Art Beat: Disturbing images you should see

At first, I planned to do just a little blurb on Steven Hudson's exhibition of paintings last week at the Indi Go Artist Co-Op.

But after thinking about them, I decided they needed a bit more attention and commentary, maybe from the entire human race.

A master of oil paint, Hudson paints disturbing scenes of a post-apocalyptic America, populated by fleshy nude bodies, some mutated.

In one, a figure uses a stick to poke at a pile of plastic on the ashen ground. In another, humans writhe in the gray dirt. In one of his more humorous works, a naked man doggedly operates a red lawn mower on a pale ground devoid of grass or any green.

A dozen or so of the paintings were on view last week at Indi Go in downtown Champaign. I was blown away as soon as I walked in — even though I'd seen Hudson's work before.

I had never seen them shown to such great effect. Beautifully lit, they popped off the white brick walls, accosting you.

I left feeling overwhelmed by the subject matter and Hudson's talent and technique — a nurse after seeing on Facebook photos of Hudson's paintings that I'd posted commented she could find in them a vein for an IV.

Initially, though, I found myself thinking, "Perhaps Steve should pursue different images. Maybe these are obvious.

"And the apocalypse in one form or another has become a somewhat tired (yet strangely engaging subject, at least to me) in art, film, television and literature."

Later, though, I thought, no, we need Hudson to continue doing what he's doing.

Here's what Hudson, the 2013 ACE Artist award winner, said in his artist's statement at Indi Go (the show closed Tuesday):

"Things are comfortably amiss. Evangelists fornicate, politicians equivocate, academics deconstruct and aliens abduct. Our sense of crisis has been dulled by redundancy, by the receding anxiety that reassures us that the apocalypse is either a foregone conclusion or shrill tabloid paranoia.

"My work documents this condition by portraying the demise of technological society as a kind of mundane fantasy. Pulpy and flawed, my figures are thrust into a depleted landscape where they try to recuperate some degree of dignity and direction.

"The objects they find there are emphatically concrete, to the point where utility is emptied out and replaced by something brutish, infused with mystery and yet somehow insistently banal.

"This is the bleak center of the drama of rediscovery that my figures enact, where every act of excavation is urged forward by a faint promise of redemption."

In a 2009 Studio Visit with Hudson, he told me he wants his work to be accessible yet challenging and provocative. He wants to invite speculation, or at least "some kind of reconsideration of things as they are."

"That's a tradition in art," he said. "There's a challenge in that because sometimes my work is less comfortable for some domestic environments. No doubt I have a niche audience, but that's OK."

To see the Studio Visit on Hudson, visit http://bit.ly/1l9kVfi.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or mmerli@news-gazette.com. Her blog is at news-gazette.com/blogs/art-and-about.

Topics (1):Art

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