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Exploring a new landscape

Mixed media artist, Alison Hodson, bridges the gap between realism and impressionism one stitch at a time

At first glace, Alison Hodson's depictions of urban and natural landscapes appear to be paintings - the work is quite vivid and detailed. But on closer inspection, you'll notice the canvases are laced with tiny, detailed stitches that connect layers of textured fabrics to the surface, becoming one with the overall image. The blending, even up close, is seamless.

Hodson, a mixed media artist with a background in graphic design, photography and textile arts, seems to have carved out quite the niche for herself with her unique fusion of photography and material works; essentially combining realism and impressionism.

But Hodson's distinct canvases are something of a happy accident, as she didn't study all three artistic disciplines with any grand plan or vision. Rather, she was in search of a career that could fully satisfy her creative spirit, and stumbled across the combination of textil and photography while working on her thesis project.

"I started out just doing fabric pieces without any photo at all, and they were interesting, but they weren't really exciting to me," she recalled. "...It was one of those fluke things that comes to you in the middle of the night, I thought I'll try and put (textile and photographs) together because I wanted to show that they were a real place or a real thing, not just imagined."

As soon as she married the two mediums, something just clicked.

"Those two I felt really worked well together even though they're so contrasting, they brought something from each place," she explained.

When she first began creating these pieces back in 2004, the scenes were far more urban - reflective of the Toronto landscape she was surrounded by. Now, almost five years later, Hodson calls Whistler home, with her newer pieces clearly focusing more on the natural world.

"Some of them are very raw, more in the beginning stages, but then they progressed to be a little less edgy," Hodson said.

On a practical level, Hodson's process is quite labour-intensive. She starts out with a large canvas printed with one of her many original photographs, then cuts out sections of the image that stand out, either because of their form, colour or texture.

"I never choose like a sky scene or something that's so smooth and subtle," Hodson explained.

Next, she painstakingly applies layers of fabric to the reverse of the canvas, carefully sewing on one section at a time.

The process took a lot of time to perfect, but over the last year, she's ironed all the kinks out, switching from archival paper, which required a lot of glues and adhesives, to canvas, which she can stitch straight into.

"I've spent over a month on a piece before, but it's getting faster," she said.

Hodson has come across artists who stitch into actual photos, but not in the same way that she combines the two mediums. Her end product is a large, intricate image riddled with depth and dimension created by the hidden panels of material. It's really no surprise that even when seen in a gallery, people think Hodson works in just paint or film.

"They don't know - they have no idea what it is," Hodson said with a smile. "They think it's just photographs at first, or they'll think they're painted - they're not quite sure."

To date, Hodson has also completed some very exciting commissioned projects for clients across the country. She recently completed a large piece, entitled Red Barn, for a couple in Alberta, and a striking wooden bamboo piece for a woman in Vancouver.

"We did her children's names and her family names within the graffiti on the bamboo," she said, pointing to a photograph of the piece in her portfolio. "So see all those Chinese characters? That's all stitched in and those are all her family's names... so it is very personal for her."

She also hopes to change the typical perceptions of textile arts as tapestries, weavings or quilts, and bring the medium more into the mainstream.

"Its something different for people and I think that that's really what has attracted most of my clients," she said. "They're looking for something different than an oil or acrylic painting, not that there's anything wrong with that... but I think mixed media is starting to get a bit more popular."

And while Whistler's art scene tends to lean towards traditional landscapes, and Hodson's work is anything but traditional, her work has been warmly received within the community, including being named one of the best in show at last year's ArtWalk.

To see one of Hodson's most recent pieces, check out Gallery Listings on page 64.