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Cody Hudson Interview

Written by Ben Fasman   
Thursday, 12 April 2007 09:24
When he isn't working on his art & design, this Chicago based artist enjoys ice fishing, sleeping, reading and all things made of wood... Ben Fasman, editor at large for Stop Smiling Magazine, interviews.

After we finished doing this interview, a bunch of us went out to see a band play and to drink Old Styles and whiskey. We got to talking about growing up and Cody started telling funny stories of his youth in Wisconsin, going to shady raves with a bunch of tweakers. The next day, I get an email in my inbox from him detailing “Fun Facts about Wisconsin, including that his great home state leads the nation in number of dairy farms (18,000), it makes 26 percent of the nation’s cheese and it produces 2 billion pounds of cheese per year!

That’s kind of Cody in a nutshell. He’s quietly hilarious and is super smart but isn’t in your face about it. Oh yeah and he’s crazy good at every single artistic endeavor he attempts. An accomplished designer designing under the moniker Struggle Inc – he has designed snowboards for Burton, record covers for Chocolate Industries, books for Also Known As, t-shirts for 2K, footbeds for Gravis shoes and countless other projects big and small. His logos and impeccable design aesthetic hit any number of mediums, as does his personal work: from pencil drawings to found-object installations to large scale commissions from the city of Chicago for public art projects, the past 5 years have seen Cody’s personal work take off, resulting in gallery shows all over the world. Yet with the bulky resume under his belt, he remains simultaneously one of the most talented and humble cats that I have ever met. Sometimes simple, sometimes complex yet always smart, clever and aesthetically clean, his work is often emotionally evocative and continues to impress the hell out of me…even knowing that he and his homeboy had a choreographed dance routine back in the day. If you throw a party where everyone dresses all in white, hook dude up with some beers, he might show you if you ask him.

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What was your very first job you ever had, art-related or not?

I painted animation cells for a while. I thought it was going to be a fun job but its basically paint by number for hours at a time. I was filling in Sparky The Firedog. I would actually fall asleep while painting and wake up after dropping the brush. Ages before that I was working at Pizza Popper in Kenosha, Wisconsin but I also held it down at Piggly Wiggly for 3 years

Ah the PW. Piggly Wiggly is dope. Dude in Pootie Tang bought his magic belt from Piggly Wiggly. Did you start out painting or drawing?

I was drawing before design, then I really focused on design for awhile, then started drawings a lot more and also painting. I wanted to go to art school but found out how expensive it was so opted for a 2 year technical school where I took commercial art classes and learned how to do wax paste up layouts, draw type by hand, do marker renderings, run a stat camera. After that I got a job in Kenosha, Wisconsin working at a weekly coupon magazine doing ad layouts on a Mac classic with the green screen.

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When did the serious design stuff start up?

I started going to rave parties in Milwaukee and Chicago and eventually ended up throwing a party. To save money I designed the flyer myself. After that I stopped doing parties and instead did flyers. By doing those flyers I learned about things like CMYK, and spot colors and paper stocks and whatnot. This was the early to mid 90’s, so while most flyers were all raved out, we were doing stuff on uncoated brown stock with silver ink and such. Pretty tame for the design world but it was quite different for the rave world at that time. I moved to Vermont for a bit and worked at JDK doing loads of board graphics for Burton snowboards and learning from all the great designers that worked there. It was like going to school but getting paid. After that I moved back to the Midwest for a bit, freelanced and bounced around a bit, moved to Miami for a bit and worked full time with 12oz Prophet, moved back to Chicago, back to Vermont, eventually moved to Jersey where I was in charge of all men’s product graphics at Ecko Unltd. So I basically learned about clothing based design. Then i moved back to Chicago and have been here ever since.

Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you got exposed to something and you were like “yeah, I want to bean artist. I want to do stuff like that person’s art”, or was it more gradual?

It was more gradual for me, I was always drawing as a kid. making skate zines in junior high and drawing on my grip tape and things slowly moved from there. I actually don’t know if I ever stopped to realize I was making art my life, it just kinda happened. I guess there was a time years ago where I got more serious about painting and drawing so I guess there was a conscious shift towards it. but I’ve always done stuff that might fall into the creative field.

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How do you balance out your commercial / design work with your personal work? Do you do both at once every day or do you try to block it out and do one at a time? Does flipping back and forth between the two ever get tiresome or become a strain on your creative process?

I try to do everything each day, so if I’m swamped with commercial work, I stop that at 7 and paint for 2 hours before I come home. Also the way I paint which is somewhat sporadic and I’m usually working on multiple things at once so I think it would actually be hard for me to paint for 10 hours straight. While paint is drying ill go work on a t shirt design. I think I need to flip back and forth to keep my head working. I’ve definitely spent weeks at a time just doing one or the other and I really don’t like it, I enjoy the balance.

