An archetypal Bay-Area artist, Robert Hudson has been a primary force in the West Coast assemblage movement, and is well known for his polychrome steel sculpture. Born in Salt Lake City in 1938 and raised in Richland, Washington alongside artists William Allan and William Wiley, Hudson moved to San Francisco in the late 1950s where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute.
Working in a wildly diverse array of mediums, Hudson has produced a large body of paintings, drawings, ceramic pieces and his famous steel sculptures in a career that continues to evolve over five decades of creativity. According to David S. Rubin of the San Francisco Art Institute, “Hudson demonstrates an adventurous spirit as he continues to challenge barriers that have traditionally existed between mediums.” His willingness to experiment with and explore new materials and techniques has allowed him to forge an authentically original style that draws on a range of influences, without subsuming his identity to any of them.
No matter the medium, the works of Robert Hudson are characterized by a riotously visual approach, as the artist carefully juxtaposes fabricated and found objects into pieces that burst with his signature wit. The careful geometry of his forms is often painted over in trompe-l’oeil designs and decorative patterns, as he skillfully manipulates the viewer’s perceptual experiences. Suzanne Foley described this phenomenon in her 1973 catalogue essay for Robert Hudson/Richard Shaw: Work in Porcelain, writing that “the illusionistic surface decoration creates a lively tension between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional sculptural form, giving this work its greatest distinction and excitement.”
Hudson’s formally and spatially complex sculptures highlight his position as the progenitor of the current tendency towards sampled, hybrid art pulled together from disparate sources. A playful approach to his complex and multi-layered works allows his output to maintain a certain levity even as the pieces prompt viewers to question their experiences of art. Although his sculptures are often densely composed and seem to have been thrown together haphazardly, Peter Frank of Art Ltd. notes that “there is so much method to Hudson’s madness that we come to understand that the method is the madness, a compulsion toward artifying mundane objects while leaving them anchored in the everyday.”
Robert Hudson has exhibited since 1961, and his work is included in the National Gallery of Art, the de Young Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Stedelijk Museum.
He has taught art at several schools in California, including the San Francisco Art Institute, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Davis, and the California College of Arts and Crafts.
Courtesy Kelly E. Boyd and Frank Lloyd