David Hockney

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David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sun Oct 16, 2011 3:16 am

A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney by Martin Gayford – review

The artist talks about trees and landscape

Margaret Drabble
guardian.co.uk, Friday 14 October 2011 22.55 BST


David Hockney painting The Road to Thwing, Late Spring. © David Hockney/Photograph by Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima/Thames & Hudson

This book is a celebration of trees and bigger trees and some of the biggest landscape paintings in art history. It is about much more than that, but trees are at its massive, strongly beating, very English heart, and David Hockney's discovery of them is an invitation to us all to look better, see better, enjoy more.


A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney
by Martin Gayford

The beautifully illustrated (and very fairly priced) volume takes the form of conversations with Hockney's art historian friend Martin Gayford (they are designated on the page as DH and MG). MG prompts DH to talk about his move from California to Bridlington, his preparation for his forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy, his views on the differences between painting and photography, and his ongoing love affair with new digital techniques.

Hockney loves trees, he loves gadgets, and he loves to paint. The combination of these enthusiasms is producing, in his 70s, some huge works on an epic scale of mind-changing colour and glory, as well as some miniatures drawn on his iPad. These domestic sketches – the view from his bedroom window with a street light, his bedroom curtains, a bowl of flowers, a cactus, an ashtray – appear as if by magic nearly every morning in the inboxes of his friends. This man is blessed with great gifts, and he shares them with great generosity. He says he has found a new lease of life. "I would never have expected to be painting with such ambitions at this age. I seem to have more energy that I did a decade ago, when I was 60." His work rejuvenates him, it rejuvenates us all. DH is very inclusive.

Trees are long-lived, they become old friends and then they outlive us. DH claims "they are the largest manifestation of the life-force we see. No two trees are the same, like us." MG includes in his commentary Constable's description of the "young lady" ash tree on Hampstead Heath, together with a reproduction of Constable's 1821 Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree, with its extraordinary details of bark, and he also quotes from Colin Tudge's The Secret Life of Trees, a book both he and Hockney admire. Trees are "like human figures in the landscape, vegetable giants, some elegant, some heroic, some sinister ... but they are also remarkable feats of natural engineering, capable of holding up a tonne of leaves in summer against the forces of gravity and wind". This observation draws Hockney on to speak of the spatial thrill of trees and their capturing of light – a winter tree helps you to sense space, a summer tree in leaf is a container of light – and also to the theme of the changing of the seasons and the changing light of every day.

Hockney has learned to watch the seasons acutely since he moved back to his native Yorkshire. He knows when to catch the hawthorn in bloom, and gets up early with his nine-camera team to film leaves turning colour in the autumn and bare trees decked with snow. He films and paints the same deeply familiar tunnel of trees and bushes and notes how the position of the sun changes through the year – a natural phenomenon he'd never noticed in California. (Maybe it doesn't happen in California: Bridlington is, as he often points out, quite a long way north.)

MG, on a 2010 outing to Glyndebourne with DH to see a revival of the 1975 production of The Rake's Progress with Hockney's original sets, remarks as they sit in the grand and formal Sussex gardens on a perfect summer day that the landscape is a "huge natural theatre that is being lit by the sun and the weather in an infinity of varying ways". DH assents, but is soon drawn back to the subject of his humble tunnel on a misty morning: "You get a marvellous range of greens, more detail in the cow parsley. If it had been a sunny day, it would have been a little flatter ... a morning like that is a great rarity." More detail in the cow parsley: that's so English, that's so good.

The landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds is modest, unspectacular, unfrequented, and despite his long absence Hockney says he is now learning to know it as thoroughly as Constable knew East Bergholt and Dedham – he has gone back to his roots. But he hasn't gone to Earth. He is remains deeply interested in the work of his predecessors, and full of lateral thoughts about them. His response to one of the fathers and masters of the outdoor landscape, Claude Lorrain, is fascinatingly quirky: he is full of respect for Claude's trees and the delicacy of his foliage ("It probably isn't that natural, but it looks it") but at the same time he is determined to apply revolutionary photographic Photoshop techniques to "restore" and recreate one of Claude's larger and lesser known paintings, The Sermon on the Mount from the Frick Gallery. Although I have had the good fortune of a an early view of his vast and colourful version, then in his huge rented warehouse on a Bridlington industrial estate, and entitled (like this volume) A Bigger Message, I was too over-excited and over-awed to take in what was happening there. I understood in my ancestral bones the Yorkshire trees and the shady tunnel, but this strange vision in vivid reds and green and blues was like nothing I had ever seen before. "It's not oil paint," as he explains to Gayford, but what is it? It is a virtual Claude, revealing, as the Frick version did not, "the lame and the blind in a pit".

