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The Makers: Rachel Louise Hodgson

Introducing The Makers: our weekly interview series with artists in and around the Milk community. Find out who’s making what, why it matters, and what’s next. Next up? London-based fine artist Rachel Louise Hodgson. 

Rachel Louise Hodgson is a multidisciplinary artist working out of her studio in Camberwell, London. Having originally studied fashion and photography, she recently finished her postgraduate scheme at The Royal Drawing School in December.  For Hodgson, this mode of expression is hardly a choice, “Drawing was how I expressed myself when I was unable to talk or take part in the world and is still how I deal with feelings daily,” she says. Her work is colorful and childlike while considering themes of self-loathing and raw emotion with hints of humor. If you’re in the UK, be sure to catch her work in the flesh; Hodgson has a group show with the Class of 2018 from the  Royal Drawing School at The Five Bells in New Cross (opening May 24th), and is also doing a small solo-exhibition opening at Strange Parade in Nunhead (opening June 14th.)

You just moved into a new studio  – tell us about it.

It’s in Camberwell; I’m sharing it with my mates Bridget Meyne (illustrator and comic book artist), Chloe Sheppard (photographer), and Ione Gamble (editor and founder of Polyester Zine.) Since finishing at the Drawing School in December and having to move out of the free studios there, I have been mainly working in my bed, which has been driving me a little crazy, especially having to work on a small scale again. Everything is so expensive in London but these studios seem very reasonable.  It’s worth it to have that creative freedom and space. It’s also important to be around mates/other freelance creatives, who are also going through the same struggle.

After going to the school of The London College of Fashion and studying fashion photography – what advice do you have for people who feel like they may have chosen the wrong path regarding their studies?

Even in my interview for LCF they told me that I should probably do an art course instead of fashion photography. Every year, I thought about dropping out and applying for an Art BA instead. I don’t know why I stubbornly chose to continue, but I saw it as a challenge to try and fit myself and my style of work into a world that I didn’t really fit in to; as opposed to choosing the easier option for me, which was art.

Now, I don’t know if I would advise anyone else to stick with a course that doesn’t suit them. University was also a bit cheaper when I went.  However, I don’t regret my choice. I’ve done a big variety of work because of that experience. I believe that grades are not important in creative courses; it’s just about all the experience you are able to gain while you’re there; all the mistakes and experimentation and how you use that after. I got a terrible grade.

What skills did you learn at The Royal Drawing School that you don’t think you would have picked up if you hadn’t attended?

I learned some patience; I can be restless and impulsive and I draw a lot daily, quick little drawings. I found it difficult to draw anything large or more detailed because I would get bored with it before finishing. But by the end of the Drawing School, I was working on really large scale drawings; they would take me a few days to complete, even though I was still working on them quickly. I like to get to the end result fast and then move on to the next.

I’m getting better at being patient because I can now see the positives of spending more time with one image and getting lost in the smaller details; letting the image develop and figuring out how best to express the ideas and feelings.

In several interviews, you talk about the need to create, and the outlet of expression that the act of drawing allows – in what other ways do you process and express your emotions?

I used to be extremely reserved;  I used to be almost mute, or I wished to be when I was a child. I didn’t want to have to answer to anyone. I wanted to be invisible.

I don’t struggle with these things anymore; when people meet me now, they would assume I’m a very confident, outgoing person, but there are still those shy parts of me. It’s also why I still, perhaps, feel a bit embarrassed to share my work sometimes; it can be very exposing and too personal. I feel like I must force myself to. The more embarrassed I am, the more necessary it is to share.

Drawing was how I expressed myself when I was unable to talk or take part in the world, and is still how I deal with feelings daily. I feel lucky in life now that I have found people that I am able to talk with openly; it’s not scary at all anymore to have real conversations because the people I surround myself with are on the same page and we either understand each other or are open to understanding. Once you recognize that and are open, you find more and more people that you feel connected to.

How often are you creating per day (on average)? Do you specifically carve out time for your artistic practice, or is your day planned around it?

When I have a studio to work in, there is a clearer ‘working’ time. But as I haven’t had that recently, I just work whenever I feel like it. I often work in the morning or evenings, especially if I’m sitting in bed watching something on my laptop. I’ve gotten a lot of oil pastel stuck to my sheets, which is a little bit distressing and disturbing to sleep in.

You’re given free rein and unlimited funds to curate an exhibit. What would the theme be? The artists involved? The space it takes place in?

Since the beginning of 2019, I have been extremely lucky to visit two amazing places: Salvation Mountain in California and Sue Kreitzman’s house; two places I always dreamed of seeing for myself. The similarities with these places are that they were built over time, out of the pure joy of making and creativity. When I first visited Sue’s house, I couldn’t help but cry. It’s so overwhelming; the amount of joy, and color, and life, and everything to absorb. To see everything all at once in one little house; it is a mixture of her own art, other art, things she has collected, and a total celebration of color.

If I had unlimited freedom and funds, I would want a place that I could work and live in; the art would grow from being able to create my own world around me (this could be anywhere, but ideally somewhere sunny.) I have many artist friends and artists I admire over the internet, and I would really love to be able to curate a show of all of their work.

What do you take when you’re on the go, what materials do you take with you?

I have a little A6 size sketchbook from Muji that can fit into any bag or pocket; it has a lot of little scribblings and drawings and lists etc. The pages are smooth and works nice with a biro. It’s a little weird and personal though, I would be embarrassed for anyone to look through it and see my scary writing; it’s not meant to be read/seen. I also carry an A5 sketchbook, and a little box of oil pastel/crayons to make drawings that I would be happy to show people.

Which philosophy, from any field or study, do you look up to most? Which philosophies do you try to mold your life and artistic practice towards?

I don’t know about academic philosophical theories, other than having my own personal philosophies. I am a very emotional human being; I have come to accept that. I am very sensitive to everything, in a way that I feel I never grew out of since I was a child.

When I think of myself as I child, I think I saw things similarly to how I do now, stuff was strange and magical, to an almost scary disturbing extent. As we get older and have to get jobs to pay bills and everything, it is hard for everyone to stay in touch with those feelings of wonder and curiosity as a child. I believe we all still have those parts in us, and that especially comes out when people get the opportunity to be creative in some way. That why I love to teach creative workshops with older people,  I’d definitely like to do that more. The art that is taught to children and teenagers in schools is way too limiting, it’s taught like there is a correct way of doing it, but of course, there is not.

Artwork aside:

What’s the last thing you googled? mouthfeel

Last song you streamed? “All Is Full of Love” – Björk

Best piece of advice from a parental figure? “You are allowed to draw from your imagination if you want to, you can just do that.”

Most valuable trinket (not necessarily due to expense)? My little doll that is in a lot of my drawings. She was a gift from a significant person and I had not really acknowledged her in a long time. Last year, I suddenly chose to do a drawing of her. I realized how fond I was of this little plastic doll and how many memories and feelings it held for me. It reminded me of stuff I was attached to as a child; I liked miniature things, like the little plastic rabbit I stole from my nursery when I was little, and the miniature Anastasia doll I got from a McDonalds happy meal; I wanted to be as small as the Anastasia doll.

Film you want to watch when you’re happy? “The Future” by Miranda July; I really love her writing. I saw it a long time ago, and although I enjoyed it a lot, I avoided watching it again, as I knew it would remind me of a significant past relationship. It’s amazing how a song, or film, or story can transport you right back to a feeling/memory/person. I guess I just really felt like going there. I felt like a time traveler. A lot of my work is about the feeling of nostalgic despair.

Photos courtesy of Lauren Maccabee

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