant ever makes it through to a final painting without being manipulated and enhanced in some way.

“These reimagined plant forms blooming in a riot of colour invite the viewer to take part in a kaleidoscopic world where they can decide if these plants actually exist or are in fact products of my imagination, creating my own botanical language. I work in acrylic as it dries faster than oils, and allows me to overpaint and add detail while immersed in the process of painting the canvas. I often start with layers of paint for the background colour and cover the entire canvas and then, referencing my drawings, I begin the process of painting in the composition. Once the main shapes are in place with colour, technique and pattern, I begin using macro and micro detail as each plant form transforms and begins to really float across the canvas. From there I look at the finer, smaller forms and connecting pieces that bring each plant form together … perhaps through spinning, whirling vines running throughout the painting.”

Above The Canopy runs until September 24 at the Hawthorn Arts Centre, and entry is free.