To Delpha Hudson, art is not just visual. She cares about the intentions behind the work, the psychological, the illogical and the sensible. “Art can change not just how and what we see, but what we understand,” she says. “It is a collection of ideas, written, enacted, presented to all of the senses. I am interested in the possibility of re-representing ‘self,’ and all the people she can be.”
Delpha Hudson answers our WIA artist questions about the theory behind her work, her practice and burning diaries.
WIA: What are you doing today?
Delpha Hudson: I’m working in my studio. I have everything I need here, except the internet. I expressly don’t mix reflective studio time, which includes drawing, painting, reading, writing, constructing, planning, accordion playing (!), with online time, otherwise it just swallows everything up. It’s a small studio, so I work to a small domestic scale, but it’s cosy, so I don’t have to freeze in the winter.
WIA: Tell us about your creative process.
DH: My work is very theory-led and bounces off books. I’m reading about performance, documentation and feminist autobiography at the moment – research for the Theatre of the Self project. That makes it sound really focused whereas it’s often much more random. I’m a bricoleur of ideas so continually collect material for drawing, painting and sculpture, etc in lots of scrappy sketchbooks. They help me to cross-pollinate concepts across media and projects. I’m quite organized in a haphazard way.
WIA: Describe where you do most of your creative work.
DH: I keep a notebook with me always. Just something to scribble or sketch in, but nothing really comes of anything until I can sit on the floor in my studio with my scraps of paper pensively piecing things together. I throw away lots of it too.
WIA: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
DH: Something quite small. I get stressed about big projects and don’t equate ‘exciting’ with nerves! Actually my favourite was going to a festival Venice and performing with my partner and sometime-collaborator Nigel Bispham. Place Settings was a one-off site-specific performance made for the festival palazzo – an Italian rather grand domestic house. We had to take my accordion, a saxophone, pieces of wood, saws, plates and cutlery on the plane. There was an amazing audience and it was fun to work so closely with Nigel who is very supportive as well as a wonderful musician and composer.
WIA: What made you decide to become an artist?
DH: I’ve always painted and sketched. It was very much part of being around my mother, who was a water colourist, but I was too shy to be an art student, so studied history at London University. It was only after I’d had three children and I in my thirties that I thought, ‘What the hell? I’ve got nothing to lose. And a lot to say about what is rotten about being a woman.’
WIA: What are you currently working on?
DH: In my studio I’m working on the idea of a conglomerate, an installation of small parts to make a whole. Small domestic object and clay sculptures combinations will be installed together as Small Promethean Acts. In addition I’m making bitumen drip and colour paintings. I’ve discovered I can produce big paintings with multiple figures, so I am working on a series of domestic scenes that humorously show the havoc created by small children.
I’m also working on Theatre of the Self. It’s not really a finalisable project. I completed part of it in 2017 when I read and burnt 30 years worth of diaries. Now I am working on the material and concept to make it into a larger work, perhaps through theatrical film, performance and installations that have the potential to engage and involve audiences in the lives of women. We need to change the way women write and represent themselves, not as one self but multiple and always fluid.
WIA: Do you listen to music while you work, and if so, what’s your soundtrack?
DH: A bit of everything from folk, country, rock, jazz but my current favourite is Radiohead. I love happy-sad. Can’t beat the January blues, so use ’em.
WIA: What are the key themes in your work?
DH: Women, mothers, domestic inequality and trauma.
WIA: What would you like people to notice in your work?
DH: I love art that makes me think – differently. Something that communicates an idea that hasn’t really struck me before and makes me think. Maybe even changes my mind, or makes me feel differently about something. I hope anyone encountering my work might be struck by something that they can use in their everyday lives – something thought provoking.
WIA: What attracts you to the mediums you work in?
DH: I’ll work in anything. I see media (painting, drawing, film, performance, etc) as vehicles that move ideas and audiences. Of course I have my favourites, a kind of personal vocabulary of symbols – or metaphors, if you like.
WIA: What equipment could you not do without?
WIA: Who or what inspires you?
DH: How long have you got? Mostly feminist artists, writers and theorists. Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva, Grosz, Battersby, Louise Bourgeois, Mary Kelly, Anais Nin, Toni Morrison, Angela Carter … (full reading list can be provided!).
WIA: How does gender affect your work?
DH: I’d like my work to appeal to everyone, but then again it’s all about women. For me art is about making women’s lived reality visible and represented in ways that exceed the norm, especially carers how they cope.
WIA: What’s your favourite gallery, or place to see or experience art?
DH: Visiting London in Frieze week! I can never afford to go in to the fair, but there is art everywhere. One of my favourite installations was in a shoe shop. Innovative incidental site-specific art will always triumph over galleries, love ’em as I do.
WIA: If you could own one piece of art, what would it be and why?
DH: To be honest I don’t really want to own art. Experiences are much more vivid. There are lots of performance moments I wish I had been there for. It would be fascinating to have seen many of the classic feminist performances, like Valie Export or Yoko Ono.
WIA: If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be, and why?
DH: Again going back in time would be fascinating. We are all subject to reading about iconic and legendary artists – would they be the way they are written? I suppose it would have to be someone I’ve met. I don’t want to be disappointed. Kira O’Reilly is the real deal. Love to work with her.
WIA: Is there an artist, movement or collective you’d like to see re-evaluated or a contemporary artist who is underrated?
DH: Mature women artists! So many women artists are undervalued and its hard in today’s art world to be noticed unless you are media savvy. One of the ironic advantages of being a woman artist still sadly rings true: ‘Knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty’ (the Guerilla Girls). Sadly we can’t all make it to eighty.
WIA: What’s your favourite colour?
DH: No single colour, it has to be combinations. My favourite colour combination that always cheers me up is turquoise, crimson and sea green
For more information on Delpha Hudson:
painting and sculpture: delphahudsonartist.co.uk
performance and video: delphahudson.co.uk