Wednesday, 9 February 2011

River crossing, bark comes off in pieces: On the paintings of Alex Hudson.

River crossing, bark comes off in pieces: On the paintings of Alex Hudson.

Alex Hudson "Untitled" Oil on Linen, 2010.
















I.
The first word that comes to mind is obliteration. By this I mean the evaporation of form, which could equally be the result of a process of addition as it could of subtraction. Moss grows over the rock. Moss grows over a rock that once held an indisputable form, though now that form is less determinable, the problem being that form is now not only obscured (as would be the case with some other solid interrupting line of sight) but that the sovereignty of the object is at stake, it has company inseparable, and the crowd obliterates the edges of the man.

II.
A man slowly collects pieces of flint of between one pound and three pounds. Damp or dry, cold or warm. These flints are singular units and taken as they were from the mud-flats of the east coast. Many are worn smooth, all resistance knocked out of them, however with consideration we know that they are not singular and distinct but merely orphaned, knocked from the larger rock just as they themselves will doubtlessly be unable to retain all of themselves against time. Something is missing, and this may be a result of the gathering crowd or that part unable to be retained.

III.
A dead tree appears and reappears, always out of space but still in taut resonance with place (within) and line (with) and edge (without) that surround it1. A lost bough taken from some other setting and drifting on

1 It is worth considering here that the historical development of abstraction in painting is one of obliteration as renewal, or rather an action that is at once destruction as well as revealing. Furthermore the image of the dead branch, slightly uncoupled from the space it occupies and repeated in more than one of Alex Hudson’s paintings offers a hint of further contextual understanding for the work in terms of this obliteration. Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough begins with a discussion of Turner’s painting of the same name, the central titular tree within which is the ancestor of Hudson’s orphaned branch. In Frazer’s text The Golden Bough is the site of continual renewal by obliteration through the succession of the priest of Nemi who waited beneath it.

“He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. Such was the rule of the sanctuary. A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office till he was himself slain by a stronger or a craftier.”
Frazer, J. G. 1993. The Golden Bough. Ware: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. 1993, pp. 1.


and on it lodges here in the painting again and again, like the strip of cloth falling that dictates “here is where
it will happen”.2

IV.
Look out the window at the path of the road and bodies that slip about on it and how the sun in shining down wipes over them simply denying their full form right at the moment of illuminating it. Look into this room in the dark and full visual orientation is equally denied. A denial not only of comprehension of how margins of space are held to each other but equally of my own firm coordinates to such positions.
And now look out on the water as the sun goes down.
And finally walk out into the snow.

V.
These paintings are a place rent apart and in doing so they merge surface with what is beneath this veneer.
It is this balancing movement between depth and phenomena, between paint and image.

VI.
MONOCHROME I: The golden light is at once a reminder of two opposing views and the point at which they
meet, which is what defines the locale of these paintings. The limit on the palette retains the power of

2 Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker has numerous echoes in Alex Hudson’s paintings but it is perhaps in the spirit of fluctuating space that it most resonates. These are places of uncertainty, of transformation, just as the Zone of Stalker is an area both of unpredictable physics and the possibility of ultimate renewal. The landscapes depicted by Hudson are similar locations, their rendering unstable and threatening to fall away at points but constant throughout this is a strength of atmosphere, the spirit of place. Just as a wrecked ship is still a ship despite its absent parts, and just as the Zone retains its anthropomorphic identity despite its changing terrain Alex Hudson’s paintings retain a solidity of place even where stability of space is most compromised in its portrayal. It is also worth noting that the principle threat of the Zone in Stalker and detailed most clearly in the film’s literary source material, is the abandonment of the laws of physics and the tearing apart of matter and space.

“Redrick saw the helicopter. It had fallen, apparently, into the middle of a mosquito mange spot, and its fuselage had been squashed into a metal pancake. Its tail had remained intact, only slightly bent, and it stuck out over the glade like a black hook. The stabilizer was also whole, and it squeaked distinctly, turning in the light breeze. The mange must have been very powerful, for there hadn’t even been a real fire, and the Royal Air Force insignia was very clear on the flattened metal. Redrick had not seen one in many years and had almost forgotten what the insignia looked like.” 

Stugatsky, A and Stugatsky, B. 1978 Roadside Picnic Newton Abbot: Readers Union, pp. 127.
In Hudson’s images the spaceless geometric cuts of white and the compositional compression of lost corners and uncertain volume vibrate with this grammar of science fiction as much as they do with Cubism and its legacy.

Verfremdungseffekt3 (as too does the judder of space that one experiences in trying to sit these cellarobjects in relation to one another) but in our memories the monochrome is not so alien an experience. The golden light is one of cinematic contrast. We find it when walking through the barn and seeing the hard edged perfection of a beam of light cutting through cracks in slats hitting an irregular floor like a diagram. This light obliterates so much of the spectrum with its privileged colour and contrast with the darkness around.

Alex Hudson "Clarion" 2011, oil on linen.


















