Laura Hudson has been getting out of the studio. The Baltimore-based painter organizes participatory events, documents them on video, then culls her compositions from the nuanced moments hidden in the hours of footage. For her latest project Laura organized a sleepover at the Arlington Arts Center in suburban Washington, DC. The event was meant to be a sentimental throwback to the days of slumber parties — the artist and 15 of her friends ate junk food, chatted, and played cards all night before nodding off into sleeping bags. It’s all part of her painting process now, bringing her together with friends as much as it pushes her into the isolation of the studio.
The resultant series of paintings, On Common Ground, are currently exhibiting in the same gallery space where the sleepover was organized. In this regard they’re meant to function like a site-specific installation, integrating the viewer into the composition and blurring the boundary between the audience and the painting. Another project, Art Opening (pictured below), takes what is perhaps a more direct path at this, as painted subjects and gallery goers comingle in the same functional space.
Matthew Smith: Tell me about your process. When did you start using video stills as a source for your paintings? How do your paintings come together?
Laura Hudson: The idea for using video came from trying to capture certain gestures — with video you have thousands of film stills to choose from. It then evolved when I realized that the process of recording the video could be just as much a part of my process as painting. Painting is a fluid process for me, and the gatherings or parties that I record on video are also fluid in that there is an unexpected, improvised aspect to them.
The first event I did was filming an art opening, but for my show at AAC I was excited about organizing something in the same space where the paintings would be installed. I also wanted to do something that was a bit more sentimental than the Art Opening paintings. The idea for On Common Ground came from parties we used to do in Whidbey Island in Washington called Camp-O-Rama, where a bunch of families would camp overnight in an empty field and spend the night hanging out. I wanted to host something similar to that in the gallery space, and then make all the paintings from the event. I thought of it as a love-in, you know? Close friends playing a bunch of games, eating a bunch of junk food, sitting around playing cards, chatting. It was around 15 people. I put out an open call through AAC for anyone who might want to attend but the only people that came were my friends [laughs].
MS: And what about the body language of the people in your work? There is something that I find very evocative about how people are holding themselves. What are you looking for when you choose the moments that you depict in your paintings?
LH: What I try to capture are just the little moments in the video. They tend to be quiet moments that I splice together on the canvas. It’s kind of like what happens at parties — there may be lots of “prime” moments when people are having fun but I’m more interested in finding the quiet moments in between.
It’s interesting because there’s something almost anthropological about it. All the people in my paintings are people that I know, and other friends of mine can recognize who it is that I’ve painted. So even though the faces and the figures are very distilled and maybe not exact representations, people’s personalities still come through with their body language and how they tend to hold themselves.
MS: Tell me about the compositions in your more recent work, On Common Ground. How do you make your color and compositional choices?
LH: I wanted there to be movement between panels, both in color and in the way I was painting. So I distilled the images down to just shapes and lines to make it a calmer scene, and then I wanted to create a kind of rolling movement with regard to the shapes and the figures. As I’ve been painting I’ve been thinking about music and trying to think about my compositions as a soft, winding song. So when I started painting the first panel of this series I started with soft colors and as I moved along to later panels I allowed myself to get more playful and really wanted to get bolder and more energetic with my marks. And then the compositions get more quiet again toward the end. Actually, I’ve been thinking about Giotto recently, and I’m really interested in the idea that colors can lead you through a painting.
One thing I end up thinking about a lot with your work is the blurring of the boundary between the painting and the viewer. Maybe it’s because of the scale of the compositions or the fact that the chairs that you have in the gallery are also part of the paintings. Is this something that you think about when you’re creating these works?
Well, partly the chairs are here to help the viewer through the paintings. I wanted to make it more of a quiet viewing experience. And the chairs are also part of the paintings, so then the viewer becomes part of what is actually happening in the composition. The scale of the paintings work in a similar way. I wanted to make the paintings just under life size so that when they are hung five inches above the ground the figures are at eye level with the viewer. Starting with the Art Opening paintings, I’ve been working with the idea of placing the viewer into the scenes that I’m painting.
Are you working on putting together another sleepover? What’s your next project?
The next project I’m going to do is work with a band. I’ve done these quiet paintings and I think I really want to do more crazy energetic paintings and try to capture this hard core music energy. People just get so crazy! I’m curious about how my mark making would change if I was thinking about the energy of music like that. I’m really interested in the energy from the music but I also think that there is so much anxiety with being an artist, it totally makes sense to make those paintings.
Laura Hudson grew up on Whidbey Island, located north of Seattle in the Puget Sound. She graduated in 2011 with an MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art at the Mt. Royal School of Art in Baltimore MD. Her work is installations of figurative paintings based on events that she orchestrates. She is currently an artist in residence at Gallery Four in Baltimore.