So I went to meet Nicholas Fudge, the Goldsmith’s graduate who notoriously threw his work in the bin two days before his degree show. One might think another gimmick to satisfy the likes of the sensation era but no, an act of pure frustration from an artist so involved with his practice he reminds me of when Stimpy (of Ren and Stimpy) picked his belly button so much it turned inside out. This is not to say he was naval gazing, but rather his intensity and obsessive nature led to constant self-questioning. The thing that separated the apathetic from the activist, the thing that led him to turn his back on the spotlight of the nineties superstar artist, the thing that drove him to America.

“Like Sartre’s Nausea, I had nausea”.

I can say two things about this; The first is that the only Sartre I ever attempted, was Being and Nothingness. Drawn entirely by the title, it’s the only book, where I have read a sentence over and over again and still failed to grasp what it said. Mere words on a page, yet my synapses blew a fuse. Maybe that’s the point – what is sense?

The second point is that I totally understood what he meant – the restrictions of canvas and paint as a medium, or the prison of the novel for a writer. The ever repeating infinity figure of eight, surely there is more? A way out of the oncoming traffic of nonsense that it is to be an artist?

But I also think that from Fudge’s point of view, this was accompanied by the mass media campaign to make art cool and shocking. The Turner Prize was at its most popular and controversial. Damien Hirst, (one of Fudge’s contemporaries at Goldsmiths), was making art the ultimate prize in consumerism whilst Fudge, the antithesis of this, developed in existentialism, skepticism and deep unrest, abandoned Cool Britannia, and headed to the USA to find some solace from his disease and the PR megalomania. There he met his (now ex) wife Tracy Angel, a radical poet, and they travelled across America together.

“This was before austerity, and you could live off very little”

It was during Fudge’s American sojourn that he discovered digital art and the Apple Mac and it was with computers that he found a reinvigorated passion for making work. He became obsessed with the birth of a new medium and felt privileged to be a part of it.

“Drawing with mathematics and code was a new poetic, I was addicted”

The contradiction within this being that everything is condensed into a file; the tiniest icon on a desktop, but within a file is a vast quantity of information. This Alice in Wonderland effect not only gives a metaphysical feel to digital artwork but also enabled Fudge to travel across America with his compacted studio.

“On the road with my hard drive”

Over the next 25 years, Fudge travelled back and forth, producing work without showing it, turning up “like a bad penny” at the exhibitions of friends like Gary Hume and Sarah Lucas, then returning to America to carry on with his own private practice. That was until a month or so ago. With some encouragement from Phil King, Fudge broke his silence and exhibited here, in sunny old Hastings. (If you missed this, Fudge is going to be exhibiting this month in London, details at the bottom of the article)

Throughout my conversation with Fudge, I felt his underlying humour, the same as I felt when I went to see his exhibition at the Observer Building. It’s a funniness I couldn’t put my finger on. Some of it is more satirically obvious than others. His reproduction of grand masters on soap, are finely skilled pieces of draughtsmanship but they’re also very anti-establishment – “I can draw anything or nothing, on anything, it might disappear, be washed off, who cares, up yours”. This is what I like about both Fudge himself and his artwork. Behind the grenade, secreted in the background is Duchamp’s urinal, The Fountain.

“Humour is a weapon”

The humour isn’t fed to you on a reality-TV driven plate, the joke isn’t explained. But it’s self-deprecating too. In Botticelli’s Venus, Fudge has drawn on what appears to be the transparency on Photoshop, before you create a background or add layers. But even each light grey square has been drawn on, both mocking and appreciating the medium invented by Adobe, that we all accept and use.

Like those of you that were there when Jimi Hendrix played on the pier, Fudge has been drawing on a computer using a Wacom tablet and Painter 2.0, since the dawn of digital art. We now look on this with a nostalgic grin, like cassette tapes and the Commodore 64. These intensely detailed drawings, look like they are enlarged photographs, but as Fudge points out, anything as large as that would become pixelated, so they are drawn using vectors and when printed, are slick and beautiful.

Fudge is reclusive rather than aggressive, he has the last laugh. He has the ability to resurface, enigmatically, with a 25-year-wide body of unseen work. His ability not to be hypnotised but rather repulsed by the draws of YBA fame, and to stay engrossed in being an artist, means he can now enjoy showing and curating his work and dance to his own tune, without the constraints of a chronological structure, with the freedom to observe his work as a fleshy mass.

What does it all mean? Huh?

I said, “I might be in the middle of painting and I stop and I think, what on earth am I doing, what’s this about? I could just as well be making a cheese sandwich.”

He put it rather more poetically than me. The conundrum is, in the words of Duchamps; create meaning, or does meaning already exist?

I’ll leave that with you, don’t let it get you down.

Nicholas Fudge, Reality Drive: Escape velocity, The Fitzrovia Gallery, 139 Whitfield Street, London.

June 17 – July 9 Tues-Sun 12pm -7pm

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