Arts & Culture · Fine Art

The Tao of Friendship

group photoGallery owner Mian Bu with Alan Clark, of the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Cultural Affairs, artist Patty Hudak, Rosemary Kavanagh, wife of the Irish Ambassador, and curator Catherine Cheng reading “Sailing to Byzantium” by W.B. Yeats.

In May, I received an invitation from my dear friend Patty Hudak to attend her solo exhibition, “Patty Hudak in China” presented by the Being 3 Gallery in Beijing. I knew that the show was an important accomplishment for Patty, but I live and work as an artist in Denmark and I wasn’t planning to go all the way to Beijing. Then I realized that Patty and I have always been able to be at each other’s side when it mattered most. I spontaneously bought a plane ticket, applied for a visa, and canceled a week of meetings. Three days later, I was on my way China.

Sometimes Patty and I don’t talk for months at a time, and other times we talk every day while working in our respective studios. When we don’t have time to chat, we mail each other images of what we are working on. It is invaluable for both of us to have a close artist friend to discuss our work with, especially when we get stuck on a particular artwork or discover a new source of inspiration. Because we know each other so well and are familiar with the process of making artwork, we are able to ask each other relevant questions and offer each other very specific suggestions. Once I had my ticket, I realized that I was really excited to see Patty and her newest work, the results of her nine years in China. I felt personally invested in her work.

The Friendship

Patty and SuzSuzanne Russell and Patty Hudak in front of “Spring”(2015).

Patty and I met in 1982 at Wellesley College, more than 30 years ago. We both lived in Simpson West, an odd little dormitory attached to the infirmary. I was a senior and Patty, a junior, had just transferred from another liberal arts college. One night on my way back from the bathroom, I heard someone crying behind a closed door. I knocked and found Patty struggling to write a philosophy paper comparing Descartes and Locke. We talked through Patty’s ideas as I typed, and the three-page paper was finished.

From that day on, Patty and I were friends. Patty was a Studio Art major and I was an English major, but I was interested in art. As my Not-So-Secret Santa, Patty entertained everyone in our dorm by leaving disgusting sculptures made out of giant sticks, rotting food, and lots of duct tape in front of my door. We spent many long nights discussing everything from our boyfriends, to the Catholic Church, to the paintings of Oskar Kokoschka and the “Social Sculpture” ideas of Joseph Beuys. Our favorite discussions were about art and we were always candid about what we understood and what we were still trying to understand. Patty even helped me when I made my own colorful version of Yves Klein-like body prints as part of my law school application. She stood watch in the hallway as I covered my naked body with paint and lay on long sheets of paper in the communal bathroom.

After graduation, Patty and I both ended up in New York City. She got a job as a printer and I went to law school. When one of us happened by an art opening with famous artists or free food, she found a payphone and called the other friend to come join in the fun. And, of course, we always discussed the artwork, whether it was paintings by Wolf Kahn or the Guerrilla Girls’ feminist protest art. Every Sunday, we met for breakfast at Little Odessa, a diner in the East Village. We often moved on to a second or third restaurant and ended up talking about our lives and eating breakfast all day. And when my college boyfriend unexpectedly broke up with me, Patty comforted me for hours at a time. She took me to long arty films, like Andrei Tarkowsky’s Andrei Rublev, and handed me tissues as I cried in the dark.

Our friendship has continued to develop over the years. I don’t think that either of us has ever asked for too much, or been disappointed. We had marathon phone calls when I moved to Denmark and was struggling with a new culture and language. We have talked through career decisions (including my decision to stop practicing law and become a full-time artist), marriage problems, expat issues, pregnancies, raising children, growing older, and aging and dying parents.

An important part of our relationship has always been sharing ideas about art. As an artist and friend, Patty understood when I suddenly stopped making physical artwork in order to focus on giving free legal and social support to refugees in Denmark. She was one of the few people who understood that creating solutions to problems in individuals’ lives was similar to creating paintings or other art objects.

Recently, Patty has been inspired by the Chinese idea of the Five Elements and the Wu Xing painting technique. She has talked a lot about how she incorporates these ideas into her own artwork. This was one of the reasons that I was so excited to be going to China to see her show. It was an opportunity to experience Patty’s newest work together with her installed in a gallery space.

 DSC_1210Patty explaining her painting technique on “Sailing to Byzantium” (2015).

Next Page: The Five Elements and the Wu Xing Painting Technique

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  • Elizabeth Titus July 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    I met Suzanne in summer 2014 at the Yale Writing Program, and I was struck by her openness and willingness to make a new friend — me. We share an interest in helping Afghan people and initially connected over that. In time, though, we have shared other passions and stayed in touch, despite her being in Copenhagen and my being in NYC. Through this moving article, I see that Suzanne supports all her friends, lifelong ones and newer ones, and I loved reading about her trip to Beijing and Patty’s work. There is indeed an art to friendship, and Suzanne has mastered it!

  • luoyi July 24, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Dear Suzanne, when I read the story just like see you again. So nice the friendship ,the plain words and the beautiful memory, beautiful you and your Patty.Yours,New friend luoyi

  • Catherine Cheng July 23, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Well done! Dear Suzzane, what a great story with art and friendship!
    With appreciation, and looking forward to seeing you soon in NYC. Yours, Catherine Cheng, the curator of Patty’s exhibition

  • Catherine Cheng July 23, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Well done, Suzzane. What a great story about art and friendship!
    So sorry for having missed you in Beijing during the exhibition. I am so proud of Patty for her progress and harvest in China. Thank you again for your nice article! Yours, Catherine Cheng, the curator for this exhibition

  • Niamh Cunningham July 22, 2015 at 9:39 am

    A wonderful piece Suzanne, really enjoyed reading about your friendship in the early days, quite a treat to get that glimpse of life. Loved the comprehensive view of Patty’s work . One work tributes the other’s work , all through friendship..perfect!

  • Leslie in Oregon July 22, 2015 at 12:13 am

    Absolutely fascinating, on so many levels. Thank you for sharing this story with us, Suzanne and Women’s Voices for Change

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen July 21, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Beautiful writing, wonderful story of friendship, incredible review of an artists work. Thank you so much, Suzanne.