Patrick Hughes in Town
Patrick Hughes in Town
Patrick Hughes in Town
Patrick Hughes' studio space in Town

Patrick Hughes in Town

Charmer Patrick Hughes sheds some light on his studio practice and shows off his digs in the latest issue of London's Town quarterly.

Art House
Patrick Hughes' home in a converted Victorian factory also serves as a personal gallery, workshop, and creative oasis.
By Rosie Millard
Photography by Antony Crolla

'Not everyone "works from home" like Patrick Hughes. You can see him from the street, in a huge room filled with easels and tables. The former Victorian factory makes a perfect studio because its giant windows provide ideal working light. Here, Hughes and ten or so assistants produce his remarkable "Reverspective" paintings. They are constructed of several plywood pyramids poking out of a flat plane, but painted as if receding from view.

Hughes, 73, opens the door, resplendent in a pink Comme des Garcons shirt, a three-piece suit in blue corduroy by David Chambers and a tie decorated with women's lips, by Fornasetti. Behind looms a large portrait of him, by magician Derren Brown, who is a friend.

The ground-level studio is wood-floored and white-walled -- the overriding tone is neutral, so that the work created there can flourish unrivalled. By Hughes' command, there is no music, no phones are allowed, and nothing is piled up on the floor. In the basement are a gallery, workshops, and storage space where the frames and bases for his paintings are constructed.

Upstairs is his loft-style flat, where Hughes lives with his wife, the historian Diane Atkinson. The couple bought the building in 1995 and paid £200,000 for the ground and first floors. The estate agent threw in the basement for free. In Shoreditch? Well, it was different then. "We were like settlers in the Wild East. It suited me, though," says Hughes. "Our old flat in Belsize Park would have fitted into our bedroom and bathroom here." He later bought four floors of the warehouse next door and knocked through, giving three enormous floors and an extra one upstairs, which serves as Atkinson's study. 

You can buy a Hughes from the Flowers gallery in London or New York, but dozens of other galleries, from Canada to Korea, also love to sell his quirky genius. He acknowledges he has reached the stage where museums are demanding his work. 

It wasn't always like this: "When I was 47 I was a pauer, living in an Islington squat with one of my sons. [He has three, from a former marriage.] I was absolutely content. It never occurred to me that you could make money from art. Come upstairs," he says in his Yorkshire lilt, bounding up three flights and issuing me into an immaculate, softly lit paradise reveling in surrealist art, an expansive dining table, and hundreds of books.

The flat is essentially one massive space, all white, accented with colourful Moroccan rugs. Timney Fowler curtains and a Fornasetti clock, both black and white, complete the look, which is enlivened by a coloured galley kitchen and quirky furnishings ranging from a Philippe Starck gnome stool to a formal reading sofa. (Hughes famously reads a book every day). Off the main room is a smaller carpeted and panelled salon, with high-backed sofas and a television which when not in use is entirely obscured by a wavy wooden screen. "Can't bear looking at a giant black rectangle," muses Hughes. "It's modern life, though, isn't it? Screens in every room."

If downstairs is where art is made, this is where it is cherished. Hughes' treasures include two engravings by Escher. One is the famous Day and Night print. "It's from 1938 and it cost about £40,000," he says. 

Recently, he's also bought an Alfred Wallis painting of a ship, and two Roy Lichtenstein prints of brushes, done in his traditional Ben-Day style. There are also surrealist installations by Anthony Earnshaw, wonderful cartoons by Saul Steinberg, and a Magritte Ceci n'est pas une pipe signed print. Oh, and a photograph by Meret Oppenheim, of her celebrated "furry" teacup and saucer. 
The bathroom leading off the master bedroom is white and scarlet, with his and hers basins and Philippe Starck sanitary ware throughout, including a pissoir, a favourite feature. "With the lid down. God gave us toilet lids so we could put them down." Hughes dives forward and produces a small diary. "This shows how often I pee in the night," he says, "and how far I run in the day." I won't go into the night-time details, but every day he goes to Victoria Park for a 10-mile run. "I was shot at in the park last week, you know," he says, staring at me with an amused twinkle.
Wouldn't he rather live somewhere a bit quieter, like the countryside? "Going to the countryside would be like dying," he says. "I love living in London. We walk to the Festival Hall, or see a show in the West End, and then eat at Joe Allen. Or at Tramshed, where Mark Hix does a great chicken. With its feet sticking up in the air! £25 for two, with chips." He adores London life, and London life has come out to Shoreditch to meet him.'