The London artist bringing an age-old craft bang up to date

The London artist bringing an age-old craft bang up to date
All gold everything — London-based typographer Alex May Hughes explores fragility and rarity while giving her work the Midas touch in her second solo exhibition: 'Glass & Gold'.

What do Victorian typography, The Simpsons and gold leaf all have in common? Well, the answer is artist Alex May Hughes. London-based artist Alex has a penchant for combining pop culture with traditional glass painting techniques, rendering recognisable characters and classic lettering with vibrancy and wit.

Alex May Hughes gold leaf Lisa Simpson

Having established an interest in typography while studying at The London College of Communications Alex graduated in 2012, and went on to complete an apprenticeship as a sign painter before going it alone. Alex has embraced her trade as an art form, blurring the lines between manufacture and design. “The work I make requires craft and creativity but it’s also a business where 99% of the work I make is for other people”, she says.

Alex’s upcoming show Glass & Gold will be her first solo exhibition in two years. The title takes its name from her primary tools of her trade, and will feature plenty of gold leaf, pearl shell, glass and butterfly wings.

Alex May Hughes Skull

“I wanted to celebrate how exquisite nature can be,” Alex tells me, and she’s done it: her twenty-five pieces have been designed to create a visual allegory of the beauty which resides within nature’s fragility. Alex’s work is not just an exercise in creativity, but an expression of her bond with all things that shimmer. “Gold has such a rich history (ha-ha). The qualities of gold are so eye catching and intoxicating and working with it on glass is the best part of my job.”

Bespoke designs and bold colours have been a big draw for independent shop owners looking to tie their business in with the history of an area and Alex’s approach mingles the nostalgia of antiquated typeface with modern slogans and Nick Cave lyrics. This has led to her being commissioned for countless projects such as creating an Instagram-worthy shopfront for Palm Vaults café to redesigning the front cover of Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help.

Alex May Hughes The Help book cover

Another feature of her opus showcases a not-so-subtle adoration of all things The Simpsons. Alex displayed work in the 2015 show No Homers Club, a multidisciplinary art exhibition inspired by the TV show. Besides being a proud collector of themed merchandise, characters such as Bart and Lisa make regular appearances on her Tumblr account. Alex’s simple explanation is that they are her “oldest friends” and the yellow works well with her interest in gold leaf designs.

Alex May Hughes Me and You

Alex’s magpie sensibilities have revitalised historic glass painting techniques and shown the medium to have more versatility than just an attractive way to get punters to a pub. “I suppose handmade work brings with it a sense of authenticity or a sense of humanity, I find a lot of heavy digital work fairly alienating and people often like to have something no one else does. The handmade tends to carry it its own memorable nuances.”

Glass & Gold opens at 71a Gallery on Thursday 10 November 2016.

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