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May 28, 2000
Art Review

Getting Funk-y
Bay Area sculptor Robert Hudson has first Sacramento showing

By Victoria Dalkey, Bee Art Correspondent, The Sacramento Bee

"Log Bowl" features a rustic, gavel-like log sitting atop a bowl encrusted with broken
shards of kitschy souvenir plates and imitation Delft ware.

"I try to put into whatever I'm doing as much as I know," says Robert Hudson, the eminent Bay Area sculptor who is having his first show in Sacramento at the b. sakata garo. Since Hudson has been making art for over 40 years, what he knows is vast, and he draws on his own past works and the works of contemporaries and friends such as William Wiley, Ken Price and Peter Voulkos in his recent porcelains, metal sculptures and mixed-media works on paper.

One of the stalwarts of the Funk movement, the 61-year-old Hudson grew up in Richland, Wash., with boyhood friends William Wiley and William Allen. All three were introduced to art by an influential high school teacher, Jim McGrath, who, Hudson reports, in his 70s is still teaching. McGrath took the budding artists, all of whom would become prominent in Northern California art in the 1960s, on nature hikes in the desert country around Richland and introduced them to the rituals and culture of the area's American Indian tribes.

Though critic Thomas Albright once compared Hudson's polychrome sculptures of the '60s to "an explosion in a comic book factory," his work, Hudson says, has always been rooted in nature. Hudson's recent porcelains draw on functional sources, taking the form of bowls, bottles and teapots which are transformed simultaneously into works of great formal resolve and fanciful whimsy. Their basic mode is a kind of funk constructivism in which molds of mostly natural objects -- sticks, firewood, a deer's hoof -- are combined with geometric forms, such as circles, cylinders and rough rectangles, into lively abstract constructions. They juxtapose the warmth of natural surfaces with the cool, analytical form of pure abstractionists like Mondrian.

The porcelains range from purely funky pieces to more formal statements. At one end is "Log Bowl," with its rustic, gavel-like log sitting atop a bowl encrusted with broken shards of kitschy souvenir plates and imitation Delft ware. At the other end is a teapot with a stick for a spout, a body made of blocks of firewood that are glazed with a saturated blue and a natural wood tone, and a delicately speckled circular handle. It has a wonderful simplicity and rich color.

"Squash Bowl," with its painterly glazes and yellow squash, just beginning to blush with the mold of decay, speaks, as do Wallace Stevens' "warty squashes, streaked and rayed," of mortality. Another teapot, formed from sticks and chunks of wood, topped by a black-and-white form made of the protruding parts of a citrus juicer, carries on an amusing dialogue between the natural and manmade.

Robert Hudson

Works are on display at b. sakata garo, 923 20th St. Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays- Saturdays through June 7. (916) 447-4276.

Even the simplest pieces are breathtaking. "Hoof Bowl," which takes the form of an elegant, sumptuously glazed vessel with a delicate deer's hoof perched on its lip, is rich and evocative. "Blue Bowl," a simple funnel-shaped bowl atop an organic base, is glazed with an exquisite blue that makes you think of Dutch and Chinese porcelains.

Hudson's metal sculptures of brushed steel and found objects salvaged from scrap yards are complex constructions that have an air of antic absurdity. "Face Mask" gives us a surreal face with an actual hook nose affixed to a steel square from which dangles a wild conglomeration of junk, including pool balls, plastic rings and a metal bow tie. "Metal Mirror" takes the form of a huge menacing head sprouting from a pile of scrap wood. "Panoramic Vision" explodes into three dimensions like one of the pictures in a Maggie and Jiggs comic strip, in a jazzy, swinging assemblage of spirals, folded grids and a wine glass etched with the word "vision."

Hudson regards his works on paper partly as working drawings and partly as independent paintings. They move from a pure abstraction of spiraling, circular forms to an image inscribed with words and collaged with a reproduction of a portrait of a man in a chair by Thomas Eakins. In them, cut-out images of daffodils, skulls and leaf-like decorative motifs are played against painterly surfaces in bright, saturated colors. While their references are somewhat inbred and enigmatic, they are visually energetic works that convey the exuberance and joy of their making.