London-based artist Rachel Louise Hodgson felt like an outsider in the tough creative world until she came across outsider art. Now she uses drawing as a raw, revealing form of self-expression, creating “red-faced little girls with saggy boobs” and doesn’t give a toss about what people think. Why can’t artists have fun anyway?
So Rachel, please could you tell us a little snippet about yourself and how you came to be an artist today?
I probably came to be an artist today because I was crap at everything else at school except art.
You’re from Brighton (England), do you feel that the city has had a big influence on you as an artist?
I moved back to my mum’s house in Brighton after graduating from fashion photography at London College of Fashion. I spent maybe two years doing weird drawings in a little room in the basement and working in a pub in the lanes. So yes, probably.
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You have such an amazingly unusual and unique approach to creating. Did you find that people didn’t really understand you and what you were trying to do when you started out?
I got a terrible grade on my fashion photography degree at London College of Fashion; teachers really didn't get my style. My mum was slightly confused and concerned as to why I had started doing weird oil pastel drawings of red-faced little girls with saggy boobs. But also around that time, I was emailed by Tavi Gevinson to join the Rookie Mag contributors, and then Petra Collins asked me to be in the Babe book that she was creating. So I felt like, maybe, I wasn’t a total freak. People on the Internet seemed to like my work.
At what point did you decide to just go with your gut and start expressing yourself using your own imagination as inspiration?
I guess it was when I was getting into outsider art more and more. There was a show at the Welcome collection on Japanese outsider artists, I loved it and went at least three times. Just that compulsive feeling to create, draw, make marks but also be very childish and naïve in style was really appealing – and the fact that the art was made by people outside of the art industry was another big plus.
By doing murals on the street and selling your work via Instagram, are you trying to keep your art accessible, and do you feel that other artists should be doing the same?
Yes, especially with the graffiti – I feel like there is a lot of boring graffiti around! It’s very macho and competitive in that world, like most things, actually. So I like disrupting that with some big, weird, naïve murals. First, I started making them with an artist called Birdseed, who has been doing graffiti for many years and had the knowledge and confidence to go ahead and start painting on the street. But once I started, I wanted to get other artist friends involved, especially female/femme artists that usually are not welcome in the macho graffiti world. So yeah, I want it to be accessible and for people to see another kind of art on the street that they can relate to – and see that they could go out and do it if they wanted to.
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You use super unconventional materials such as drawing using a sock or with crayons from the pound shop. Do you feel that this allows you to be more expressive because you’re not precious about using expensive drawing materials?
I am a big fan of the arts and crafts section of the pound shop. I like using childish and cheap materials because I want my work to be fun and playful, and not so serious, because art should be fun if nothing else.
Which artists/people/musicians would you say are your biggest source of inspiration?
Beyoncé, Céline Dion, Britney, Björk, Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston.
You’ve collaborated with so many great people such as Dream Wife the Band, Rookie Mag, Grrrlzine Fair, Polyester Zine, and even styled a collection for Edward Meadham. Who would be your dream person to collaborate with?
I would like to be sponsored by Strongbow dark fruit… if that could be a thing.
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Do you feel that there is a community amongst young female artists in places like London, where the galleries are still mostly filled with art made by straight white men?
Yes, with stuff like Polyester zine in London, run by Ione Gamble, who is working relentlessly to put on exhibitions, events and make zines including work from anyone except straight white men.
You’re currently at the Royal Drawing School in London, have you met many other exciting artists whilst you’ve been there, and who are they?
It would feel weird and wrong to single anyone out, as everyone is great and you can see everyone’s progression of work at @rdsdrawingyear18. We will be having three shows in December, including one at Christie’s in London, so make sure you come.
You work a lot in sketchbooks. Is this your preferred format, and if so, why?
I was working a lot in sketchbooks before because they are easy to carry around and I can draw out and about in cafés or pubs – they are more like visual diaries. But I also didn’t have the space, time, or confidence to imagine working on a bigger scale. Now, I have a free studio space in London through the Royal Drawing School, so I am really taking advantage of that and trying to think bigger.
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A lot of your drawings feature female figures with a short dark bob and a fringe very similar to yours. Are a lot of your drawings auto-biographical?
Yes, everything I make is deeply (and embarrassingly) personal and I have started to embrace and accept that more. So I shamelessly make the characters look more like myself, as everything in drawings is a representation of you anyway – I think. You draw a dog, it’s probably just you. You draw a flower, it’s definitely just a self-portrait of you as a flower.
I’ve also noticed you have a bit of a thing for mouths and tongues. Why is this?
I dunno, why d’you think?
Hmm… Immediately what comes to mind is a kind of cheeky eroticism. But then, that could be due to inspiration you draw from outsider art – and I know that’s a common characteristic in the work of many outsider artists. Do you agree?
I agree that tongues are cheeky and erotic, and kind of disturbingly childish. I remember getting told off as a child at school for sticking my tongue out at a boy in my class. I was ashamed and confused at why the teacher was so mad at me, and still am to this day. A fellow classmate reminded me of Carol Rama's work recently too and I love all the pointy tongues in her paintings – they look sharp and dangerous but silly.
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