“Our hearing of colours is so precise … Colour is a means of exerting a direct influence upon the soul. Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings. The artist is the hand that purposely sets the soul vibrating by means of this or that key. Thus it is clear that the harmony of colours can only be based upon the principle of purposefully touching the human soul.” Wassily Kandinsky
Jane Hudson is a pioneer. Not just any pioneer, but one who, for over 40 years, has assumed the mantel of courageous trailblazer. Jumping into digital media, a male dominated field, when it was in its gestational state, she contributed to video and performance being recognized as an art on par with painting, drawing, and sculpture. Hudson’s accomplishments are well documented. Grants ranging from the National Endowment for the Arts to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to the George Gund Foundation to the Mass Cultural Council all acknowledged her brilliance as a video and performance artist.
There is not enough space to site the many prestigious national and international gallery exhibitions and experimental shows—both solo and collaborations. A classically trained musician, she was the vocalist and bass player in Jeff and Jane, an electro-pop/punk band that at one point opened for the Clash. As an esteemed faculty member at the the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (SMFA at Tufts) she founded the video and digital medium department at SMFA with her husband, Jeff Hudson. Further, she taught contemporary art practice, cultural theory, and philosophy. To the Berkshires’ benefit, in 2006 she relocated to this rural corner of Massachusetts. I mention this background because in the last few years Hudson has dived into painting with the same ferocity she brought to music, the digital arts, and scholarship.
Now on view at Spring Street Market and Café in Williamstown, Mass. are Hudson’s latest paintings. Not one for passive contentment, the selection of 21 works was handpicked from gouaches and acrylic paintings completed in the last five months. Sixteen paintings are installed in the main café area, and five smaller works hang in the entrance. These pieces, rooted in a geometric constructivist approach, are spiritually mesmerizing in the same manner that a mandala might hypnotically lock you in place. Hudson uses color as though it was shot out of a cannon and hit the target. Rich earth tones and blacks collide with electric primary reds and yellows while different shades of ribbon and confetti type marks unite the surfaces.
Left/Right holds up one end of the room. Painted in acrylic on canvas, at 24″ × 30″, it appears much larger than it’s actual size. A flat gray background flecked with drops of alizarin, yellow and turquoise host two slightly rounded vertical parallelograms. The left one, a warm cadmium deep yellow that brightens up as it moves towards the center, and the other, on the right side, a burnt umber that transforms to a bright red in the center tightly contain ribbon like springs that seem as though they are going to burst from the surface like a jack in the box. Fusing the composition are three-dimensional rectangles and triangles and long thin flat lines floating from side to side. In addition to the animated quality of this painting, it also brings to mind Pablo Picasso’s Girl Before A Mirror, where one side of the canvas depicts a girl gazing into a mirror and the alternate side reveals the image she sees. These two paintings share a magnetizing comparative tension between the left side and the right side, keeping the content of the works suspended in between.
Enough Said, an acrylic on canvas work at the other end of the room is a fierce challenge. A rainbow target is stabbed multiple times while it sits on a surface of lavender with pink and blue spring-like colors. M-shaped forms menacingly hover over a wheel like a red circle with a bright green hub, and a flat blue space is marked by a planet like-sphere. Hudson has deliberately wrecked havoc with traditional color theory in this painting, proving opposites do attract.
These are just two paintings among many, but each work possesses its own character and content while clearly being part of a larger vision. Further, it is almost impossible not to recognize that Hudson is a musician, grew up in a musical family and consciously or unconsciously creates abstract works that evoke the same universality that music, as organized sound, has always owned. In many of the paintings, swirling, repeated, ribbon type lines and staccato replicated marks in different colors take on the same role that arpeggios might in jazz, classical and experimental compositions. These works are not dependent on a parochial cultural base, language, or ironic message; instead they have a democratic view for all to appreciate.
Jane Hudson, Recent Paintings is on view until June 15. Opening reception is Saturday, March 16, from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Anyone familiar with Hudson’s work from Boston to New York and everywhere in between must make the trip to the Berkshires in the spring. You won’t regret it.