Craig Hudson

Is this some kind of a joke?

There is something disarmingly messed up about Craig Hudson’s sculpture. His figures are entirely human, their oversized hands and life-size trainers suggest strength and capability, and their roughly modelled faces and downcast posture convey enormous vulnerability and melancholy. They cling to childish pleasures, like teddy bears and balloons, and could look pathetic, if they were not also funny – and a little bit disturbing.

Hudson’s works are cast in bronze, from elements modelled in clay, and others cast directly from real objects, such as the artist’s hands or shoes, a real balloon or beach ball. A balloon is such a temporary delight, taught and fragile, always seemingly about to pop. Here it is remade in bronze, the material of durability and longevity, to stay aloft forever. Colour, seldom associated with bronze, is central to the work and again, always a little off key. A pink that is too sweet, too innocent for the figure, is sprayed directly onto the balloon. Hudson’s intention is to achieve a perfect coverage on the balloon and the paint that spills and drips across the figure is simply collateral damage, unintended but equally preventable, the accidents that occur as a by-product of a single desired effect is permitted, indeed courted. The final impression is that the balloon is perfect, the figure a mess, bleeding pigment emblematic of some form of internal, psychological falling apart. Alternatively, perhaps there is bravado, a complete toughness in this male figure carrying the pink balloon, as if to say ‘What?’ – unapologetic and unashamed. Two of these balloon figures are very small. The shift in scale amplifies their sense of thoughtful interiority. They stand or sit, slumped, waiting as if abandoned, the brightness of their balloons in jaunty contrast to the overall pathos of the figures. Hudson went to art school as an adult, after years in retail followed by months adrift had finally brought a recognition of what he really wanted to do. Initially working as a painter, a tutor challenged him to make sculpture and his willingness to move between disciplines and combine unlikely processes and materials remains a distinguishing feature of his work.

The echo of Auguste Rodin’s example is felt in Hudson’s figures, and his traditional foundry skills were honed working as an assistant to Laurance Edwards. Also notable are Hudson’s broader interests, developed as a student, in contemporary figurative work. The social politics and graffiti sources of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work is a key inspiration, alongside the rebellion and confrontation presented in work by artists such as Gavin Turk, Franko B and Chris Buden. Thomas Houseago was an important example, making grand figures that conflate a great variety of influences, from 20th century Modern Masters and World Art to contemporary cinema. More recently, the work of Canadian sculptor David Altmejd is an important touchstone for the unrestrained use of a wide range of materials and objects, found and made, combining the familiar with the bizarre.

Hudson’s work, like the artist, is quiet and yet cool, immersed in popular culture references that are instantly engaging. Hudson was a skater, loved and still loves Star Wars, the emblems of his passions adorn his studio and creep into his work. Raised and living in Ipswich, he is an urban artist making work that seems incredibly street-wise in a studio that is, by stark contrast, a pastoral dream in the remote Butley Mills, on an estuary in Suffolk. It is a great place to work, with a community of artists and a foundry on-site, but Hudson’s sculptures are not about this place, their contexts and influences are somewhere and something else.

A recent series of heads are roughly formed and manipulated and then grossly and emphatically painted, as if they are injured rather than adorned by colour. These heads draw you in as they almost growl with menace, the lurid paint like a moving skin. They are small and yet oddly brutal considering their size – the attraction of small things is made strange by their modelling, some are at the edge of what is recognisable as a head. These are uncomfortable little things, punching well above their weight. Alone, each one could be a hand-held talisman, together they are like trophies of war.

In 2017, Hudson began to play with expanding foam. Initially as experiments to be subsequently cast in bronze, early examples are extraordinarily sensual abstract forms. Again in brilliant monochrome colour, or gleaming gold or silver, these solid fixed objects retain the uncontained energy of a material that is erupting, expanding, in flow. Geological, like lava, or reminiscent of flesh, like a collision of sumo wrestlers, these objects communicate physical energy and a lack of control, as if Hudson can only instigate the process rather than direct or fix the outcome. There is something amusing about these being cast in bronze – expansion and flux has been captured, through a precise and complex casting, in the secure durability of bronze.

Most recently, the artist has cannibalised his figure works and foam sculptures to build monolithic objects, monuments to both making and destruction. These works are everything and nothing, as if everything has value and must be incorporated – earlier works, old castings, plaster fragments – and nothing has value enough to be beyond threat of destruction. When faced with a section of the sculpture that was not working, Hudson cut the protruding element off with a knife, leaving a face of raw foam that remains visible, incorporated within a painted surface that boils with textures and objects. Most recently painted silver, in the cracks and hollows of the work we glimpse the green paint that was tried first, but wasn’t right. These coloured fissures give the impression that the objects that can be identified, such as a trainer, have been thrown up from the depths of the work. The silver painted surface binds together and stabilizes all the disparate elements of the work into a magnificent whole. Its brilliant reflective skin makes the entire object precious, like an enormous nugget of value. Hudson is again making familiar things unknown, as if it is, after all, possible to polish anything.

-Amanda Geitner 2019