Tuesday, July 22, 2008

David Hockney's landscapes

[The links are to images]

Hockney's big Yorkshire landscapes done in 2006-2007 came as a surprise. Last I knew, he was doing large double portraits on four full sheets of watercolour paper with the subjects sitting on swivel chairs. It was a long series and they're already looking better as time goes by, though it's getting more difficult to find good examples on the internet, as the poor quality of the National Portrait Gallery image shows.

Then there were the dog paintings which brought him widespread scorn. These were and are considered trivial and sentimental, a view I do not share. At the very least, the length of the series shows Hockney's commitment to hard work.

Before that he did a series of landscapes in California, of Mulholland Drive and Nicholl's Canyon. These were large and colourful with the landscape spread out as if seen from a high viewpoint or even from the air. A few years ago I thought they might have been a little forced but now they're growing in stature, so to speak, and are fascinating images, visual extravaganzas. A later painting of the Grand Canyon is on sixty canvases.

In the 1980s, Hockney did his cubist-inspired photo-collages, with multiple shots taken from different angles and then cut up and pasted together, as in the iconic Pearblossom Highway (1986, photographic collage, 198 x 282 cm.) These too did not receive much critical acclaim but once again they are looking better with the passage of time. Furthermore, one can see how these cut-up and juxtaposed images could have led to his subsequent work -- the double portraits on four sheets of paper, the Grand Canyon paintings made up of dozens of smaller canvases put together; and now the monumental landscapes of East Yorkshire, each on 10 or 12 canvases. The biggest one is on fifty canvases and was painted for the Royal Academy's 2007 summer show.

Astonishingly, the Yorkshire landscapes were done outdoors, from life. Thus, Hockney achieves the spontaneity of painting outdoors at a scale never attempted before, to my knowledge, underscoring how innovative and exciting these pieces are.

Hockney's process involved transporting all his gear in a pick-up truck and setting up several easels together; and then working furiously for several days in succession. He might have had a tent as well, and helpers to lift and carry and set the equipment up, but I'm just guessing. This link tells how he used digital technology to help him see the painting's overall progress as if he was standing back from it. It also has a photo of Hockney outdoors, at work on an array of easels.

However he did it, I have the greatest admiration for the work. His strength has always been his gift for drawing which for the last fifty years has been a liability. Hockney plodded along on his own path, disregarding fashion and doing what he did best. Just turned 70 and with a huge body of work behind him, he didn't stagnate, he's still breaking new ground, and you have to admire that.

The only problem with Hockney now, and it's a disappointing one, is the lockdown on images. Unfortunately good examples of his work are becoming harder to find on the internet because of strict enforcement of copyright. Artists get known through their work being seen and it's risky to prevent people from seeing it. Hockney may be sufficiently well regarded now that he can afford to do this, joining the ranks of only the most illustrious of painters such as Picasso, Klee and Warhol, but it antagonizes many in the Wikipedia and Open Source generation and is potentially counter- productive. For myself, I declined to go further when I met the "STOP" sign on the official Hockney website.



Moira said...

Hi Mary - Great post! I linked to it on my blog today. Check it out at Dog Art Today...


Mary Adam said...

Thanks Moira.

Susanna Sweeney said...

Great review Mary.