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Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 7: The Crack Den, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 7: The Crack Den, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
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10 Artworks By Henry Hudson You Should Know

Picture of Elizabeth Hajos
Updated: 31 October 2016
In his early 30s and based in London, the contemporary artist Henry Hudson works with a surprising medium: plasticine. Hudson first adopted the material when trying to find a cheap alternative to oil paint, finding that the traditional materials were not affordable for the young artist. The initial nature of plasticine and the origins of Hudson’s relationship with it continue to underpin and reflect the principles of Hudson’s work, from its dimension of satire and social critique to its playfulness and sculptural tangibility. The Culture Trip London take a look at his best works.

Young Man and his Guitar, 2012

With a contemporary nod to Picasso‘s blue period, in this work, a young man sits in his bedroom, cradling his guitar. Everything in the image signals a sense of entrapment, which is mellowed by the measured coolness of the mood and the stilted figure of the man, who is frozen in contemplation. One hand rests on the strings, held mid-way through a gesture to play the guitar. A ‘fragile’ tape covers his mouth. Wanting to play, his voice is of great importance to him, but the fragility, almost central to the image, signifies more than this; the fragility of confidence, identity, artistry and acceptance suffocate him. They are the obstacle that separates the young man from his guitar. His fears lurk even within the solitary space of his bedroom as his shadows assume concrete presences, taunting him like a silent audience. Follow the lines of the components, and you’ll find that they all flow into each other – shadow, bed, man, and the elements of the Miro-esque poster, resembling broken strings. The room assumes a psychological reality, radiating from the young man’s figure.

Henry Hudson, Young Man and his Guitar, 2012, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, Young Man and his Guitar, 2012 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

The Farmer and the Writer, 2012

Another example of Hudson’s sophisticated sense of storytelling – in this work, the emotional distance between the figures is felt (dog included). The farmer and writer hold symbols that vaguely recall their vocation – a flower and a book – but though these objects are distinguished from each other, they seem to indicate that the characters have strayed from their essential selves; the ‘writer’ isn’t writing, the ‘farmer’ isn’t farming and the dog, well, isn’t barking. In this domestic setting and in each other’s company, all three are realised as reduced versions of themselves. They gaze into different spheres – the flower and the book do not understand each other. In fact, the flower droops. The man’s offer has been rejected. The sun sets outside to indicate that it is the dusk of their relationship. But how to explain the fragile tape around the dog’s feeding bowl? Have disputes regarding livelihood been a major source of their demise? Or is the dog the only fragile pin in their relationship?

Henry Hudson, The Farmer and the Writer, 2012, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, The Farmer and the Writer, 2012 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

Tarda Estate Paesaggio, 2013

Recalling the frenzied dynamism characteristic of one of Hudson’s greatest influences, Van Gogh, this work wonderfully displays the textural potential of plasticine, which was partly settled upon by Hudson on account of his admiration of impasto painting. Mystery dwells in the secluded paradise depicted in this work. The scene feels somewhat unsettling in that its tone is indeterminable. The sun is shining, but nature seems to threaten in its animated abundance. It is ripe to the point of decay – Tarda Estate: ‘late summer’. In each part, the plasticine is manipulated in a different manner, creating a confluence of different textures – the frothing sky, the thick foliage, the level house. Through the use of the material, every element seems to breathe and vibrate tumultuously. The scene is tangible.

Henry Hudson, Tarda Estate Paesaggio, 2013, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, Tarda Estate Paesaggio, 2013 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 2: The Autopsy at King’s College, 2015

Hudson’s most recent series, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen – A Contemporary Artist’s Progress, stages a contemporary retelling of Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress. In Hudson’s version, Hogarth‘s decidedly 18th-century English rake is replaced by Sen, a Chinese student who leaves China for London in Plate 1. This work parallels Hogarth’s scene in which the rake enjoys the first fruits of his new-found wealth – sport, fashion, music, art – the haunts of high society. Hudson’s updated depiction is much more brutal than Hogarth’s. Hudson’s scene goes beyond a satire of absurdity to become an image of a grotesqueness, which is graphically spilt all over the scene. In Plate 1, China is shown to be filthy and chaotic. London is not shown to be any better here. But here, the riot is not on the street; it is hidden away, in the more privileged spheres of society. Among the oozing toxic waste and prancing zebra-sheep, Hudson’s criticism has a clear subject: ‘I love NHS’ hangs on a vitrine housing preserved foetuses.

