The British-American artist Henry Hudson is known for his ‘Jungles’: a colourful collection of plasticine works that have been exhibited around the world. And while he has an upcoming exhibition in India showcasing exactly that, he’s also venturing outside of his comfort zone. Recently, he has been exploring other mediums; ceramics, oil and iPad paintings, some of which will be on display at another exhibition in Vienna this fall. I joined Hudson at his East London studio to discuss what he’s been up to during lockdown and the pandemic-inspired works that are currently in progress.
How long have you been doing these ‘Jungles’?
Six years, maybe five. But I picked up the medium maybe 12 or 13 years ago. I’m predominantly known for my ‘Jungles because I’ve been relentless with them. All of my works have been driven by the medium.
Where did this medium of plasticine originate from?
It was a combination of things. After leaving art school at Central Saint Martins I had no money. When I saw plasticine in the art shop and thought “oh, this is cool”, I started playing around with it. It gave me this sort of eureka moment and I thought, “wow”. I really wanted something that you could buy for 60 pence and try and do something with. I kind of feel like art should do that. I’m trying to create movement and depth and space with a medium that is telling you, “I don’t want to do this”. The ‘Jungles’ are made of plasticine on aluminium boards. Ultimately, it’s also a very British medium. Plasticine was invented in the 19th century by an art teacher from Bristol who lived apparently 20 miles from where I was born. It’s an interesting realisation that it just so happened he was from this particular area of England. Plasticine has been used successfully in animation, like all the Wallace and Gromit films, but no one in the art world has pushed it this far.
How would you describe what’s taking place or unfolding in your ‘Jungles’?
The artworks have a sort of life and death going on within them. Everything in the jungle is fighting for survival, reaching to get higher over its rival to get light and oxygen. I see the ‘Jungles’ as possessing this kind of godlike manner, as if God has stopped creating the world on day three and is taking a step back to look and admire what he has done. With that being said, given the dystopian state of the world at the moment, it could also be taking place in the future, after the existence of man. These are not real places. They’re more about celebrating nature. Most of my work deals with the idea of hysteria in society and in our current climate of anxiety, particularly in the digital age, these works reflect our state of mind.
Tell me about your process in making the ‘Jungles’?
The ‘Jungles’ originate from the computer, where I source pictures of plants and perhaps images that I’ve taken myself, and make a composition on Photoshop. But this isn’t an environment-type painting of my surroundings. I’m not living in the French Polynesia or in Trinidad and Tobago. This is about me in London, trying to escape on a daily basis.
How long does it take to generally make one of your ‘Jungles’?
A big one that’s 180 by 140 cm can take anywhere from three to four months. I work with a team and that’s such an important part of how these get made. And there’s a whole philosophy around that, but we don’t have time…
What is the philosophy?
You can never really control people, places or things, right? And in creating these ‘Jungles’ now with a team as I’ve expanded through the years, it has been a learning process for me in terms of letting go. Initially, there was a lot of stalling because I was reacting to the handing-over process: as artists we all start off by drawing or painting alone. So this idea of becoming a director or a kind of team leader or an alchemist, if you will, is a whole thing in itself. But I had to learn to let go of control. And now the work has come full cycle. I have young artists who work for me that themselves need money and are fresh out of art school. Sometimes they come just for a summer, others spend months, sometimes a year. So, the series of ‘Jungles’ has changed organically over the years, much like nature does. In that way it’s been an amazing journey to watch. You know, I’m prouder of that than I am in some ways of the end result because ultimately creating with young artists and giving them a source of work gives me pleasure.
Tell me about the exhibitions that you have coming up.
I have a show in Mumbai at Galerie Isa in September titled ‘At Some Point In Time’, where a collection of ‘Jungles’ of varying sizes are being featured. Following that, I have an exhibition titled ‘SHIFT’ in November in Vienna at Galerie Kandlhofer, where I’ll be showing a mixture of ‘Jungles’, paintings and ceramics.
Is that what you were working on during lockdown?
Yes, I was completing a number of works while venturing into oil painting for the first time. The real problem is that you’ve got 1,000 years of people that have been painting before you and wherever you go, you’re going to bump into a great master very quickly. For me, that has always been a tricky thing.
Why did you decide to try oil now?
It came down to me not having my team here to complete larger and more laborious works, and I wanted to create. I have done about 15 oil paintings so far, a diary of sorts that tracks my discoveries on my daily walks, taking a photo and coming home to paint.
You said your ‘Jungle’ works represent a sort of hysteria?
Yes, it’s a theme throughout all my work.
Has your hysteria been heightened during this pandemic?
The opposite, actually. I liked how the entire country and world was institutionalised by lockdown. It was like all the madness wasn’t in my head anymore. I could see it out in the world and therefore I was incredibly calm. It just reconfirmed and reiterated what I was doing anyway.