In her early years as an artist, Pamela Smith Hudson often heard a familiar refrain: Stick to one medium. “I was told that ‘you are either a graphic artist or a painter: keep your own job. Stay in one lane,” Hudson recalled. Instead, she had a different idea: why not merge disciplines, combine techniques and artistic forms to create her own unique mixed media? She did. “I didn’t listen to them,” she says. “I’m glad I didn’t.”
The artist’s current solo show, “Empty Space” at Craig Krull Gallery, features abstract mixed media with limited palettes. The pieces contain clear nods to the natural environment and at the same time create a sense of transport. The mixed media works often reflect the texture of sand or craters and are reminiscent of sidewalks or stripes. The earthy feel of many pieces stems from Hudson’s experimentation with materials such as clay, graphite, watercolor and encaustic elements.
Growing up in Compton, Hudson was used to seeing “mortar, plaster, grout” and other materials in her backyard. Her father was a cement mason. Her mother was a nurse and a “marvellous dressmaker” who made hats and jewelery – Hudson later learned that she used to paint, but stopped when she had children. Music often drifted through the house, especially since all the children played instruments (Hudson played clarinet and oboe). All of these elements would later influence Hudson’s work as an artist. Much of her work is encaustic mixed media; the method uses heat, wax and pigments in a way that dates back to ancient civilizations.
The importance of cultural identity and community building was clear to Hudson from an early age. She says her sister took her to the Black Panthers’ breakfast show as a child. Compton was buzzing with the energy of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Hudson also spent a lot of time with her maternal grandmother, whose mother was Choctaw and grew up on a reservation. “Her saying was always, ‘I make good cornbread and I make good roast bread,'” says Hudson. The mixed-media pieces “Rain Dance 1” and “Rain Dance 2” pay homage to her grandmother as well as the artist’s Afro-Indigenous roots (which come from both sides of the family). However, before shaping her art practice, Hudson embarked on a very different path. As a student at Centennial High School, she was part of the Medical Counseling, Organizing, and Recruiting (Med-COR) program, with the goal of entering medicine. Hudson eventually enrolled at UCLA as a biology major.
On campus, however, she was attracted to colleagues who worked in the arts, from dance students to film students. Here was a world beyond science – Hudson took art history classes, interned at the Museum of Cultural History (now the Fowler Museum at UCLA), and went on archaeological digs. She changed her major to anthropology and shifted her focus from a traditional career to a career in the humanities.
After graduation, Hudson visited friends in Berlin and Oxford, England, took in as much art as she could, and attended the Documenta art fair in Kassel, Germany. There she began to think more about environmental issues and learned that Europe was at the forefront of systems such as water conservation and recycling.
Back in the States, Hudson spent many of her days in stores such as Graphaids Art Supply and Zora’s (a shuttered store run by the late art materials specialist Zora Sweet Pinney and her husband, Edward). The artist saw few women of color working for major art suppliers, and her curiosity about the field grew as she talked to chemists and learned more about the field.
“I had access to how these materials were made,” says Hudson. “That’s the science part. I loved it, I loved materials. So that just pushed me to explore so many different types of materials in my work – working with waxes and encaustics and all kinds of materials, and experimenting with putting them all together.
Suzanne Temp, a painting teacher, first suggested that Hudson work with printmaking. Soon, Hudson began an internship with Dan Freeman, of Freeman Editions and Gemini GEL. He urged Hudson to look at Jasper Johns’ work, which used encaustics – something that Hudson began to explore more closely.
Over the years, Hudson has woven her fascination with Los Angeles into her work. Hudson uses “images of tire track prints” to emphasize the emphasis on cars in the city; the traces, she says, “almost resemble ancient symbols of displacement.” Hudson often reflects on how there is “less land and open space” in the city.
“You have the mountains. You can’t drive too far and be in the desert, or you can be in the mountains in the snow. Or being on the beach,” says Hudson. “Yet you still have all this concrete around you and more buildings.” In 2018, Hudson’s work was featured at the California African American Museum as part of the “Charting the Terrain: Eric Mack and Pamela Smith Hudson” exhibition, which focused on how both artists captured the topography of the West Coast.
Hudson’s lens is both local and global, and she says audiences often describe her work as both macroscopic and microscopic. Whether thinking about increasing homelessness or the effects of climate change on the natural environment, Hudson uses her art to document her connections to the city and country. “Empty Space” shows her attention to the clash between greenery and concrete, between space and the sprawl of the city.
“I want people to look at these little works and see a lot going on,” says Hudson. “I think it’s our place and our existence. We have a small, small role in this huge, huge universe.
Where: Craig Krull Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. Suite B3, Santa Monica
When: 10am-5:30pm Tuesday-Friday, 11am-5:30pm Saturday; artist talk with Pamela Smith Hudson and Chris Miller at 11 a.m. on March 18. Closing on March 25.
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org(310) 828-6410