For Emie Hughes, art is a dance. She is steeped in the aesthetics of movement as a modern dancer and choreographer, and she is immersed in visual media as a painter and printmaker.
“I have always had an art practice alongside my movement practice,” she says.
Next month, a collection of Hughes’ paintings in Prussian blue acrylic will be on display at Alapocas Run State Park’s historic Blue Ball Barn in North Wilmington. The event will culminate in a celebratory dance performance.
Soon after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Hughes moved to New York City for a few years to immerse herself in the art scene. In addition to performing as a dancer, she put together salons where visual artists could show raw drafts of their works in progress.
On her personal creative journey, she was drawn to two recurring themes: the color blue and glass jars. She found herself reaching for vivid blue paint as she approached the easel. She choreographed a work for 12 dancers in which a dozen glass jars filled with sprouted milkweed seeds were placed around the stage; at the end of the performance, the dancers blew puffs of milkweed, symbolizing wishes, to the audience.
“Blue, the vibration of it, is very powerful. It draws people in. It has a mysterious magic about it,” Hughes muses. “I have always been obsessed with jars of all kinds, especially jelly jars. Jars for my paint, jars for my pencils, jars for my coffee.”
In 2020, she started a business, aptly named Blue Jar, whose circular logo mimics the water ring left by a jar placed on a wood table without a coaster. Through this, the Delaware Art Museum (DelArt) and other venues, Hughes creates and teaches art using cyanotype, an early photographic method originally developed to produce blueprints.
“For years, I was just making a lot of blue paintings. Then I found cyanotype and I became hooked,” she says.
“Blue, the vibration of it, is very powerful. It draws people in. It has a mysterious magic about it.”
Her cyanotype techniques include pressing her body on paper placed in the sun to create huge sun prints. She exults in the process of washing away the iron salts that react with the sun’s ultraviolet rays to create blue-green images. “I love the rinsing stage,” she says. “Your hands are in the water and you are watching the piece transform before your eyes.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, when many people sought refuge in the relative safety of fresh air, deeply impacted Hughes as an artist, inspiring her to choreograph a dance in the sculpture garden at DelArt. That connection to the outdoors is infusing her work going forward.
“It’s been a lonely, slow time for dance artists with no rehearsals, no shows,” she says. “It’s a joy to create beauty in a dark time.”