INTERVIEW WITH LAURA HUDSON
Catherine Wynne-Paton, August 2020
Laura Hudson is a cross-disciplinary artist, writer and curator with a background in film exhibition and digital media. She is interested in the politics of (mis)information, collaborative practices and how we encounter ‘otherness’. A graduate of Glasgow School of Art’s Environmental Art department, Laura went on to study artist moving-image at Central St. Martins and graduated with an MA in Fine Art from City & Guilds of London Art School in 2019. She is the 2020 artist in residence at Hertford Arts Hub responding to the legacy of Scottish painter Alan Davie.
Laura Hudson’s work has a prescient quality to it and an urgent, vital energy. Through painting and drawing, her work brings to the surface issues that are so often either overlooked or deliberately hidden.
© Portrait of Laura Hudson courtesy of Rachel Ara
The following interview was developed over a series of video and text conversations.
Catherine Wynne-Paton: I’m fascinated with your work and the insight held within your writing.
Laura Hudson: I think it’s the only way for me to deal with the current socio-political madness that leaves us all struggling to understand what’s going on in the maelstrom of fake news and alternating realities.
CWP: In recent paintings, you’ve been working with the imagery of books and I find There will Always be Some Residue particularly interesting with its notions of the past always seeping through, no matter how we try to erase it.
This has resonance now with what’s happening around the Coronavirus pandemic. My concern is that issues that have risen to the surface during lockdown will be patched over, almost cosmetically, like potholes, even though evidence will be visible and the issues likely left unresolved.
What are your thoughts on this in relation to your painting?
LH: I like your analogy of the potholes - it does feel as though the veneer is more visible as it disintegrates under the pressure of extreme fluctuations.
The Book of Rules is a break out from a larger painting, The White Knight is Talking Backwards; I wanted to interrogate elements of the book as it had appeared in several recent paintings and I needed to understand more about its significance for me.
I’m interested in the stories we tell ourselves and in the central panel the Bombardier is reading a story; it might be Alice in Wonderland, an ancient unknowable text or a palimpsest, it might be our histories re-written or a book of rules.
The experience of having a young Chinese painter excluded from a show I was organising because she broke “the [unwritten] rules” got me thinking about the whole concept of rules, from the 10 commandments to sexual violence legislation, rules are interpreted and applied differently to different people.
Rules are often vague or invisible because they are slanted in favour of the rule makers or to give power to their minions. Under lockdown, rules became a festering sore that showed just how much rules are meant for us and not for them. So the book is perhaps a symbol of the hidden rules that seep through the fabric of our judicial and social systems. In the small painting I literally painted it like that, pushing paint from the back of the stretched hessian, oozing through the grid formation of the woven cloth it resembles text on the front. Its illegibility rises up from below in the same way that the history of the rules that govern us arrive from sources that are often hidden. I think the use of the hessian was important because I think of cloth and text as intrinsically linked evolutionary jump points.
The Book of Rules: There will Always be Some Residue, oil on hessian, 40 x 40mm, 2020. © Laura Hudson
The White Knight is Talking Backwards, Triptych 2019, oil, charcoal and spray paint on canvas, [450 x 200cm] 3 panels: 200 x 150 cm © Laura Hudson
"Rules are often vague or invisible because they are slanted in favour of the rule makers or to give power to their minions"
CWP: You’ve placed the book centrally in In The White Knight is Talking Backwards and the combination of your painting and the imaginative range of texts the book could represent is wonderfully revealing of your way of thinking. Your writing about your work is as rich as the paintings themselves.
LH: A lot of my work references or is inspired by text; everything from the Magna Carta to sci-fi novels and I compulsively write to try and make sense of things or to get things out of my head.
CWP: And the Magna Carta Libertatum representing the first book of laws, the very name inferring freedom, agreed by men with rules particularly disempowering to women.