The weird combination of ancient landscape and new gadgetry is exhilarating. Hockney will try anything. He speaks with the greatest admiration of Van Gogh's human vision, his fine draughtsmanship, the speed and energy of his brush strokes, his northerner's joy in the clarity and light of the south (similar to Hockney's own youthful delight in California), his ability to transform the dullest subject, his love of the nondescript, his letters with their little sketches like drawings of drawings – "Van Gogh could draw anything and make it enthralling ... a rundown bathroom or a frayed carpet." Van Gogh distrusted photography, would never pose for a photographer, but his fellow artist DH claims confidently in one of his frequent texts to MG, he would have gone for the iPad. "Van Gogh would have loved it. He could have written his letters on it as well ... Picasso would have gone mad with this."

And so Hockney goes on sketching in his old-fashioned, comfy, hi-tech seaside home. He draws the washing-up in the sink, his own bare foot with its slipper by its side, his cloth cap, just as they happen to catch his eye. And in the warehouse on the estate, the bigger trees and the bigger message grow and grow.

Margaret Drabble's The Millstone is published by Penguin.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sun Oct 23, 2011 7:47 pm

My hero: David Hockney

'He is ever-young, ever-reinventing himself as an artist, roaming about here or there and stopping to set it down, ever alert and singing with life and genius'

Susan Hill
guardian.co.uk, Friday 21 October 2011 22.55 BST


David Newnham
Ever young: David Hockney in 1966. Photograph: Jane Bown for the Observer

Being from Scarborough, I admire anyone who admits to hailing from Bridlington, Scarborians thinking nowt o' Brid. But for the world's greatest painter by a country mile to live there, after having enjoyed the vividness of California is a matter for wonder.

Look at a Hockney, look at your world. It has changed: the trees his Yorkshire trees, the sky his Californian sky, cloudscape a Bridlington one, the tulips, elderly mothers, Grimms' fairytale characters – all his.

In my 20s and broke, I was offered a Hockney, of tulips, for 200 quid, riches beyond the dreams of avarice then. I regret that picture almost daily. I still dream about it. Go to Saltaire, near Leeds, to see Hockney: for his theatre and opera designs – no one else has ever got The Magic Flute so right – for pencil drawings of intricate beauty and exactness, photographs based on paintings and paintings based on photographs, for stuff from his youthful heyday in the 60s, stuff from his mad middle years when all he seemed to care about were azure swimming pools and hot sun on bodies, and later, photographic triptychs and astonishing trees, the same trees in different seasons, and the exactly right muddy Yorkshire landscape.

I have a small book of Hockney's illustrations for Grimms' Fairy Tales, spikey, sinister little drawings of Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel, of sticks and straw and long hair and magic mountains. No colour here, everything stark, everything in meticulous black line and half tone. The whole world-picture of the fairytales is gathered together.

Hockney is happy-making, energising. He is ever-young, ever-reinventing himself as an artist, roaming about here or there and stopping to set it down, ever alert and singing with life and genius. I can't draw an egg but he makes me think I could. The only quarrel I have with Hockney is not that he comes from Brid but that he likes dachshunds. It's a small price to pay.

• Susan Hill was a judge for this year's Man Booker prize

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:17 am

Hockney: The Biography by Christopher Simon Sykes – review

This is a chatty, knowledgeable, insider's biography, full of anecdotes – the drawback is that it ends with the subject still in his 30s, with half his career still to come

Blake Morrison
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 November 2011 09.00 GMT


Endlessly self-renewing … David Hockney with Bigger Trees Near Warter or/ou Peinture en Plein Air pour l'age Post-Photographique at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, May 2007. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

There's a memorable photo of Alan Bennett and David Hockney sitting side by side in profile, a photo that invites us to think of them as twin spirits: blond, gay, bespectacled, working-class Yorkshiremen who have both made major contributions to British cultural life. But whereas Bennett shuffled awkwardly into the limelight, unsure whether to be a playwright, actor or academic, Hockney – as a new biography by Christopher Simon Sykes makes clear – knew exactly where he was going from the start.


