In the Studio with Dannielle Hodson

British artist Dannielle Hodson exposes the plasticity of the human psyche and the effect our daily download of data has on perception. Using unconscious drawing techniques, her whirling intertwined figures explore the carnivalesque and absurd. We met with Danielle to talk to talk a little bit about her artistic journey.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

I think the art in me is innate. I’m always looking for something to do that involves creating something in any medium; paint, textiles, food…and I think that’s what makes me an artist.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

I was born in Wolverhampton and moved to Telford when I was about 8, which felt like a new town in the arsehole of nowhere. I lived a fairly unremarkable life in a place devoid of culture for a while. I left home at a very young age but was driven and focused. I always wanted to be a fashion designer, that was my dream, and I got accepted to study fashion at Central Saint Martins when I was 17. So I left for London and didn’t look back. I’m tough and I think this helps in the art world because it’s mostly about being rejected and other people’s opinions. You have to have a lot of self-confidence to just crack on and do what you think is important. So I guess my upbringing gave me resilience for which I am grateful.

Technicolour Teddy, 2020

Oil on canvas
50 x 40 cm

Absinth, 2019

Oil on canvas
60 x 45 cm

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience?

My artistic journey is like one of my paintings, the narrative is not linear. The foreground and the background are interchangeable. I studied fashion and worked in fashion and ran my own businesses until 2007 when my fate took a turn for the worse and an act of self-defence resulted in a prison sentence. I found art whilst I was inside and the day the art teacher handed me some paint, brushes and a canvas quite literally saved my life. I would paint two self portraits, my first paintings, and they both went on to win competitions and be included in major Outsider art exhibitions, Koestler Prize and Outside In.

In 2009 I won my sentence appeal and came out to two exhibitions, one in Royal Festival Hall and another a solo show at the Pallant House Gallery. I am now a Trustee for Outside In, I’m so grateful for the opportunity they gave me and the work they do for others. In 2015 I went back to Central Saint Martins to do an MA in Fine art, I loved it. It’s very self directed which suits me. I spent two years making moving images and performance pieces, works I’m really proud of and I absolutely loved it, but when I left I wasn’t sure how to be in that world. I had a long hard think about what I enjoy doing and can do, and that was painting.

I’ve been doing painting lessons for years with an older Russian man called Sergei Pavalenko, who painted the queen at the height of his career; he is so incredible and I’m honoured for the lessons he continues to teach me. I decided to focus on painting and saw this alternative painting programme called Turp Banana, run by Marcus Harvey, which sounded amazing. So I applied to join and I got accepted and that’s where I am. I’m with painters painting and being tutored by the most talented, gifted and generous artists, so my artistic journey is kind of incredible.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you stick to one medium? Do you experiment? Do you see any parameters to your work? 

I think doing an MA was a real game changer for me. I started to research more and dug deeply to get to the bottom of what it is that I’m doing and why I want to do it, where it sits in terms of all that has gone before. Being on a course with people in the same stages of their journey was so exciting and I’m still in touch with many of my course mates. I started to question everything and my work evolved. I made a moving image work where I designed the set and all costumes and my degree show was an instillation and performance. I learned so much collaborating with performers and other artists. I really hope I can do more work like that in the future. I would say I am multi-disciplinary, however I’m currently sticking to painting because I want to see how a period of intense focus can develop that aspect of my practice. My method of working can be applied broadly so I believe the only parameters my work has are time and money.

Blue Face, 2020

Oil on canvas
50 x 40 cm

Orange Face, 2020

Oil on canvas
50 x 40 cm

What’s the message of your work? Are there themes/narratives/purpose? 

Life needs all-sorts to be rich, a variety of marks that sit together, co-exist, and just are. Life is dry without variety and for me so is painting. So I try to bring everything that I have to the canvas; the good days, the bad days, anxiety, joy, fear, love. Sometime I act tentatively because I’m not feeling brave, other days I’m a tiger and I want to tear the canvas up and attack or paint over what I did the pervious day and then go back to it lovingly the next day… Painting is a journey and there is always uncertainty, especially in the more complex canvases or bigger works. The smaller pieces are smaller moments of time and catch a fleeting mood. I will paint, turn the canvas around and change everything. I don’t want to know or fall in love with one thing I want it to be unstable, to shift.

My works all tell stories, they talk to me. I find characters as I go along and if I fall in love with them they stay, even till the last minute when finally for the sake of the painting they might have to go.

Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

My aesthetic is a feast of imagery. My works are very much informed by my research and the affect that has on me as a person. I’m always listening to audiobooks. I’m fascinated by neuroscience and brain plasticity, self-illusion and confabulation, human behaviour and behavioural science and what it is to be human and why we do the things we do. I’m a fascinated person: high brow, low brow. Lots of my peers commented that my works remind them of Medieval Grotesque, Bosch, Breughel and Goya and that makes me happy. I’m currently researching carnival in more depth because I feel a real connection with this time.

Who and what are your greatest influences? 

Books, life, people, Netflix, Mubi, Geroge Condo, Cecilly Brown, Picasso…

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

I hope that when people look at my work they can enter familiar yet unfamiliar land and get lost in paint. Or meet a new character that might make them curious, so that they go on a mad mental journey with them, or the possibility of what they are. I hope for the moments that people look at my paintings, they are having to work out what it is, use their imaginations, suspend belief. I’m not consciously thinking of an audience, I think that would inhibit the flow of paint, it would also mean that I’m assuming things on behalf of people I don’t know. This is futile, so I stick to making the paintings do what makes me want to carry on looking at them. I guess it’s like you have to love yourself first before you can love others.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

I think good work comes from utilising ones present state/energy, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, there can be something to be gained from it. That said bad energy can ruin work, so if my energy isn’t right I read or go to galleries which is just as good for development as painting. If I don’t have the right energy to finish a painting but want to paint I make small works until I do. I also need a good 3-4 hours per session of intense focus because I give my work so much so I’m done after that. I’m very productive in that time.

What are your goals for the future? (Projects, collaborations)

I would love to do more performance-based works and think about how I can expand my painting practice into this area. I’m also really interested in ceramics.

How has your art practice been affected by self-isolation?

Isolating has been a creative challenge because I have two small children, so I’m focusing on their creativity and health. I am drawing, I love drawing and it’s interesting how my painting has developed through drawing. It’s such a great way to let out some creative energy. I’m also reading Rabelais and his world by Mikhail Bakhtin (finally!) and Art and Instinct by Roy Oxalade and pondering some of his thoughts, which feel quite poignant at this life junction.

Are you creating new work while social distancing?  

I don’t think you always need to be making. Sometimes thinking is just as productive. I’ve got 3-4 nearly finished paintings that I’ve been looking at and imagining how they will look finished, visualising what else I could do to them. This is as exciting as really doing it and when I finally get to them all that built up energy will really help… I just got an oil sketch pad delivered – my favourite, recommended by the fabulous Anne Ryan, so I see myself using that in the evenings.

How are you staying creative? 

In my mind. I’ve cooked a lot…

#isolationartschool has had some excellent tutorials I’ve been following with my daughter and other galleries have great stuff too, the RA for one. There are also some great youtube videos, Louisianna Channel is a fave.


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