LH: Exactly! It’s jaw-dropping how explicit these rules were in protecting those who created them and with the deliberate purpose of excluding women from active participation or protection in law.
CWP: In a sense, women being the ‘other’, not the norm, though they then and now make up around half! How can half of the population have so little say in the rules by not being represented in decision-making positions?
LH: That’s how to make subjugation work - you create divisions and propose “others” so that the oppressed feel there is always someone below them or to blame for unbearable conditions. It’s how we have slavery, caste systems, racism, pogroms; a well-versed technique that seems to be on the rise again.
CWP: Yes - creating the atmosphere of ‘we’ and ‘them’, yet with the perpetual hope of it all being different in the near future, looking for ways our culture could use the current situation to change what we can...we may be in a position to leap into nearer equality. Clearly a realistic approach is needed as things are getting worse and not better for many people, against the media’s portrayal of the hope of things ‘back to normal’ soon, so many people now can see that normal isn’t actually what they want or need at all.
It’s All About the Others: Who You Are Has Everything To Do With Who We Are, multipanel, 2019. © Laura Hudson
LH: I guess what they mean by normal in this context is defending a pyramid form of capitalism where wealth is soaked upward but rarely trickles downward. My painting(s) It’s All About the Others is an attempt to articulate our need for unity rather than division and to question what is the ‘norm’.
CWP: As you have said: we need each other. Your work, as in Guston’s, evokes collective memories of threat and you subtly question whether the threat lies inside or outside the mask in the way you paint these with the drawn head sealed into the canvas ground, the mask painted on top and then the gesso, traditionally applied as the ground.
LH: We are being driven to turn on each other. I think we do need to question where the threat truly lies. People have told me over the years I should look at Guston but I only did so when I started focusing on painting and drawing as a medium - around 2015 - he is now definitely someone I would cite as a mentor - particularly the later work which is strangely relevant to now.
CWP: I’ve admired Guston’s works for a few years now, since discovering his work and reading a biography written by his daughter, looking at his work is a treat.
LH: I had the wonderful experience of meeting his daughter in 2017. I was communing with one of his paintings in a gallery in Venice (where we were these oddities at what seemed like a posh do) and she came over to chat and made us feel welcome to join the discussion ‘Philip Guston and The Poets’ - it wasn’t until she got on the stage that I realised she was Musa Meyer.
CWP: Wow! What an honour! Great to be welcomed, just as you are.
Is there anything that you particularly remember from that day that feeds into your approach?
LH: It was quite a special day spent in rooms full of Gustons. What I gained was not to be afraid of returning to the things that ‘prick’ - you might not know why initially but when something does there’s a reason to excavate that feeling. To be open to the underneath that is possible in painting - it's not linear like film (my previous medium) but has an all-at-once-ness - a vertical time - the kairos rather than chronos. Guston’s use of paint as a living-moving-thing is something I aspire to. Guston definitely infects my drawing practice which is also tied to the situationist practice of ‘drifting’ but I’m still struggling to be as unconsciously free with paint - once there is expensive paint and canvas in front of me it becomes debilitating.
"To be open to the underneath that is possible in painting - it's not linear like film (my previous medium) but has an all-at-once-ness - a vertical time - the kairos rather than chronos"
The second two panels of the tryptic employ a lot of exposed canvas and retain histories of marks and revisions. I worked for weeks on the first panel and just could not start the next 2 so I deliberately upped the ante by making the surface even more precious and that somehow liberated my hand - projecting some tiny doodles onto the large raw surface and drawing with charcoal while thinking I could retain elements of whatever marks went down was an unblocker.
I had to clear my studio last week in order to go help our parents ease out of lockdown (Scotland and Jersey) so I used up paint left on my pallet (veridian, chrome green and green umber) by doing drift drawings on thick Somerset paper a studio-mate had left for recycle - I love the greens of the drawings, it reminds me of grisaille underpainting. I’ve brought paper with me and green crayons in order to continue with them as I can feel paintings might be brewing out of them.
