Hudson paints her way out of life's hardships

West Side artist's work on display at Garfield Park Conservatory tonight

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By ROBERT FELTON

It should be no surprise that the painted artwork of Austin area resident Shirley Hudson depicts abstract, almost dream-like representations of natural occurrences.

In many ways, that's what painting is to her. It's a means of transcending the obstacles and disappointments of life by filtering those hardships through creative expression.

"I used to draw when I was younger, and it was my way of dealing with issues that I was faced with at the time," said Hudson. "I remember drawing a train and tunnel picture that was on the wall at my mother's house. It made me feel better every time."

Hudson attended Austin High School and later received her degree in liberal arts from Chicago State University.

This set the stage for her further exploration into the arts when she began writing and performing poetry at the old Hothouse in the late 1980s.

"I always felt that expressing oneself creatively, whether it was through music or writing or painting, was one of the most essential elements of self-discovery," says the 47-year-old.

"When I performed poetry, all of the issues I had encountered throughout my life seemed to be just a minor element in my art," she said.

Growing up the oldest of three children, Hudson lived in Austin with her millworking stepfather and her mother, who worked as a nurse's assistant.

However, her relationship with her biological father was strained for many years.

"The first time I remember seeing him was when I was 10 years old," said Hudson. "He was being shipped to Vietnam, and he had come to visit my mother and I before he left. I did not see him again until nearly 25 years later."

"I think I harbored a lot of resentment towards my father for many years," said Hudson. "Only in the last few years have I begun to rebuild the relationship with him again. He currently lives in Oklahoma, and we talk virtually every month."

Hudson's interest in painting was sparked during one fateful encounter with a barmaid at The Hothouse in 1995.

"We began talking and discovered that we had a lot in common in terms of life experience," said Hudson. "She shared some of her painted art with me, and I was amazed at how potent it was visually. It inspired me to refocus my attention on art as a result."

Hudson began painting abstract works. The themes have included womanhood, eroticism, and personal crisis.

Since she began painting, Hudson has produced dozens of works that have been featured at Garfield Park, Ridge Arts in Oak Park and Izzo Artery, an art gallery that was owned by her friend, Tony Izzo.

"I used to do a gallery show a month at Izzo Artery before it closed," said Hudson. "I was always interested in how different audiences would gauge my work differently."

Many of Hudson's works, like "The Couple," "The Thinker," and "The Kiss," present simple concepts using solemn colors and dark hues. The tone of these paintings seem both pensive and sad. She decorates her canvases with a kaleidoscope of dark colors, symbolic of her attempt to extricate herself from inner turmoil through her brush.

The faces on each of those works look decidedly uncertain, as if awaiting the consequences of each action depicted. What will this kiss or courtship lead to? It gives Hudson's work a sense of inherent drama.

Hudson has sold several of her paintings and still does art gallery shows for Ridge Arts.

However, given the finicky nature of the art world, she has, as they say, "kept her day job."

"I have worked as a postal clerk for over 20 years, and I enjoy it," says Hudson, "although painting has brought me a level of happiness in life that at one time I felt was unattainable."

Hudson's work will be displayed tonight, Oct. 25, the last night of the popular "Nikki and the Garden" exhibit at the Garfield Park Conservatory. She will be on hand to discuss her work.

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