Knappin
Henry HudsonFri 07 Aug 2009 - Mon 31 Aug 2009
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Fascinated with the grime of London, not just the literal detritus floating around the underground and stuck to the pavements, but the smudged and tarnished reverberations of modern-day society, this new body of work turns naturally to the best-loved of Britain"s satirical artists, William Hogarth. Subtly provocative and humorous, Hudson has produced twelve painted panels that weave in and out of Hogarth"s narrative, avoiding literal depictions of scenes that are familiar in their composition, and choosing instead to extract details and characters from these rowdy and familiar tableaux.
Fascinated with the grime of London, not just the literal detritus floating around the underground and stuck to the pavements, but the smudged and tarnished reverberations of modern-day society, this new body of work turns naturally to the best-loved of Britain"s satirical artists, William Hogarth. Subtly provocative and humorous, Hudson has produced twelve painted panels that weave in and out of Hogarth"s narrative, avoiding literal depictions of scenes that are familiar in their composition, and choosing instead to extract details and characters from these rowdy and familiar tableaux.

Each panel is directly attributed to either the "Rake"s" or "Harlot"s Progress", two series of prints by Hogarth from the 1730s. The first follows the hapless story of an affluent young man Tom, who comes to London and is corrupted, lead astray to a life of gambling and prostitution, and ultimately ends up a lunatic. The "Harlot" is a young woman called Moll, who after arriving in London follows a morally downward cycle from high class hooker to low class brothel, and an eventual early penniless grave from a venereal disease.

Hudson focuses on details; from individual characters to corners of rooms, each identifiable directly from the original plate, and after which each is named. He paints using plasticine, melting it and working it in his hand to mix the colours and apply with fingers or palette knives as a thick impasto on the board. The process is craft-like, the notable surface texture recalling the swirling energy of Van Gogh, whilst in some areas the board is left bare and the pencil outlines left exposed, and stained with tea or red wine.

There are also subtle nods to the modern day, the replacement of motifs. An oily 18th century lamp is replaced with an eco-friendly lightbulb. A little spaniel plays on an upturned chair whilst his master pores over Readers" Wives. And the parson, who has come from the funeral wake of Moll the harlot, looks dazed and confused at having landed in the 21st century with the swizzle stick falling out of his cocktail.

Today we are equally fascinated and repelled by the society around us, and being no stranger to the follies of London society he is intrigued by these comparisons and parallels with the 18th century. We notice in Hogarth"s plates the names of London streets familiar to us still, "Drury Lane", "St James"s Street" even the mental asylum "Bedlam". In today"s binge drinking society, the environs of the notorious Gin Lane are not as far away from us as it sounds.

Curious to see how the man himself lived, Hudson visited Hogarth House in Chiswick. There he decided to draw the last bastion of an English gent"s manor and abode, the downstairs loo. In reality a clinical disabled loo with arm rests and emergency button, it was decided Hudson would reverse the anachronisms – the scene is delicately sketched in white chalk on an antique blackboard. Similarly, beautifully drawn on a whiteboard, is the exterior of Hogarth"s House, like a defiant traveller in time and art, after doing his art historical homework, he encapsulated it on thoroughly modern office equipment. There are also small and delicate drawings of faces and characters in Country Life and today"s baying British society pages, sketched and outlined in red and blue pencil on white paper.

In fact the works here are far more subtle in their overall appearance than we might expect; they are derivations, inspirations, and nods to, the plates of Hogarth, but transposed as details and excerpts they are ephemeral, lifted from their raucous past. Gone are the crowded scenes, we are brought simple compositions, bringing to mind more the heavy outlines and caricatures of Paula Rego, who was similarly inspired by Hogarth. Hudson here delves into Hogarth"s legacy, while his swirling caricatures of plasticine make it entirely his own. As David Hockney wrote on Hogarth: "It always seemed to me that he had a very human eye. He understood mankind"s follies and had a soft spot for them, but his work also shows a certain delight in condemning low life". These new works by Hudson reveal a surprisingly discerning and sophisticated eye, that has travelled to the lowest dreg of London soil and society and emerged with a freshness and a nod and a wink to it all.