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Paintings that stand out

Robert Hudson doesn't restrict himself to two dimensions

"Figure Painting", lampoons the classical approach to painting and questions notions of "high art".

By Victoria Dalkey
Bee Art Correspondent
(Published May 23, 2004)

Someone once described Robert Hudson's sculptures as looking "like an explosion in a comic-book factory." That was back in the 1960s when Hudson emerged as a contender in the Northern California sculpture arena. Over the years he has held his place as one of the top sculptors from this region, gaining national and international acclaim for his humorous painted sculptures that do indeed seem to explode into space.

Hudson began his career as a painter in the abstract expressionist mode popular in the Bay Area during the 1950s and '60s. But, like his boyhood friend William T. Wiley, he branched out into sculpture as the Funk movement gained ascendance in the early '60s. His current show at b. sakata garo reveals that he is still a painter at heart, and one might describe his recent works, as well as his past efforts, as paintings in space.

These wry takes on painting, with deadpan titles such as "Easel Painting" and "Figure Painting," question the efficacy and endurance of traditional two-dimensional media by extending the picture plane out into space. Hudson's quixotically wandering extrusions are made up of both found and fabricated objects.

"Easel Painting" begins with a hyperactive abstract painting resting on a large metal easel. The tire of a child's toy vehicle perches atop the easel and the rusty top of a metal container and a sieve extend out from its top. Slammed into the center of the painting is a large dictionary opened to pages with words - mobius strip, mock and model, for example - that refer to elements of the painting and provide an ironic counterpoint to the (some would say) outmoded notion of an "easel" painting.

Attached to the back of the easel is a rusty metal folding chair and a picture of an earlier Hudson work based on the chair - a self-referential in-joke that characterizes much Funk art.

"Figure Painting" also lampoons classical approaches to painting. Again Hudson begins with an abstract painting in bright primary colors. Fragments of broken and reassembled crockery, shards of glass, plastic and metal chains frame the canvas, extending its edges beyond traditional boundaries. In the center, an ad hoc figure made of wood and various castoffs dangles in front of the canvas, a downtrodden albeit comical evocation of the human, asserting itself into real space. It's a marvelous piece of whimsy that deflates our notions of high art.

Whimsical, too, but more enigmatic is "Beside Myself With Rabbit Roots," a convoluted assemblage that again grows out of a painting. The central image, both painted and sculptural, is what seems to be a mold for a large chocolate Easter Bunny contemplating a small cup atop a chunk of painted wood. Broken plates of cheap blue and white willow ware frame the piece and dangle from chains suspended along a wooden wand at the bottom of the canvas. Hudson builds wandering sculptural forms out from the central canvas in a variety of directions using broken bottles, painted metal grids, even a root ball from a dead plant to orchestrate an elaborate balancing act that makes the work seem almost kinetic.

While Hudson's works poke fun at traditional forms, it is his command of traditional formal values that makes his work successful. "Broken Yellow," a painting with additions in the form of old toy train cars, children's cups and saucers, and a hat painted red, yellow and blue, is a dynamic assemblage that exemplifies Hudson's mastery of color and design. So does "California Light," an abstract work on paper with art deco lines and luxurious color and texture.

Though the centerpiece of the exhibition, a free-standing sculpture mysteriously titled "Shoot," departs from the exploded painting motif, it too can be seen as a painting in space. This baroque assemblage, with a blockhead figure at its center, reminds one of some of Joan Miro's surreal sculptures. Exploding out from the red-nosed figure backed by a pitchfork are marvelous wandering appendages which terminate in brightly painted forms, such as a violin, a child's accordion, a wrench, and a saw. It's an eye-popping, idiosyncratic figure that compels us with its vigorous visual energy.

Hudson's works bear affinities with the early assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg. But where Rauschenberg's work is often gritty, brooding and infused with a sense of decay, Hudson is almost unrelenting bright, cheerful and optimistic. He would seem to be an ardent follower of what critic Peter Plagens called "the sunshine muse" in a book of the same title that casts West Coast artists in a less-serious light than their East Coast counterparts. Nevertheless, Hudson continues to delight us with works that dazzle with antic eccentricity.

Robert Hudson Sculpture

WHERE: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.
WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, through May 29
INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276

May 27, 2004
Art Review

Technical ecstasy
By Jackson Griffith, Sacramento News & Reivew

Robert Hudson, "Figure Painting," mixed media, 2004
Some art can overwhelm you via a dazzling display of aesthetic triumph, or the kind of inner hoodoo that gets your internal molecules moving. Other art can knock you out via sheer technical achievement; you simply cannot believe how the artist put a piece together. Some large, three-dimensional works by Sonoma County artist Robert Hudson, currently on display at b. sakata garo at 923 20th Street, have the aesthetic and the technical nailed, and they may have a corner on the hoodoo, too. Hudson works mostly in primary colors--vivid reds, blues and yellows--and even his wall installations explode from their moorings with an array of found objects: china plates, tools, small tires and wooden switches. His free-standing works are something to behold, too. The pieces are meticulously composed, but they’re intensely vibrant and whimsical. This exhibit will be up until Saturday, May 29. Advice? See it before it’s gone.