Artist Jane Hudson at Tourists

Birthday Celebration on Becoming Jane

By: - Nov 21, 2019

Last night there was a roomful of artists gathered at Tourists for a fireside chat with Berkshire artist and musician Jane Hudson.

On the occasion of her 78th birthday the presentation was retrospective as well as introspective. Dividing her life and career into phases she touched on but deflected complex relationships as a child and young woman.

Her parents separated when she was an infant. Her father Leonard Shure (deceased March 5, 1995 at 84) was a renowned concert pianist. Her mother, Barbara Edwards (deceased 2005) who I knew as Mrs. Stanley Jacks, was a graduate of Yale School of Drama. As a single mom, then remarried with more children, the Broadway career she aspired to never happened. She remained active in regional theatre heading several companies.

When we met in the late 1960s Jane was a poet and teacher at Lexington High School. She was married to an artist and they were involved in the activism of an emerging generation. The Studio Coalition, America’s first Open Studios event, was organized in their living room.

With some legerdemain the narrative of her life as a musician and artist began with meeting her second husband, Jeff Hudson, some four decades ago. They were neighbors in an Atlantic Avenue artists loft building opposite South Station. Jeff was a graduate of the Museum School with an interest in new media.

They divided their space with artist/ musician Paul Shapiro who played guitar with The Hallucinations. Peter Wolf, later of the J. Geils Band, was the singer.

Their side of the loft became the seminal Atlantic Gallery. It later moved to their vast loft in then mostly uninhabited Farnsworth Street near the waterfront. That area is now developed and gentrified. With cheap rent the 1970s was an affordable era to start a life in the arts. The Hudsons would again become gallerists when they launched Hudson Antiques with several venues in the Berkshires including MASS MoCA.

As artists and musicians the Hudsons have been a major presence in the Berkshires. Initially, they lived in a large loft in the Eclipse Mill and later moved to Williamstown. Jane knew the Berkshires from the late 1960s when friends gathered for holidays at the Sheffield home of photographer Benno Friedman.

We invited the Hudsons to visit us in the Berkshires. Jane came solo and saw our space. There was a call home to Jeff. I recall him loudly on the other end saying “Don’t let Charlie Giuliano talk you into buying a loft.” Prior to visiting the Berkshires Jeff placed a bid on a loft a week later.

They were then living in Jamaica Plain having returned from a Soho loft in New York. They were then teaching at the Museum School which entailed a weekly commute. They were part of the NY punk scene at CBGB’s.

The artist’s talk was part of a new series organized for Tourists by Nina Keneally. With a cash bar and open hearth it’s a cozy space for weekly gatherings on Wednesdays. There will be a holiday hiatus then a new season.

There has been extensive media coverage of the sea change of arts related development in Northern Berkshire County. Those sanguine articles, however, focus on entrepreneurship and development. The growing community of artists, who are the heart and soul of this phenomenon, don’t get much ink. Or tangible support from cultural institutions which are lavishly lauded. The ephemeral benefit to working artists, as the Republicans used to put it, derives from the “trickle down effect.”

It is significant that Tourists, a crown jewel in stories of recent development, is providing a platform for community dialogue. It adds to the resources of Gallery 51, Berkshire Artists Museum, Eclipse Mill Gallery in North Adams, and Real Eyes Gallery in Adams.

The boots on the ground story of Jane Hudson conveys the vital role that artists perform as the real foot soldiers of cultural development. Like many others we located in the Berkshires for its world class cultural resources. Another incentive was great space at affordable prices. Costs for a loft have doubled over the past few years. But in what urban setting with major arts organizations can one find a 2,500 sq. ft. loft for under $300,000? It wasn’t long ago that one could pay for a fixerupper home with a credit card.

As has been true for the past couple of years Jeff stayed home last night. As Jane put it his influence and collaboration was richly evident. Her life as an artist begins with the phase, second or third in her timeline, of when they met.

They got in on the ground floor of video art. That meant purchasing a reel to reel, black and white surveillance system. The investment was about $1500. The initial efforts conflated deadpan humor and transition into performance. They were autodidacts but soon secured positions teaching video at the Museum School. With a crash course on post modern theory Jane became a formidable academic resource. I much enjoyed an annual connection to her class as visiting critic.

Becoming involved with new media means a constant embrace of technologies and equipment. She screened an aspect of that Stones assembled from visiting Neolithic sites in the U.K. I curated that installation for an exhibition at New England School of Art and Design. I also showed a series of Jeff’s images for our project space. Some of the students I met through Jane became a part of my gallery program.