Hockney: The Biography
by Christopher Simon Sykes

He began drawing when barely out of nappies, doodling on scraps of paper, chalking on the kitchen lino, and scribbling marginalia in hymn books or children's comics. There's an engaging reproduction of the family washing-up rota he drew up, with caricatures of his siblings (he was the fourth of five) in various moods. He read widely, too – in childhood Biggles, Dickens and the Brontës; later, as part of discovering his sexuality, Whitman and Cavafy. But a greater influence was American movies. "I was brought up in Bradford and Hollywood," he liked to say.

The war years were difficult for the family, not just because of German air raids, but because Hockney's father, Kenneth, was so adamant a conchie that he refused even to take on work such as fire-watching: "YELLOW HOCKNEY" a reproachful neighbour scrawled on the front steps. To scrape some money together, Kenneth began to recondition prams. His skill in painting them left an impression on his son. So did the prams: the teenage David converted one into a mobile artist's studio, wheeling his pots and brushes round Bradford while he looked for suitable subjects to paint. Pubs, fish and chip shops, launderettes and tram wires were all fair game.

He soon earned a reputation as an eccentric. In fact, his clownish wit and subversiveness were apparent from the moment he entered Bradford Grammar as a scholarship boy, where he entertained fellow pupils by mimicking characters from The Goon Show. Discovering that art wasn't taught in the top form, he sabotaged his first-year exams: "Am no good at science, but I can draw" was his sole contribution to the science paper, along with a sketch of the invigilator. His teachers were exasperated, but his art flourished in the bottom form, and the school noticeboard, as Sykes puts it, became "his own personal exhibition space".

Even as a schoolboy he was stubborn in pursuing his vocation. When the local education authority refused to let him transfer to the Bradford School of Art at 14, his mother found someone to teach him calligraphy out of hours. And when he was pushed towards an apprenticeship with a commercial art firm, he dug his heels in so as to go to art school. He already looked the part, a dandy just like his father: they both used the same upmarket second-hand clothes shop. Hockney was nicknamed "Boris", because he dressed like a Russian peasant, whereas his father, in his Castro outfit, forever campaigning for pacifism and communism, was known as Commissar Ken.

Hockney's own campaigning zeal persists to this day, as is evidenced by his frequent contributions to the Guardian letters page, mostly on the subject of smoking. In his early days at the Royal College of Art, he used his paintings as propaganda for vegetarianism, his fellow student Ron Kitaj having advised him to stick to subjects he cared about. Between experiments in abstract expressionism on one hand and meticulously drawn skeletons on the other, he began to explore his homosexuality. He'd been aware of it since his Boy Scout days but London allowed it more expression. A crush on Cliff Richard (hard to fathom in retrospect but forgivable at the time) produced a painting called Doll Boy; allusions to Whitman were the subtext in others. A first visit to New York added to his sense of freedom. He came back with bleached hair, white shoes and a taste for cigars.

A solid northern work ethic underpinned the flamboyance. "GET UP AND WORK IMMEDIATELY" he painted on the chest of drawers by his bed, and at college he arrived early and stayed late, so as not to be distracted by fellow students. He was the college's "Number 1 Character" its registrar said, a student whose paintings were already selling and winning prizes. And yet he almost didn't graduate. A 6,000-word thesis was required as well as art work, and Hockney's hurriedly composed thesis on Fauvism didn't satisfy the examiners. He professed not to care, having already been signed up by a dealer, Kasmin. To spare itself embarrassment, the college appointed a sub-committee, including Carel Weight , to "recount" the original marks so that Hockney could have his diploma. "He is being given a GOLD MEDAL & has a FIRST CLASS HONOURS", his proud mother Laura wrote in her diary.

