One of the most accomplished painters of the Surrealism movement, René Magritte, once said, “Everything we see hides another thing.” His paintings are full of absences and evocative imagery, floating hats, faces turned into masks, tricks of perspective. They evoke the hidden mysteries of our existence, like how a face can hide the chaotic inner world of a soul.

Phoenix painter Jason Hugger cites Magritte and fellow Surrealists Salvador Dalí and Yves Tanguy as among his biggest influences. Like Magritte, Hugger seems to be obsessed with the hidden nature of things. As a painter of landscapes and still lifes, he produces work that reveals the luminous beauty hidden in displaced objects and barren desert vistas.

“I’ve been painting since I was 16,” the 45-year-old artist says. Steadily honing his craft, Hugger has distinguished himself in the Phoenix art community by creating “still life landscapes.”

“I paint the still life as though it were a place to be visited,” Hugger says. His oil paintings feel like windows into surreal cartoon landscapes. One could imagine a Cubist coyote desperately chasing an Alexander Calder–inspired roadrunner in the shadows of the towering objects that take center stage in Hugger’s paintings. From a sharp-looking bridge that appears like a bent musical saw to piles of standing metal columns that look like giant house keys, the strange objects in Hugger’s paintings look both alien and familiar.

“I find discarded objects in salvage yards and auto shops and set them up in a still life environment in the studio,” Hugger says. In taking these objects out of context, his paintings discover hidden meanings.

One thing that Hugger’s work excels at is reminding viewers just how strange and harsh the desert can be. For locals who’ve lived for years among saguaros and rocky landscapes, it’s easy to take that weirdness for granted. You certainly won’t sense that strangeness in the works of countless cowboy artists and landscape painters who litter Valley art fairs and Old Town galleries.

Viewing the desert with virgin eyes reveals how truly surreal it can be. A dry land with mountains that look like cracked and misshapen skulls; phallic-shaped plants armored with spikes; flowers that bloom only once a year, often in the dead of night; slithering and crawling animals filled with poison; gorgeous sunsets dappled with the magenta hues of pollution. Throw in an elephant with giraffe legs or a hovering bowler hat, and Dalí and Magritte would be right at home.

Hugger’s paintings capture our desert’s beautiful, sunburnt colors with vivid oranges and purples and soft blue skies. His oils shimmer and streak the way summer heat ripples through the Arizona air. Beautiful and lonesome, his still life landscapes beckon you to get lost in them.


The Art of Jason Hugger

Grinders Coffee Co.

Through April