Evan Hudson’s apartment is really cold. It’s late January and the combination of an historic snowstorm followed by an extreme drop in temperature has everyone in the city shivering. Especially if, like Evan, your heat is broken. On the bright side, he explains, it keeps the outermost parts of his semi-sculptural "paintings" from flopping onto the floor. How optimistic!
The works, which fill all available wall space and lean casually in shallow stacks, are made by layering pieces of plasticine. This is a material which comes with its own unique set of affordances and drawbacks (like melting) when used as a medium for fine art as opposed to child’s play. Although, after my visit, I’m feeling like the line between those two categories could use some blurring.
Evan’s preferred subjects include large-scale environments, scenes and scenarios, characters and household objects. The compositions are clear and legible but are often planted with many thoughtful (and hilarious) details; I laugh at a sign held-up by a fan at a monster truck rally that just says “TRUCK!”. The citizens of the artist’s absurd universe are mostly anonymous figures or archetypes from contemporary life, human history, and childrens’ tales: pirates, hulk-like WWE fighters, circus clowns, kings, cowboys, and robbers, all at home in their respective settings or sets, wielding their swords, pistols, or swollen bags of loose, green cash.
While charmingly childlike by nature, the use of plasticine is kept from looking forced in its naivety by Evan’s thoughtful composition and his commitment to uniformity and detail. There's evidence of great carefulness and dexterity in the way he, like a toymaker, constructs and arranges each individual component. Traces of his hand are present everywhere and if you look closely you can see the subtle streaks of his thumbprints in the background layers. “So I don’t need to sign them”, he jokes.
The works are much thicker, much more three-dimensional in person than they appear in photos. I want to reach out and peel off pieces, mush it between my fingers, chew on it. Their affect is intensely tactile.
Other large drawings of his, made with oil stick on paper, have a similar textural quality. Thickly applied smears of colour articulate the cartoonish shapes of characters wrapped up in tangles of their own Gumby-like limbs.
His colours, too, are cheerful, lively, and straightforward. There’s regular use of cherry red, pineapple yellow, emerald green, and denim blue (he wears a cardigan and mismatched socks in these tones during my visit). A hot gumball pink, lots of good ol’ sky blue, and a very Barney purple, all bright like candy and sure of themselves. Evan tells me he can spend hours mixing them, making them homogenous. Another drawback of the material, I suppose, but well worth it for the effect. These hues are applied, more often than not, in blocks, as opposed to blended or streaked, which contributes to the Playmobil-esque aesthetic of the finished pieces.
It’s probably clear by now that humour plays a central role in what Evan does. We sit down with a couple of ice cold glasses of water and discuss his use of comedy and its importance for the connective potential of his work. When I explain my feeling that the tone of art writing can often feel needlessly cryptic and aloof, he can relate. “I feel the same way about some artists taking themselves far too seriously in their work”, he says, “Everything can be relatable if you allow the person to understand you. If you can’t communicate, that is a failure on your end.” When I look at his work, I see that principle in action. I feel in on the joke and it makes me appreciate that I could get such a vivid impression of his worldview. This is not to say that as readers and viewers we should only seek out ideas that are immediately accessible and don’t stretch or challenge our points of view. But, the way I see it, art and culture are about the transfer of ideas, and that’s something that just doesn’t work if you have no intention to communicate with your audience.
Evan’s observant, yet youthful comic vision, however, has more to offer than mere relatability. It also helps one reframe one’s own position as a character in the world. By depicting familiar scenes in a way that emphasizes their ridiculousness, his work reminds us that humanity is, and has pretty much always been, bizarre and full of spectacle. Our own lives are no exception. In this way, we are temporarily relieved of our own self-importance and can perhaps view life as something worth celebrating and laughing at, despite the fundamental uncertainty of our existence. In troubling times, his work reminds us that being defiantly playful, absurd, or obnoxious is a complex and valuable philosophical stance.
One piece of Evan’s that really struck me as embodying this lightheartedness is a plasticine depiction of two young men dancing naked around a bonfire in the woods. It is jubilant and free and feels like the best parts of life. The flames, which consume a lawnchair and some cardboard, give the scene a sense of gleeful disobedience, of joyful recklessness. “This is how I like to view the world.”, he says. “I think for a long time I was stuck on what’s so fucked up about everything and it’s a pretty privileged place to be where you can think of how beautiful life is and how weird humans are… I’m just trying to draw from that.”
If you’re interested in seeing more of Evan’s work, click here:
If you happen to be in Seattle, go see it in the flesh!