We have a long association as mutual supporters and collaborators. That included showing up for their gigs as The Rentals. Which, given an antipathy to parental influences, proved to be curious. It’s complex but Jane has expressed being overexposed to classical music and theatre.

Despite the oedipal conflicts it was in her DNA when she morphed into playing bass and performing with The Rentals a now legendary punk band. Jane borrowed a bass and Jeff bought a cheap guitar. Their student, Pseudo Carol, took up drums.

Yesterday she recalled being involved in the Boston art world but found it uptight, competitive and back stabbing. Compared to which the music scene, at clubs like The Rat in Kenmore Square, was grungy but lively and fun. There were late night sets in endless sad cafes. 

That phase of their career as rockers began after Jeff won a traveling fellowship to Europe. They visited documenta which is held every five years in Kassel, Germany. There they met and were influenced by Joseph Beuys who ran a Free University. The end of that trip in the late 1970s was spent in London. They were floored by the Sex Pistols and British punk rock. It was as much about atitude as music.

By luck they opened for The Clash. The British band during their first American tour performed at the Harvard Square Theatre. That’s where Jon Landau “discovered” Bruce Springtseen.

The gig came about, as Jane explained last night, because The Clash wanted an opening act that included women musicians. Humorously, she recalled that the adrenalin rush was so overwhelming that her hand froze. Instead of plucking the strings she just bashed at them. Robert Christgau of the Village Voice, there to cover The Clash, gave them a couple of good lines. The Boston Globe less so. But as Jane put it that was a ”bubble” for their career.

A boyfriend convinced Pseudo Carol that she was too good for the Hudsons. That was the start of other bands like The Manhattan Project and eventual incarnations as Jeff and Jane. I saw a lot of those gigs as well.

That also marked a transition from instruments to synthesizers and digital. Pseudo Carol was replaced by a drum machine. There was more complex studio work and soundscapes. Hudson put out a CD in which he simulated or played all of the instruments. We used to play it as ambient dinner music. 

We heard their recent music a couple of years ago at MASS MoCA, Billstock,  and Williams Inn.

As a video pioneer Jeff had a thriving business producing videos for bands. It was the era of MTV which has since faded.

Because they were early to combine video and synth as Jeff and Jane she humorously recalled another gig from hell. They opened for Public Image or PIL. It was Johnny Rotten’s band after the Sex Pistols.

“There was a white sheet and the band decided to perform behind it. Their performance would be projected onto it. The audience would have no part of it. There was an ugly scene and bouncers were belting kids with mic stands. The band never got to perform. Because we were knocked off the stage we thought it was the end of our careeer."

It was a raucous crowd drinking beer. The Hudsons lasted a terrifying twenty minutes. Beer bottles were thrown at them and there was shattered glass all over the stage. The riot that followed is a part of punk rock history.

Which is a segue to the current and less fraught phase of Jane’s career. She showed us images she had created in the 1970s. There was figuration but she described difficulty with free hand drawing.

During the last iteration of Hudson’s Antiques there wasn’t much traffic on Water Street in Williamstown. During long hours as a shopkeeper she returned to making gouache paintings. These entail geometric abstraction using straight edge and compass.

For design and pattern, depicting the metaphysical, she returned to the writing of Madam Blavatsky. She had first read her in the 1960s and still had the book in her library. That rekindled an interest in the occult.

(Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a Russian occultist, philosopher, and author who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. She gained an international following as the leading theoretician of Theosophy, the esoteric religion that the society promoted.)

This work has been seen in several Berkshire exhibitions including a recent group show at Gallery 51. New work will be included there in a holiday exhibition. Her work is on view through the end of December at Tunnel City Cafe on the MASS MoCA campus.

The recent images combine mandala patterns with color abstraction in the tradition of Bauhaus artists Kandinsky and Klee. The color is applied in flat patterns within defined areas. The approach is true to early modernism with an emphasis on schematic design.

As she discussed this practice it evoked respite, introspection, and time in the studio. It may be regarded as a reprieve from decades of teaching, keeping up with media technology, and performances. Artists will readily concur that there is solace in the solitude of the studio.  It's yin yang to the experience of peforming for an audience.

There was a poignant comment about Jeff’s role in all this. Recently, he told her that God put him on earth to "train her" to become Jane.

Last night with wit, nuance, and insight we got to experience Jane being very, well, Jane. It was challenging and utterly delightful.