Linda Hudgins’ studio is tucked away in the basement of a small house in a secluded corner of Tryon, a sheltered space where one would expect the world at large to rarely make an appearance. But just the opposite is true, for out of that quiet space flows a world of experience distilled on canvas in bright swirls of acrylics and oils.
Even Linda didn’t realize how much of her experience teaching as a Peace Corps volunteer in southern Africa, and later as an art teacher in China, would flow on to her canvases.
“I didn’t really know that the cultures were so much reflected in my work until I went back to China after I had painted here for a few years,” Linda notes. “Everywhere I turned, there were lines and shapes and colors and movements and juxtapositions that were also in my work.”
A teacher for many years of art and art history at Spartanburg Day School, Linda’s attachment to the arts began early, at home, where music and literature played a central role in her family’s life.
“I’m the only one who has pursued visual art as a career. It
seemed inevitable to my family and teachers that I would,” Linda remembers. Her formal artistic education began at the Rhode Island School of Design and continued at New York University, where she became part of a group of young artists who shared a studio and submitted their work for critiques by prominent artists like Sherry Levine and Carroll Dunham, both key names in the 1980’s New York art world. It was during her time in New York, under the tutelage of James Biederman, that Linda began to see that the formalist style that had governed her work had become more of a restraint than an aid.
“James Biederman was very encouraging and I loved his permission to ‘just paint’,” Linda says.
Indeed, what’s most striking about her canvases is their spontaneity, a jubilant sense of freedom in their flowing shapes in brilliant cadmiums and cobalts.
“What starts me working is a blank canvas, a palette filled with paint, and time,” Linda says. “I usually do a bit of centering before I begin, and then I am into it for hours without stop. I do believe that somehow I am painting feelings and energies from by life experiences without being aware at the time of painting.”
The impression is conveyed most tellingly in an aptly named mixed media work, called What I Do Not Know. A swath of pinkish red diagonally crosses the canvas, luxuriant as a satin sheet, with a buoyant mass of light blue swirling underneath, as if emerging from some darker level, as yet unformed.
But the ability to “just paint,” like any apparently effortless endeavor, has to grow from a ground of technique. For Linda, that was color theory, a large part of her background as both an artist and teacher.
“I have to say that deeply embedded in my being is a palette that August Cook, my graduate professor at Converse, insisted we all learn and use. I don’t set it up as such, but it’s there,” Linda says. “And I use…all of those colors that perhaps made Van Gogh a bit off. I am careful.”
Her work shares some of the Impressionists’ enthusiasm for color, but is more aligned with Paul Klee’s kinetic drawings in the emotional temperature of her palette — and Linda admits to a love for Kandinksy’s more abstract improvisations with their element of spirituality. “What I hope I’ve gained from these artists is a freedom to experiment and liberate myself from the world of art, to be myself as an artist, wherever that takes me. It means exploring my insides and environment, and being willing to allow my responses to show up in the work, however they may.”
But despite the intimate relationship between her own psychology and what appears on her canvas, much remains hidden — though explicit in the titles of several of her works that make direct reference to the unknown. Two of her works bear the title Renewal Secrets; there is a Here And There Secrets and a Here And Now Secrets, and a Playful Secrets. Whatever intrinsic meaning they carry is a matter of negotiation between viewer and canvas.
“I’m not putting secrets into them on purpose,” Linda says, “but there seems to be narrative in them. Some of my favorite ones keep telling new stories on reviewing. And other people tell me what they see, and I’m intrigued as they show me things I haven’t seen.” A secret revealed, at any rate, is no longer of interest. “I try to get to a place where it doesn’t matter what turns up on the canvas or paper, and just follow the colors and textures and lines,” Linda says. “Now I am trying to play dumb.