Drawing with oil paint might help me move more permanently past that precious block - I still use paint very thinly and with caution instead of abandon but perhaps that is a reflection of the times we are now in as I don’t know if I can afford paint in 6 months.
Detail from the triptych’s 3rd panel, One Pill Makes You larger and One Pill Makes You Small and the Ones that Mother Gives You Don’t Do Anything at All, 2019, raw canvas, oil crayon, oil and spray paint.
© Laura Hudson
Laura Hudson, drawings on the studio wall, 13 July, 2020 © Laura Hudson
CWP: These are really exciting, this stage is really free; anything could happen.
The most direct painting of yours that I cannot get out of my head is On a Green Day She Wears Her Felt Dress; it’s sincere, unflinching and looking straight out at you. She/you are looking at the viewer, she is seeing the viewer. Really seeing. She has an intensity of looking that unnerves others, a look which may often be mistaken for rudeness.
LH: Haha, you are right. On a Green day...is probably a self-portrait so the looking is complicated or maybe simplified - I just can’t flinch - I wish I could. The dress is symbolic of protection, a practical muting of sound (which, as an ‘aspie’, is always a problem). It’s also a reference to Herland - a utopian novel depicting an ideal social order (fruit pickers wore felt dresses with pockets). It was painted in one go from a tiny doodle; I recognised it the minute the doodle appeared so I painted it.
CWP: Ah, yes, the prick, or prickle of something that is bothering you and returning to it. That courage to work with something that niggles and you don’t even know why yet. Accessing your subconscious ‘knowing’ and going with it.
LH: I am fascinated by the unknown and in not knowing - in the concept of anamnesis - uncovering what we might already know.
Left: On a Green Day She Wears Her Felt Dress, oil on canvas [94x56cm], 2019
Right: Doodle, 2019
© Laura Hudson
CWP: What are you working on now?
LH: At the time of lockdown I was artist-in-residence at Hertford Arts Hub, responding to the legacy of Alan Davie. The span of pictorial languages in Davie’s work from ancient symbols to domestic motifs intrigued me so I was looking at how they behaved in his paintings - to identify the individual symbols and catalogue them as Jings!
Jings is a Scottish interjection used as an exclamation of surprise or in lieu of swearing. Without any specific meaning of its own, Jings is a vocalisation of an individual response, contingent, mobile, it never quite means the same thing twice - it’s all about context and that’s how I felt these forms, signs, sigils, glyphs, pictograms, ideographs, psychodiagrams, signals, motifs and symbols behaved - a perfect logos for Alan Davie’s enigmatic imagery.
© Portrait of Laura Hudson courtesy of Rachel Ara
Studio table July 2020 - work in progress on Codec-19 [A symbolic guide to Covid-19 pandemic], ink on Somerset paper. 17x17cm x 40 © Laura Hudson
When the project was locked-down the concluding exhibition (an immersive painting) was cancelled and Hertford Arts Hub generously offered to support an alternative final outcome, so I’ve been working on a Book of Jings! Based on my initial drawings, it's a museological collection with its own invented taxonomy borrowing from existing but disparate realms; flavour from ice cream, weight from boxing or speed from music and expanding out into nonsensical categories that might illuminate by their irreverent and surreal nature in a way that reflects Davie’s embrace of not knowing.
Under the pressure of lockdown I couldn't concentrate and diverged into a new set of symbols most definitely influenced by the Jings but representing the social repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. This ‘Codec’ has over 40 symbols and is accompanied by a decoder. The intention is to make stencils out of some or all of these symbols so that they might appear randomly in the streets like hobo signs.
Right now I am working on the Book of Jings! and on the preparations for a large-scale mural in Bermondsey led by Paul Butler (who created the wonderful Cable Street Mural) which we start to paint in September. I am also developing ideas for a group painting show and in November I will be heading to Portugal to take part in the PADA studios residency.