Ian Hugo Biography

Ian Hugo




Ian Hugo was born Hugh Parker Guiler in Boston, Massachusetts on February 15, 1898. His childhood was spent in Puerto Rico (a "tropical paradise" the memory of which stayed with him and surfaced in both his engravings and his films) but he attended school in Scotland and graduated from Columbia University where he studied economics and literature.

He was working with the National City Bank when he met and married author Anais Nin in 1923. They moved to Paris the following year where Nin's diary and Guiler's artistic aspirations flowered. Guiler feared his business associates would not understand his interests in art and music, let alone those of his wife, so he began a second life, as Ian Hugo. Ian and Anais moved to New York in 1939. The following year he took up engraving and etching, working at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, established at the New School for Social Research.

Hugo began producing surreal images that often accompanied Nin's books. For Nin his unwavering love and financial support were indispensable, Hugo was "the fixed center, core...my home, my refuge" (Sept. 16, 1937, Nearer the Moon, The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1937-1939). A fictionalized portrait of Hugo appears in Philip Kaufman's 1990 film, Henry & June.

Responding to comments that viewers saw motion in his engravings, Hugo chose to take up filmmaking. He asked Sasha Hammid for instruction, but was told "Use the camera yourself, make your own mistakes, make your own style." What Ian Hugo did was to delve into his dreams, his unconscious, and his memories. With no specific plan when he began a film, Hugo would collect images, then reorder or superimpose them, finding poetic meaning in these juxtapositions. These spontaneous inventions greatly resembled his engravings, which he described in 1946 as "hieroglyphs of a language in which our unconscious is trying to convey important, urgent messages."

In the underwater world of his film Bells of Atlantis all of the light is from the world above the surface; it is otherworldly, out of place yet necessary. In Jazz of Lights, the street lights of Times Square become in Nin's words, "an ephemeral flow of sensations." This flow that she also calls "phantasmagorical" had a crucial impact on Stan Brakhage who now says that without Jazz of Lights (in 1954) "there would have been no Anticipation of the Night." Hugo lived the last two decades of his life in a New York apartment high above street level. In the evenings, surrounded by an electrically illuminated landscape, he dictated his memoirs into tape recorders and would from time to time polish the large copper panels that had been used to print his engravings from the worlds of the unconscious and the dream.

Ian Hugo died in Manhattan, New York City on January 7, 1985.