A Review of Henry Hudson at Hannah Barry Gallery, London
On a windswept February morning, I walk through Peckham and step into Hannah Barry Gallery to discover another winter scene, which sends a chill down my spine - albeit for different reasons. London-based artist Henry Hudson’s exhibition, Nothing Sticks to Nothing is his first at Hannah Barry Gallery and with the expansive new space came the opportunity to transform both his work and the gallery itself.
Gone are the days of Hudson’s ultra-bright psychotropic jungle scenes; instead we are indulged with pastel-coloured ski slopes and a custom Scagliola floor to match. The exhibition is performative, energising and entirely aesthetic yet, despite all of the niceties, there is an underlying sense of foreboding.
The duality further elevates Hudson’s unique Play-Doh plasticine medium, to transform what is familiar, innocuous into something shaded with complexity and pregnant with mystery. The addition of encaustic wax, which Hudson has slathered and dripped onto the surface of the works adds a level of opacity that makes us feel as if we are looking at the scenes through a frosty windowpane, evoking a sense unease and subsequent longing for more as we struggle to understand what lurks behind.
Before reading the comprehensive text introducing the show, I’m enveloped in the luminous pink glow of the gallery, falling into a new world that is vaguely reminiscent of a Candyland version of the Upside Down in Stranger Things. I have entered a parallel universe, made more evident by the fact that three of the paintings are titled with exact coordinates in St. Moritz, a place that holds unrivalled appeal in February.
As the anthropomorphic tree designs dance across the ground at our feet, we become lost in Hudson’s wintry forest: alone, introspective and perhaps, in danger. Furthering the mise-en-scène, artist collective madFABER created their largest custom Scagliola floor as the foundation of the show. Using a complex technique that dates to the 7th century BC, over 135 floor tiles were emboldened with Henry’s designs to flood the floor of the exhibition. This beautiful collaboration between artists feels indicative of Barry’s program.
As I continue to wander the space, six paintings loom at eye level, three of them larger scale. Two of these are composed of two aluminium boards stuck together, creating a diptych effect, though they are inseparable.
The title, Nothing Sticks to Nothing is a thought-provoking reference to particularly poignant verse in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). “I can connect/Nothing with nothing/ The broken fingernails of dirty hands,” reads one of the most important poems of 20th century literature.
The third section in which we find the passage, called the ‘The Fire Sermon’ is rife with haunting imagery. The allusion casts a dark shadow over the exhibition, contributing to the notion that something is awry. If we take the phrase literally, the plasticine could be seen as nothing, a nonentity waiting to be moulded that only becomes ‘something’ when you shape it and stick it to other nothingness.
In another light, you might consider there isn’t any ‘sticking’ in the show. The plasticine its moisture and there is an inherent movement in the malleable medium, which appears almost alive as it writhes. As the piece feels progressively performative the fluidity ties in with the sense of altered time and space brought about by the immersive nature of the exhibition. It brings some existential questions to the fore.
The theme of transience, particularly as it relates to life is viscerally apparent when it comes to the three larger works. There is an acute lack of humanity, a strange sense of loss. In the third work from the left, Untitled, 2019, two boards comprise a ski scene, with the left panel portraying a forest enshrouded in encaustic wax and the right panel displaying a more colourful scene where mysterious footprints lead to a tree. Two of the smaller works of the show are garish portraits of which the skeletal, otherworldly beings more closely resemble ghosts than companions.
Despite the darker undercurrents, the effect of Hudson’s work is one of blinding splendour. Perhaps the fact that our sight is partially obscured by the wax as if we are caught in a blizzard is a sign that we aren’t meant to peel back each and every layer. Like a person’s thoughts or memories, the true nature will either reveal itself in time or stay buried forever. Ultimately, if you aren’t afraid of the unknown, then there is nothing to fear as you explore the wildly imaginative, almost hallucinogenic world of Nothing Sticks to Nothing.
Written by Kristie Landing, a Contributor to Arteviste