How did you start doing work with found objects and sculpture? When and how did that first happen?

I was originally inspired by stuff that Juan Angel Chavez was doing. He was doing these amazing installations on the streets years before any of this "street art" stuff that’s going on now. Also when I moved to Pilsen the amount of material I started to see around the neighborhood was inspiring. Finding a dumpster full of scrap wood will make you want to use those materials.

For the found stuff, you mostly work with wood, right?

Yeah, really just wood, there is a good cabinet makers dumpster that I hit on the regular for all sorts of wood panels and wood veneers real close to the studio. I like that what I find dictates what I can make. So based on what I find it will really change the art. I used to have strict rules for these tower / totem pieces that I was making that I couldn’t cut the wood top to bottom only on the sides so the wood would dictate how tall the piece was going to be.

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Can you talk a little bit about your collaborative projects? You seem to like working with other people a lot: you and Juan Chavez and Mike Genovese have done a bunch of stuff together, and you’ve done work with Maya Hayuk, Bigfoot, Eric Coleman, Evan Hecox, etc.

Collaborative stuff can be fun, especially when working with people you are comfortable with. You just start to vibe off each other and make shit happen. There is also something exciting about starting with nothing and no plan and just making stuff and in a few hours or days you have this big object and its really not owned by anybody. For me that work is more about the process and less about the final piece.

What has been your favorite collaboration so far?

Of all the collaborative projects, the stuff that really stands out the most are some of the bigger projects. Mike Genovese, Juan Angel Chavez and I drove to Philly for the "Long Walk Home" show, picked up scraps on the road, made constructions from the road, visited people on the road, drank a lot and built a crazy installation at Space 1026. We got there a week earlier that they had expected so we set up shop in a half abandoned warehouse with an extension cord, a few lights and a mountain of scraps. When it rained it actually made a giant waterfall in the middle of our workspace. It was a pretty surreal experience but Philly is a crazy city so it all made sense at the time. A show like that for me is about so much more than just the art that its almost strange to see people show up to see the final work when for me it was really about the process and journey of the 2 weeks leading up to that.

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How do you feel about the tendency that people have to group a bunch of artists of somewhat similar ages and demographics into the “skate / street / urban” whatever field? Is it something you feel happy to be associated with or is it a source of tension or concern?

It can be both good and bad. The Run Up, for example, was a great DVD and I was excited to be a part of it. There were some great artists on there so I felt I was in good company. As far as the overall scene goes though, it’s a bit strange as no one wants to get pigeon holed into a certain group. And also my art is really different from a lot of the other stuff in that scene. So I don’t mind being grouped with that but I feel its more based on that we all grew up on punk rock, skateboarding, hip hop, graf, etc and less really that the styles are similar. Also I’m kind of a curve ball as my personal art is quite different from my graphic design work, so certain people like the paintings, others just like the design stuff but they are going in different directions.

Music plays a big part in your work. Talk about how song lyrics have influenced your work. Are some song lyrics your starting point for certain work?

For a while I was doing a lot of paintings and whatever I was listening to would work its way into the piece. Lyrics would basically spill over from the speakers into the drawings. I have a hard time expressing myself with words sometimes, so I used to think of it as the people that were writing these lyrics were basically describing feelings and emotions that I wasn’t able to express. So I would take their words and bring them into a painting similar to how someone would sample music; I felt like I was sampling these lyrics. My painting has gotten a bit more abstract but I’m still bringing a lot of lyrics into my drawings, especially some of the hot air balloon drawings.

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Yeah i've seen those hot air balloons pop up in your work recently. What's that all about? Cody, do you want to float away?

Not really sure how they popped up. I like the shape and I like drawing repetitive objects so it seemed to work. I think we all might need to float away at some point.

Speaking of song lyrics, what are you listening to now?

Pretty much a little of everything. I listen to music close to 10-12 hours a day at the studio so ill just make playlists that go for days and fit whatever mood Im in, Fresh Air and This American Life podcasts, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, CCR, Of Montreal, Modest Mouse, Nirvana, the Berg Sans Nipple, Black Sabbath, The Misfits, Bonnie Prince Billy, Iron and Wine, My Morning Jacket, Boris, Mono…its hard for me to go a few days without a little Belle and Sebastion, The Cure, iTunes finally got Metallica so lots of Kill 'Em All, Daytrotter sessions, also been downloading loads of old rave mixes lately, some old 93 til Infinity era hip hop mixes, also towards the end of the day ill throw on some Miami-bass-gutter-butter-juke-dirty south-crunk-electro-new wave-party jams to keep it moving. The internet has opened up a world of unlimited amounts of random mixes, lots of random shit I guess

What does your typical day look like?