The Autopsy at King's College
Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 2: The Autopsy at King’s College, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 4: The Exhibition in New York, 2015

After ditching the life of a medical student to pursue an artistic career, Sen reaches the peak of his success in this Plate of the New York exhibition. His superficial artworks which hang in the gallery promote the fulfilment of his superficial dream. In Hogarth’s series, at this stage, the rake finds himself engaged in a brothel. This scene instead portrays the prostitution of the self – the glorification of success, celebrity-worship and controversy, which often leads to further popularity. Not by accident, it is unclear who Sen is here. The kneeling, haggard, desperate Sen resembles his previous depictions far more than the person his plea is directed towards. The standing Sen, whose new image is emotionless, smug and rehearsed, on the other hand, resembles Sen as he appears in the Plates that follow. Both Sen’s image and identity have changed. This is the significant turning point. The past-Sen may beg to be remembered, but he has no further influence over what Sen has become.

Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 4: The Exhibition in New York, 2015, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 4: The Exhibition in New York, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 6: The After Party, 2015

In Plate 5, Hudson shows Sen getting married in a temple of glorified kitsch. In this scene, of Plate 6, it is as if the mass of kitsch has exploded, with a few famous artworks thrown in. This is the duality of the artist-celebrity’s life: the tacky mixed with the expensive, and the polished excess of the public figure being matched by the sullied excess of the private life. In any case, the dollar sign stands enshrined in the corner, and the seedy effects of money-worship start to show. Th decline is shown to come quickly and inevitably. The candles in the window wane.

Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 6: The After Party, 2015, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 6: The After Party, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 7: The Crack Den, 2015

In Plate 1, a positively chubby and wide-eyed Sen waves goodbye to China. By Plate 7, he is almost a carcass, necessarily propped-up by another. This is the grimmest and most tragic point of his journey, and the most damning portrayal in the series of the perils that can accompany the lifestyle of the contemporary artist if excess isn’t reigned-in. The kitchen utensils betray this room as a normal domestic space which has been transformed into a grotesque alter-reality by Sen’s destructive habits.

Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 7: The Crack Den, 2015, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 7: The Crack Den, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 8: Rehabilitation, 2015

In Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, the rake’s demise ends in Bedlam (Bethlem Royal Hospital) – the infamous, early psychiatric hospital from which there was almost no hope of recovering. Unlike Hogarth’s rake, in an ironic temporary twist, Sen is not only given the chance to recover through the modern cultural prominence of Rehab, but this Rehab is shown to resemble Bedlam, as crazed characters sit in a semi-circle and hallucinations dominate the skyline. Sen’s position – his hand cupping his face – half resembles The Scream whilst, in reminiscence of surrealism, a melting face almost extends into the realm of the hallucinatory objects of desire. All of the patients turn their backs to the visual explosion of addictive urges, but their minds are striving towards the realm outside the Rehab’s gates. Hudson emphasises the absurdity of contemporary taste by including modern obsessions such as Instagram, McDonald’s, Facebook and the gym in the images of addiction. The luscious forest setting cannot go unnoticed, for Sen means forest in Chinese. Is this crazed and absurd reality the typical mind and consequence of the contemporary artist, whose rise and fall are inevitable?

Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 10: Rehabilitation, 2015, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 8: Rehabilitation, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 9: Freedom of Speech, 2015

Sen emerges from Rehab into this parody of the Last Supper, to take the place of Christ as chief artist-scientist. Back in China, posing for the webcam, he holds his hands outwards, prefiguring what is to come in self-righteous acknowledgement of his assumed greatness – a greatness that comes with sacrifice. The group is sustained by technology and a watermelon. But all this liberty and technology only holds a superficial promise, and the irony of the Plate’s title is realised in the glass ceiling above, the brick wall behind, and the surveillance cameras which decorate it.

Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 9: Freedom of Speech, 2015, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 9: Freedom of Speech, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio

The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 10: The Execution, 2015

Sen has come full circle. Both mind and body have become imprisoned. The rigidity of the buildings encloses the scene. Only the swirls of the sky seem free, recalling the remembrance of creativity – the past glory. In his self-imposed crisis, the drugs destroyed his physical vitality. That was recoverable. This instead is not. Sen clings to the top of his head while the guard aims his punch at Sen’s mind. This brutality, injustice and lack of liberty are what finish the story – not the perils of the self or high society, as in Hogarth, but the greater perils of history and humanity. Hudson’s satire of contemporary London-life morphs into a greater tragedy.

Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 10: The Execution, 2015, Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio
Henry Hudson, The Rise and Fall of Young Sen, Plate 10: The Execution, 2015 | Courtesy of the Henry Hudson Studio