I.
In the film Signs of Life4 by Werner Herzog, life is dissolved and allowed to settle in strata. Three German soldiers and the local woman whom one of them marries attempt to divert themselves while on assignment guarding a fortress in occupied Crete. The building is not so much in ruins as in a cyclical act of ruin. The walls are worn with age but have been shorn up with parts of statues. The captured munitions the men guard are useless for their German equipment but are readily fashioned into fireworks. The men lose their training and readiness to the sun and boredom, but gain something else through translating the engraved stones that make up the fortifications and through their relationship with the local people, the animals, the landscape. The men are caretakers of this space, and like layers of sediment they settle into a relationship with it that is at once discrete and complimentary. In these paintings, in both the depth of image and language and the breadth of form and paint, space is in the act of cyclical ruin and of renewal. Lines are described that are not simply bathed in shadow or cut with light but are corporeally dissolved by these. Hudson’s depicted bays and glens and hollows are sites of absence themselves (this is geography defined by that which is not present), but in each form that exists as both spar and branch, there is a near catastrophic sucking of volume. These lines are failing, the paint is failing. A failing line meets a falling form. Paint and image prop one another up.

3 “A representation that alienates is one which allows us to recognize its subject, but at the same time makes it seem unfamiliar” 
Brecht, B., 1949. A Short Organum for The Theatre. In J. Willet, ed. 1964 Brecht on Theatre. New York: Hill and Wang, pp.192

4 Lebenszeichen, 1968. [Film] Directed by Werner Herzog. West Germany: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion.

II.
Fade up. Sounds of men talking while working, interior of train cabin. Camera frames both window to exterior and two seats either side. The cabin is finished in mixture of elegant but worn woodwork, darkly stained and inlaid in black. The cabin is tooled and engraved with a style and attention that suitably places the scene in the early part of the twentieth century, while the print on the upholstery and functionally tied curtains suggest northern Europe as the origin of this workmanship if not the current location. On the seats either side of the sash window and nearest to the opening which is held open a few inches with a small metal object sit two men, their bodies face one another but both have turned their heads to look out and away from the camera. What is outside the window is not entirely visible, being obscured by the edges of the window. What is visible is a regular pattern of functionally if not rough panelled wood which implies exterior use in the manner of either a temporary or permanent facade, hoarding or container.

The man on the right hand side of the frame wipes the back of his neck using his left hand, but does not move his head away from the window.

The wooden panelling visible through the cabin window moves to the right to reveal the inside of a goods carriage of what is now discernible as another train on tracks parallel to those of the passenger train that we are within. A dark skinned man in shirt sleeves is visible standing in the opening, he crouches at the edge facing toward us but looking to something below our field of vision and to the left, both arms outstretched as if to receive something. The man holds this position for a few moments, rocking and steadying himself every few seconds as if too fatigued to comfortably hold this position for long but with attention fixed on something unseen that compels him to stay as such. Stretching out even further the man in the goods carriage takes of hold of something we cannot initially see. He stands up turning back into the carriage revealing a bundle of metal rods under his arm. The dark skinned man walks toward the right and is no longer visible in the carriage.

The carriage door slides back from the right to the left. The entire panelled side of the goods carriage now moves to the right slowly but it is left unclear as to whether this train is moving, or the passenger train which we and the two men look from the window.5

III.
The ceiling is coming in, the image cropped in such utilitarian force as to compress the space of the painting around us as we are drawn in. We might strain our eyes to see into some corner but it is not light that is absent but form and space. Confronting a painting, I am put in a position at once compelled but excluded and it is the dark corners that performs this application that invites but denies. Within and without, within and without, this is the break of image with object, like water on the rocks.

IV.
MONOCHROME II: Oily light like the dawn blue or rural starlight, this is also something we recognise. The thickened sepia of the darker paintings is the palette of eyes straining to the point of a breaking down of comprehension, it is skylighted trees and the bumping flexing proto-forms in our peripheral vision that are the only alternative to the simple void that is directly in front.

Ralph Dorey
London
27th December 2010

5 I have long been interested in a language of movement, whether in space or time or some kind of transformation, which describes that movement/duration/flux while remaining free from explicit or implied direction and thereby traced/predicted trajectory. Alex Hudson’s paintings offer a fluid image as means of conveying a fluid space, a space that simultaneously expands and collapses, rots and rebuilds, moves toward us and away. The places in Hudson's work are equally ambiguous in their temporal position, hints of cultural markers appear just below the surface in some, but even with these pegged positions the temporal fabric seems to pull in all directions. Brian Dillon writes of the capacity of ruins to point forward and back in time in an essay for the Whitstable Biennalle Film Programme, which Dillon also curated earlier this year,
 

“The ruins of the twentieth century, or of the decade just ended, point assuredly to a world gone by, but more resonantly they suggest futures as yet unlived and at present grounded in the recent past, where they do not really belong. The modern ruin seems doubly out of time - it returns from the past to haunt our present and at the same time appears to have arrived from a future that is challenges us to bring into being” 
Dillon, B. 2010 Ur-Now: the Ruins of the Contemporary. Press release, (n.d.) 
Hudson’s places contain the function of the modern ruin, but this does not account for the relationship between landscape and architecture within them which is deconstructed through forms that oscillate between branch and bar. Just as ruinous depiction meets with the ruinous depicted, there is another equipoise of the natural and the manmade. We might more simply consider this the becoming of purpose, the becoming of certainty and control which meets its equivalent in the becoming of disorder, the becoming of the Romantic Nature.

No comments: