Tom Hudson

Box of Clouds

1965–72

Not on display

Artist
Tom Hudson 1922–1997
Medium
Perspex, fibreglass, resin, pebbles, sand, wood, metal and plastic
Dimensions
Object: 739 x 608 x 304 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Sally Hudson, the artist’s widow 2016
Reference
T14777

Summary

Box of Clouds 1965–72 is a cuboid structure, over seventy centimetres high, made of sheets of transparent Perspex, joined together with large and clearly visible screws positioned at regular intervals along the sides and top of the sculpture. The Perspex panels have been put through a process of casting and pigmentation so that their surfaces are etched with four irregular, opaque blue bands. These are disposed horizontally one above the other on each of the sculpture’s four sides, with three, irregular, almost square etched areas, adjacent to one another, on the top of the structure. Other marks and thinner, irregular lines, in the same light blue, are also etched on the surface of the work, between the more prominent bands. The base of the work was made by casting a section of pebble beach in clear resin, and contains remnants of organic life and industrial materials. The box is otherwise empty.

Having taught alongside Victor Pasmore (1908–1998) and Harry Thubron (1915–¿1985) in the 1950s, Hudson was a key figure in the development of ‘Basic Design’ courses in a number of British art schools as well as abroad. Like Pasmore, Hudson was fascinated by new materials and technologies and believed that art – as construction – should reflect scientific and technological developments and their impact on society and culture. While promoting an approach to teaching centred on the individual, social being and his or her potential, he also played an important role in the conception of a more rational and system-based approach to art-making. In 1967 he wrote:

We must learn to demonstrate mental images in simple but topological diagrams. We must develop topological systems so we can present the most complex information and situations in simple and effective ways. So many of our concepts about things and situations cannot be demonstrated by the old systems which were based on the observation of external physical phenomena. We have to develop new systems, signs, symbols, graphs and diagrams and any other tools we can invent to create more precise equivalents to demonstrate our ideas and feelings.
(Hudson 1967, n.p.)

Box of Clouds encapsulates Hudson’s approach to life and art. It was initially realised and exhibited at the Grabowski Gallery, London in 1965, alongside another geometric construction, under the title First Million Object and Limitless. In this first presentation, the work consisted solely of the Perspex structure without the cast base. The formal qualities of its enclosed structure relate to Hudson’s interest in new materials, technologies and systemic thinking. At the same time, the result was far from impersonal. The work presents a clear contrast between hard and soft edges, a mechanical aesthetic and a gestural quality, and a sense of both closedness and openness. The rigid geometric structure and transparency of the Perspex is countered by the casting and pigmentation of its surface into layers of blue, etched ‘clouds’. This organic quality is underscored by the later addition of the base and the work’s revised title. Additionally, the sculpture is subjected to constant change, as visitors moving around it experience it in dynamic relationships of transparency and reflection with the surrounding space. In this context, the ‘limitless’ object of its original title comes to mind.

During the 1960s Hudson grew increasingly weary of the uncontrolled application of scientific discoveries; he developed a strong ecological ethos early on and believed that the purpose of art was not to reflect but to change society. In the early 1970s, after having moved to Cardiff, Hudson became fascinated with the Welsh landscape. Critical of the way it was being damaged by rubbish and pollution, Hudson created a base for his sculpture, made by casting a section of pebble beach containing remnants of both industrial detritus and organic matter that had been washed ashore. Hudson retitled the work Box of Clouds to reflect his concerns for the environment and to suggest that the interior of the sculpture had turned into a self-enclosed environment defined by its transparency and provisional status.

Further reading
Tom Hudson, ‘Technology and Junk’, in Learning Design, exhibition catalogue, Welsh Arts Council 1967.

Elena Crippa
April 2016

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