Marie Hugo is an Anglo-French artist who lives between London, Paris and the south of France. She has been steeped in art and literature all her life, as she comes from a large and distinguished family of artists and writers. She has worked in a variety of different media but has a predilection for Indian ink on paper or canvas.
Although trained in France in the Western European tradition, she has lived in Asia and harbours an affinity with the Orient. Indeed, her style and inspiration are reminiscent of traditional Chinese art forms, and much of her work can be described as a marriage of East and West.
Marie Hugo was born in the south of France, in the wild, rugged area known as the Camargue, where her family had settled for generations and where she still spends a lot of time. She studied lithography and engraving at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montpellier, but she undoubtedly learned a great deal from her father, the painter Jean Hugo, in whose studio she worked at the same time.
After completing her studies, she moved to East Asia, where she was much inspired by the vast landscapes and Chinese art. Her inks, which are largely black and white, betray her lithographical background. Nevertheless, with a great mastery of colour, in 1985, she illustrated the Imprimerie Nationale edition of the Fables de La Fontaine.
In the 1980s, she painted a body of work entitled “inner landscapes” in tempera and large murals for public places and hotels in the Far East.
In the late 1990s, she returned to work in her father’s studio, painting with pigments and Indian ink in water. This experimental way of expressing herself proved a significant new departure for her. Leaves, bamboo, insects, lotus leaves, stones, water and twigs all became significant motifs in her work.
Her work balances fullness with emptiness by playing either with the rejection or the fusion of ink in water. The expressions fluctuate between figuration and abstraction. Her art has also taken on a more sculptural, three-dimensional form. She has created installations, which she calls “forests of light”, composed of large canvases mounted in rectangular columns, while her metal mesh sculpture “Medusa” seems to play with air and light.
In 2014 she was invited to participate in the contemporary art festival, Art in the Park, in Kuala Lumpur’s Botanical Gardens, creating a bamboo structure housing her installation, Pantun Forest.
In 2015 she was commissioned to design a colossal painting on the sand floor of the famous Roman Arena in Arles for the “Corrida Goyesque” (a bull-fight, which also has art and music, and where the matadors are dressed in costumes of the period of the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746–1828)). In the same way as a “mandala” is painstakingly created in coloured sand by Buddhist monks and then swept away, her work in the sand was entirely erased by the hooves of the bulls and horses. Like a mandala, the destruction symbolised the ephemerality or impermanence of life.
In 2016 Marie spent much of her time in the house of her most famous literary ancestor, Victor Hugo, on the island of Guernsey, researching his contribution to the decoration of the house. This research resulted in a book, Hauteville House: Victor Hugo décorateur, published by Paris/Musée.
More recently, Marie Hugo has been examining the old pond in her childhood garden to create her new series of photos, The Three Hundred Days of the Lotus, and invites us to follow the life of a lotus plant from March to December, from birth to death. Although photography may seem like a departure, the series is a logical progression of her artistic journey as it brings together water and flora.
Since 2020, she has continued working with nature and embarked on a new series of large paintings of trees using Indian ink, walnut stain and colour pigments on canvas.