The artist’s studio is a place bestowed with myth, but it is also a place where real things are physically created. In it, the artist is often imagined the lone genius of his generation. Regardless of whether sanely or in madness, he is mythologised into giving birth to a vision that bridges his inner landscape with that of the world outside, suffering between total excess and stoic abstinence until a fountain of profound truth momentarily erupts and spills onto the market. The studio itself could be seen as a marketplace which people visit, where skills are traded and ideas negotiated. Yet the dichotomy of binaries between inside and outside, creation and production, lone genius and social superstar seem to dominate the art world debates today.
But to see art through this lens of a lonesome creator is not only inaccurate, it stifles the profession and its entire sector. The coder Aaron Swartz, one of the best spirits and talents of the Internet generation, spoke of this myth as a certain delusion upon which much of our current understanding of copyright is built; the idea that anything at all could be invented without the contact to something else, as if anything we knew existed in isolation. According to Swartz, it is as impossible to create something completely new as it is to create it alone. Imagine we would have to cite every idea and every conversation that has fed into the creation of a work, imagine then we would have to credit every human involved, and each creator of every word we use. If we invented something completely new, the project of communication and transmission would fail for we would have to invent our own words and language as well. Nobody would understand it.
Since 2012, Henry Hudson has been cultivating a different model. Looking back at how art was made throughout different epochs, we understand that old masters from the middle ages up until the 18th century used to work in studios of similar structures. Usually, a group of artisans, painters and learners worked in teams on the paintings of one artists whose craft was a meticulous skill to absorb and learn. When Caravaggio arrived in Rome in 1592 he worked for the esteemed Giuseppe Cesari, the favourite artist of Pope Clement the 6th. He left after a heated argument and, little later, established a group of followers for his style, the Caravaggisti. A craft involves a technique and we must be careful not to ignore that the movement of a brush counts as much as the movement within one’s head and all other materials at hand.
In Hudson’s studio, the materials are unlimited. His ambitious and often large-scale productions include the rediscovery of Baroque scagliola, plasticine, spray paint on resin reliefs, wax, oil painting, Woodbury Type and more generally a variety of printing processes. The digital and the physical are never mutually exclusive but feed back into each other and oscillate between dimensions and medium as does the world outside. As many as twelve weeks can go into a single work which would, realistically, make it impossible for one human to execute more than four works over a yearlong period, let alone practise with such an eclectic variety of materials. There are between eight and ten people working on Hudson’s Hackney studio which bring a different set of skills, experiences and predispositions to it. Usually, nobody has worked with plasticine or scagliola before and most certainly not in such a meticulous, elaborate and established way. It is Hudson who directs the process, extending a hand that teaches the intricate and specialist techniques he has developed to work the materials that challenge his curiosity. Without the time-consuming training no work could exit the studio for the techniques are essential. William Barrett states the importance of techniques in the relation between culture and technology. He writes “if our civilisation were to lose its techniques, all our machines and apparatus were to become a vast pile of junk”. Besides pointing out the relation between technology and technique this also indicates the cultural significance of techniques as something that is both the physical skill and the associated way of thinking. No matter what the craft, art survives by means of its techniques. Culture, on the other hand, lives by legacy. Hands and heads are taught how to move, mouths and pens follow their movement to tell a story.
Hudson is too proud of the studio he has built to pretend that he touches each work with his own hand. Why pretend anyway, but especially in this context. And yet his studio is not a factory of Jeff Koon’s kind, and the studio is characterised by liberation over fear, trust, and honest economics. Having had his studio in his house for a long time, Hudson has lived with his art as closely as with those who help make it. Even through only touching the mind of those who fiddle with the canvas, the choreography of their moves changes with every single stroke, roll, glue or tap. Sometimes, they might bring a new perspective to the work. It might become part of Henry’s oeuvre just as his training becomes part of their artistic physicality. Maybe the idea doesn’t make it on the canvas, hovering in liminal space for a while, until eventually feeding into a different work, a different material, a different idea, a different person, a different generation. This is what Kenneth Goldsmith calls intertextuality, a certain cross-pollination that stretches across epochs and disciplines, enriching creativity to mean more than what we already know while ensuring the proliferation of meaning, tradition and newness at the same time. If we consider intertextuality an integral part of artistic discipline, the philosophy with which Hudson runs his studio is both a creative agent within it and a modern guardian of it.