I wake up pretty early around 8, come in to the studio around 9, email bullshit, then pretty much go through lists of whatever I need to do, commercial work, painting, etc. its actually pretty structured when I look at it from an outside perspective. I try to go home between 7 -9 but sometimes will come back for a second shift after dinner. I definitely come in here like its a job. I’m not one of those artists that can sleep all day and paints at night and such. I need regular hours to keep my head straight. I love what I do but its basically a job so I feel like I need to be here most days to make shit happen.

I feel like a lot of people who aren't artists don't look at it that way. Lots of people have this romantic idea of being an artist and how that means you can sleep all day and just kinda produce shit whenever. Kathleen Hanna once said something like: "Being an artist is a job. it's just not a sucky job". And that being an artist is something that should be given value and respect and looked at as an important part of any given community.

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I never really looked at things that way. When I was younger, I was always just waiting to go broke and have to get a "real" job. It’s really only been the last 4-5 years that I’ve come to figure out that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and that this my real occupation.

And you’ve made all of this happen living in Chicago, a city that is not often thought of as a hotspot for working artists. Are you ever leaving Chicago?

People always ask that as if they are just waiting for everyone to slowly move away. I really like it here, I cant control the future so who knows but I’m definitely not planning on it.

Good. I don’t want you to go. None of my other friends enjoy drinking Old Style with me quite as much as you do. So wait, you're from Wisconsin so maybe you can answer this for me: what amazing genius dreamed up Mars Cheese Castle and how fucking awesome is that place?

Wisconsin rules, probably one of the reasons I’ll stay in Chicago is that it’s so close to Wisconsin but still far enough away. At Mars Cheese Castle you can buy cheese and sausage in the shape of beer bottles. Cheese curds are so good as well. Also you can get kringles from Racine their which are supposed to last all week and I’ll eat them in 1 day.

For every non-Wisconsin-ite, please define a kringle.

It’s like a danish but bigger like a round oval pastry usually filled with a fruit filling and has some frosting on top. The stuff dreams are made of.

Oh right, dream-filled pastries. What shows / projects do you have coming up?

I’ve got some work in a show of 8 Chicago based artists at the Detroit Museum of New Art in April, working on a few album covers for Chocolate Industries, getting ready to start on the new Also Known As book, just finished up a little collection of clothes for Sixpack in France, always working on stuff for Stussy, I guess a little bit of everything...

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What about the fantasy show you’re curating? That’s shaping up to be a pretty big deal, no?

It’s called "Were Rollin', They're Hatin", it takes place in April and may in Chicago. I was a big dungeon and dragons nerd as a kid, and Logan Bay and myself were always talking about D&D and fantasy role playing stuff, so when Ed from Lumpen was planning his annual Version fest we all sat down and talked and it seemed to make sense. So we all started making lists of artists who might be down. Logan and myself are kinda holding down the art part and Ed and Rachael Olsen are organizing all these other crazy parts of the show. There is going to be a room where you can roll a character, a D&D library, a dungeon in the basement. Its a pretty big show that consists of tons of art, some intense installations (a castle, a cave, a catapult). Some of the artists involved include Paper Rad, Maya Hayuk, E*Rock, Andrew Jeffrey Wright, Seripop, Little Friends of Printmaking, Justin B Williams, French, Noah Butkus, Dungeon Majesty and so on. Also there are a bunch of bands playing in the space during the month as well as some screenings. I’ve curated some random things before but this is one of the bigger things, although it’s more of a group curatorial deal…

Shh, shh shh…you had me at catapult.

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BONUS ROUND – “THE DOZENS!” 12 QUESTIONS OF QUESTIONABLE IMPORTANCE
!

Budweiser or Old Style?

Old Style.

Cubs or White Sox?

Fuck the cubs.

The Smiths or the Cure?

Got to roll with the smiths.

Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

Lord of the Rings.

Poop or pee? (to eat)

Make it rain!

Slayer or Metallica?

Tough one. I’m down with slayer but I have to give it to Metallica but just until 1996.

Chicken or beef? (you got beef, son?!)

Bacon.

Jay-Z or Nas?

Morrisey.

The beach or the mountains?

Mountains.

Mobb Deep or G-Unit?

“Getting closer to god in a tight situation”.

Eagle or hawk?

Eagle.

Would you rather be stoned or drunk?

Bring it back to 93 son! Strictly candyflippin.

For more on Cody, check his site: struggleinc.com

*Preview of U.P.'s The Run Up artist series DVD {moscomment}

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