An Interview with Judith Hodgkinson. 2010
What are the most interesting questions about your work?
It depends who the person is entirely. The best are when a person comes straight out with it from where they happen to be. In fact people often don’t ask questions but a question is sometimes about abstraction and how it comes about. In my work I take away from a reality or an idea to the drawing of it in two dimensions then on, taking more and more away - no volume, no light and shade – instead, a map-like quality and the chase is towards more from less. That’s what I’m after, and occasionally I bring down a big beast and I know it, if I get it right, that’s fantastic – but there’s no trick. It’s just to keep going, and with time, there’s a trust, a sort of fearlessness in the process. The persistence and the need for keeping your nerve becomes a friend. After a couple of decades I know there isn’t anyone will come and show me what to do so I accept that.
What is the source, does that change?
Well it’s in feeling and experience. Often a visual memory in a strong emotion; I retain images and inhabit them. Each new painting is a surprise. I’m transposing different elements from different spaces into one space and it’s an illusion which gets added to and stripped out until it has its day and the elements become inseparable. Most often in my paintings now you can find landscape enclosing myth. I’m crashing Greek mythology and local landscape, and sometimes places further away either that I haven’t visited yet but I’m imagining or those I’ve been to and been surprised. And of course I carry lines of the body into landscape. I get up in the mornings often very early before the sun like a sunrise inspector. So many things make me happy – I get a kind of surplus. But I generally make a comedy of myself, that’s my default state of consciousness.
...is it better now to live unknown
like the wise man in that chinese poem
gathering herbs, lost cloudbound
somewhere on the mount
or, like the Big Yin, tell it like it is
the whole world rolling in the aisles?
Has it always been like that?
Well, as a boy, there was a lot I didn’t understand, just didn’t latch on. Like to the fact that people had named the seasons and knew which we were in at any one time, or the year we were living in, all a mystery. So I guess I kept a bit quiet. Like a two day old horse, I hadn’t much of a notion of myself, and that continued and to some extent still does.
…sitting in a field, drawing a horse
horse comes over, sniffing
steamy nose, early morning
sniffs the drawing I’d made
right out of my pocket
eats it all up…
Do you ever wish you hadn’t sold a painting?
I paint full time and I’m not casual about it so there’s a relationship with a body of work every year. But I’ve never missed a painting when it’s gone. It’s very nice if someone likes it. It would be interesting though to see it all together, not to have sold anything and be unknown.
What is emerging in this new collection?
Hard to say at this stage with so little distance. I’m wary of the futility of trying to talk the river round its own bend. I’m using more blanks and I’ve opened up my space and used gold leaf for the first time, like skid marks mind, or like a miner finding mineral veins inside a painting. There’s often two figures like doorposts in my paintings - the annunciation encounter with Gabriel out west and Mary in the east but this year it’s like they’ve been away on holiday when they’re sometimes absent altogether, or Gabriel has departed, or they’re changing places. In the two paintings Round One and Round Two the sky and sea are in the middle and the story goes around . There aren’t any paintings I’ve done before like this.. but I forget.
Is it like you’re lying on your back looking up into the sky?
...kind of, yes, and there’s possibly something else, inverting lets me out, instead of beetling predictably round my usual territory... and the two paintings are similar in iconography, colour and compositional weight...north is at the top and east is to the right. Both start with the chapel in St. Ives at the top going round to St. Just. In Round One there’s a midwinter sunrise and the horns of the beast above the eastern star. The sea is Mounts Bay. And going down to Vellanoweth on a frosty morning you can see the curve, the wiggly road below, mostly you don’t stop and see that but it’s there and so it’s in the painting and Perranporth Airfield is there. The upturned V is the Mount – that’s in a lot of my paintings but it’s not always the Mount - and in Round Two it’s being taken away like a pyramid on a ship.
I see there are three limited edition prints in this year’s show, what are they all about?
Longsand was a painting made in 1988 – very early days, I was working on sugar paper with my son before he’d even started school. It came from the name on the side of a big flat working dredger we’d watched that came in to Newlyn from Falmouth. There were eleven colours so I put five in by hand, so each print is a unique.
But The Wedding Present has origins that go back even further to when I was still cutting just about everything up, just after I’d left the building trade. I made a casting by pouring plaster into a toaster and then sliced that up; later I made a print from a photo of it and cut that up too and now this new stage – a sixty edition screen print in pop colours to liven-up the image.
The Wedding Present
The third is a new work, a first edition print ‘The Story of A’. This came about just a few weeks ago. I shall certainly be keeping one of these. When I was 16 I briefly started cutting out images with captions that began with ‘A...’ from Arthur Mee’s 1927 The World’s First Pictorial Encyclopedia.
The Indefinite Article
That was it until a few years ago I got the whole set of his encyclopedias; now suddenly ‘A’ has become a character doing interesting things. It’s about cutting, removing bits of words but sticking with the original simplicity and form; applying the rule to the n’th degree even subverts the notion of a consistent identity; ‘A’ is born in more than one place for example. It’s been a great pleasure, and a lot of cutting, mind.
JH August 2010
The Story of A