A cabinetmaker’s dumpster is often a good source for the thin wood planes that Cody Hudson likes to use in his street-art installations. He paints the boards cyan or hot orange, and leaves others with the wood exposed, rounds their edges and stacks them in the gritty alleyways of Chicago, Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio.
As both an artist and a graphic designer, Hudson plays with the public presentation of an underground style. Roughly hewn and jagged-edged paper cut-outs often jostle with public-domain clip art—made catchy like a dub bass line in Hudson’s hand—and careful dabs of spray-paint, laid out in an orchestrated disorder. Hudson’s stage is the public sphere. Under the moniker Struggle Inc. his illustrations grace snowboards and LP covers, and his sculptural installations are often built from materials found on the street. An upcoming exhibit at New Image Art Gallery in Los Angeles marks the occasion for the release of “Save My Life,” a book spanning the past two years of Hudson’s various artistic enterprises.
In the recent past Hudson’s DIY street-beautification team included Juan Angel Chavez and Michael Genovese, Chicago artists who continue to mine the street aesthetic. The allure and anonymity of street art seems like a youthful indiscretion—just ask Barry McGee or Banksy; sooner or later the itch to go commercial sounds less like selling out and more like reaching a larger audience. These days, Hudson realizes most of his installations in art galleries, although he still does use found wood and other detritus objects such as pots and pans fashioned into a spinning chandelier.
Hudson’s Logan Square studio is an airy white space with an area designated for painting on one end and his Mac on the other. He can flow seamlessly from painting to design, one informing the other, the painting an outlet for his independent visions and the design an opportunity to hear his creative voice resound publicly. In between his painting studio and his design table, pieces of inspiration are taped to the wall: a bootleg Nirvana poster, some examples of package design and a spray-painted upside-down cross (more on that in a minute). The tight composition recalls a similar installation in his 12×12 solo exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in November, 2007. There, Hudson transposed a corner of his studio into the gallery where a painting casually butted up with found-object sculptures, a chair and television set. The piece looked like a 3D sketch, and was an insight into Hudson’s great sense of playful and intuitive composition that is reiterated in many of his cut-paper collages.
Much of the work, the fine art and design alike, are based on abstractions. How can anyone dislike a circle, Hudson asks rhetorically. The strength of a shape such as a circle, continues Hudson, is its many associations and interpretations; its meaning is not limited to its form. Harnessing the boldness of simple shapes, and their attendant accessibility, may have helped propel Hudson to a point of popularity. It’s only recently that the shapes have started coming together into quasi-figurative faces and bodies that, in their quirky simplicity, stand up next to a Miro collage or a Dada-period Picabia line drawing.
The cross or crucifix also features prominently in Hudson’s pieces, although when questioned about it as a recurring motif, Hudson finds little relation between the symbol and any personal religious affiliation. Perhaps like the circle, a cross can be randomly grabbed from the universe of symbols, and its graphic identity can be unfixed and tweaked. Perhaps it has potential as a design element rather than a loaded refrain. In this light Hudson experimented with a series of drawings involving hot-air-balloon-like contraptions that often sport small crosses. The structures float in the middle of pages torn from old books, their edges browning with age. To divine the imagery Hudson imagined that it wasn’t he who drew them, but that they were relics from a manual from a bygone Christian cult. The contraptions, therefore, are machines for spiritual ascension.
The fictional removal of the artist from this series of experimental drawings reflects Hudson’s daily practice of a seemingly authorless graphic-design process. Often the design of, say, a book or a record cover posits a particular style and identity, but its maker sits in the background, almost anonymous to the viewer. The same is true with the street-art installations, as the unsigned works simply live in the city like an elegant but nameless passerby.
Cody Hudson’s book “Save My Life” is available locally at Quimby’s and Penelope’s, $20.