Working out of his studio 15 minutes south of Byron Bay on the North Coast of NSW, Greg Hodgson is a coffee/music addicted Auckland born and bred designer/illustrator/artist who crafts original textile prints, apparel graphics and artworks. After over a decade working in design agencies in NZ and Australia, three years ago Greg and wife Liz decided to move away from the city to be close to family, the beach and to find a simpler life. Happily so far… things are working out just fine.
What makes your work unique and truly your own? Who or what inspires your art?
For me, it is one of the biggest struggles any creative person faces today- how to be unique? We are bombarded with so much information, so many feeds, so much stuff that it is really hard not to have some of it rub off on what we do- be it painting, making music or any other endeavor. I think with age and experience comes the ability to acknowledge an influence but then also to be able to step far enough away from it that something unique can be created using that original spark.
I tend to approach my paintings in a fairly graphic way (I am after all still a graphic designer) but these days I'm not afraid of things getting a little ugly. I’m not afraid of the mistake. The mistake feels like an opportunity to me now- I’ve learned to embrace that moment painting where my body outruns my brain, and then my brain looks at what my body has done and goes ‘oh bloody hell- how do we get out of this.’ For me that's the unique moment- that's when I am in a place no-one else inhabits and the originality comes from fighting my way back to where it all makes sense again.
I take inspiration from many things and people. First up would be skateboarding - I credit it more than anything else for where I have ended up today. Through it, I have met so many creative people with original ideas that have showed me new ways to look at things. Nothing comes easy on a skateboard, and that's something a person needs to be comfortable with in everyday life with the way the world is.
The ocean is awe-inspiring and watching and riding waves certainly puts my mind in the best place to create. Its the main reason we moved up the coast- the ocean and family.
Discovering and listening to new music as well as old favourites inspires me hugely and the right album can leave me buzzing away happily in my studio for hours. Favourite artists include Mogwai, Flying Saucer Attack, Radiohead, High Dependency Unit, Daniel Avery, Boards of Canada, HTRK, The Phoenix Foundation - all bands and producers that can send my mind wandering.
Family & friends inspire me. If my wife and child are happy then I am too and being happy certainly helps me become inspired. I have got a lot of creative friends whom I love to watch push boundaries- be it in their studios painting and creating or in the ocean riding waves.
Artist and designers that inspire me? There are many but off the top of my head- Shirley Jaffe, Geoff Mcfetridge, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Emilio Pucci, Olle Eksell, Martin Poppelwell, John Reynolds, Sheyne Tuffery and Alon Kedem create stuff I love.
Do you think that living more freely, away from the hustle of the city, also allows for greater creative freedom?
It definitely acts as a buffer to that information overload I mentioned earlier. Walking out my door is very different to living in the city, there are far fewer distractions and if I want my day to be simple it can be. That said our town is not the art capital of the world so every now and again we will jump in the car and head north to Brisbane for a bit of culture- it is a city that is creatively on a rapid rise with lots of good music and art stuff happening - my wife and I love the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.
How do you think art informs or influences other facets of life, like personal growth, world view or parenthood for example?
Like anything good art takes time- well it does for me. In this world of immediacy, it doesn’t come easy. If you put the time in- things reveal themselves to you and you move forward.
Obviously the more you put in the more enjoyable the reward is.
By applying that same belief to being a parent I'm hopeful my son will grow up to be a happy inquisitive individual.
I think anybody can appreciate art in some form much in the same way they can certain foods or wines. Go out and experience it and eventually the senses will respond.
How long have you been creating art? When did you start sharing it with the world? What did you want to do had you not pursued art and what’s the most challenging thing about being an artist?
I have been drawing ever since I was a child. My grandfather was a painter and one of my earliest memories is of him taking me to the Auckland art gallery. I cannot remember the show but he used to spend hours out in his garage creating oil paintings and I was always fascinated by him out there. Then later through skateboarding my friends would encourage me to draw stuff and eventually some of it ended up on clothing and that motivated me further. Working as a graphic designer you tend to spend large amounts of time in front of a computer screen which is something everybody can always do with less of, and getting back into painting around six years ago and taking it seriously was definitely a response to that. As I've gotten older my appreciation for anything made by hand has grown. I have a small personal collection of works from other artists I like and those work's mean more to me than most other stuff I own.
I’ve been sharing my illustrations and graphic design for years through album covers and editorial illustrations for various magazines, but in terms of taking my painting seriously and sharing it with people it is only a fairly recent thing. Living where we do Instagram has been the vehicle I have used to get my work out there. It is early days but the response has generally been positive and I’m content to keep learning and progressing. Graphic Design pays most of my bills but if the day ever comes when I’m able to live off painting- well that would be something.
As a kid I wanted to be pilot or a professional tennis player etc. As an adult, I've loved being in bands over the years and have a huge amount of admiration for anyone who can make a living from music.
I am not gonna lie- the most challenging thing about being an artist is having to do work you don’t want to do to survive. But anyone in a creative field understands that pain and it is our reality. I am not yet at a place where I can wake up every day and think 100% painting.
I run my design studio which predominantly focuses on textile design, branding and illustration but I also work with a local council and take care of all their corporate communication.
It is a challenge but on its day designing a large corporate document can in its own way be creatively rewarding and I am working with good people who appreciate what I try to bring to the table.
What is your creative process like?
When I am painting for myself it is sometimes as simple as having a great record playing and a decent cup of coffee to get things started. I will have some sort of an idea in my head but I am not somebody who can see the completed image before I begin. The process reveals it.
Often if I have some sort of creative block and can’t get started painting I’ll muck about with my synthesizers and drum machines until it feels right to pick up a brush. I like nothing more than feeding a synth through a big lush spacey reverb pedal and creating a wall of drone!
My work tends to embrace a kind of abstract symmetry so it is a case of making marks and trusting myself and using my intuition to work to a place where things start feeling ‘right’
Finding that place is not easy and mistakes are made often but that’s the game and the reward comes after battling my way out.
I have recently taught myself how to construct my own frames using oak and pine and that has really brought a new layer of satisfaction to the whole process.
Recent commission and collaborations you’ve most enjoyed?
I have just completed an illustration for ‘The Island Grocer’ on Waiheke Island. A switched on couple have taken over and rebranded the old fruit and vegetable shop in Oneroa and the illustration seems to have been received well and it looks like I will be collaborating further with them more in the future so that's excellent. I’m currently designing labels for a new coffee venture coming out of Adelaide. The client for that project knows me well and has complete trust in what I am doing so I’ve been able to bring more of an art-based approach which I'm hoping will reward his brand down the track. And of course, this collaboration with Barkers and Surfline has worked out well!
How did you get involved with Barkers and Surfline?
I have worked with Barkers on many prints and textile designs over the years and so when the Surfline collaboration became a reality its was great to be asked to be involved.
Having spent many years as a teenager in the water at and around Waipu Cove over summer holidays I was very aware of Roger Hall and Surfline and the history they have in the area.
It became even more rewarding when I realised that some of my paintings could find a place within the range. Seeing them on hand shaped Roger Hall boards and apparel has provided a decent stoke for sure. The fact that the whole project has been very crafted, from the design process through to Roger shaping the boards by hand has given the whole thing a good feel.
What are your daily rituals?
Coffee is my vice - I love it. I can’t function without it.
I always without fail turn music on as soon we are all awake in the morning. Ever since Iggy our little fella was born I have made a point to put a record on and dance around with him each afternoon after I finish work. Music fixes everything along with the ocean and sun
And back on topic I try to paint at least one a day, preferably at night- the best work always happens at night!