Laura's diary entries are one of the great pleasures of the book. It's clear she doesn't know much about, or doesn't much want to know about, her son's sex life, drug-taking, poker games, and so on. But her delight in his success is touching, and her dismay at his domestic arrangements whenever she visits becomes a sort of running gag: "a divan bed but no sheets", "flat beautifully decorated, unfortunately heater not fixed in lounge". The book almost merits a plural title: all the Hockneys, siblings as well as parents, play a part.

From London, Hockney moved on to Los Angeles. His grumpy departure from a country where the pubs closed at 11 and the telly shut down at midnight made headline news in 1966, but in effect he'd left two years previously, learning to drive, buying a car, finding a studio and starting to paint within a week of arrival. The California years have been better documented than the early years, not just because Hockney's swimming-pool paintings made him internationally famous, but thanks to Jack Hazan's film A Bigger Splash. The making of the film is a fascinating story in its own right: rather than creating a documentary about Hockney's art, Hazan focused on the break-up of his five-year relationship with his young lover, Peter Schlesinger. Watching it, a distressed Hockney felt doubly betrayed – it was painful enough that Schlesinger had left him, but then he'd gone and colluded with Hazan.

A close friendship with Celia Birtwell, which nearly became more than friendship, was one consolation. And it was followed by another serious romance, with Gregory Evans. Other dalliances occur, but mostly offstage, between the lines. The book isn't prurient and the break-up with Schlesinger is the only real trauma. There are fallings-out, outbursts of impatience, artistic failures and days only got through with Valium. But Hockney mostly seems to be enjoying himself – even the battle with British customs after they confiscate the male flesh mags he has brought from California ends in triumph. Overall it remains a happy life. A hard-working and dutiful one, too, despite the bohemian trimmings: here's a man who always sends roses on his mother's birthday. "A Rake's Progress" it says below Hockney's name on the front cover. But on the evidence of this book, there's nothing rakish about him.

Christopher Simon Sykes first met his subject in the 1960s: their backgrounds were worlds apart (Sykes went to Eton) but they shared a love of east Yorkshire, where Hockney has spent much of the past few years. It's a chatty, knowledgeable, insider's biography, full of anecdotes, not all of them about Hockney. (I enjoyed the story of the southern socialite pointing out a thin girl in a bikini to Tennessee Williams – "Look, anorexia nervosa" – and him replying "Oh, Marguerite, you know everyone.") The drawback is that we end with the subject still in his 30s, with half his career still to come. Of course it makes sense for the publisher to get out a part-biography now, to coincide with the forthcoming Hockney show at the Royal Academy. But for the reader it's frustrating. Martin Gayford's recent book A Bigger Message (Thames & Hudson, £18.95) has a narrower remit – a set of conversations with Hockney over the past 10 years – but it's a better guide to what he is up to today.

What comes over in both these books is Hockney's openness to new methods and technologies. In LA in the 1960s, he excitedly discovered the possibilities of acrylic paint. Later it was the camera. These days it's the iPad and iPhone. The letter-writer railing against the nanny state can sound crusty and out of touch. But the artist is endlessly self-renewing.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 08, 2011 6:26 am


David Hockney, Man in a Museum (Or You're In the Wrong Movie), 1962
Looking at alternate styles – cubist, abstract expressionist or realist – Hockney's title and similar works make a joke of the options facing a young artist. Here he foregrounds his own attraction to the flatness of Egyptian art as a way of avoiding linear perspective. Hockney's breakthrough came when he began following RB Kitaj's advice and brought his personal interests into his pictures, which at the time included children's art, graffiti and film. Photograph: British Council Collection / David Hockne

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 08, 2011 6:31 am


David Hockney, The Room Tarzana, 1967
This is one of Hockney's iconic Californian interiors. His reclining figure is painted so carefully and affectionately, but the image becomes more strange and daring as you consider the odd perspective of the furniture, the hardened folds of the bedcover and the glimpse of brilliant turquoise in the bright sky. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 08, 2011 7:44 pm


A Bigger Splash, 1967.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 8:47 pm

David Hockney: the East Riding tourist trail starts here

Artist collaborates with Yorkshire tourist board to link sites of his recent paintings. But Brid may not be included, to safeguard his privacy


Come and see the real thing: David Hockney's Woldgate Woods. Photograph: Tate Britain/PA

David Hockney, the godfather of modern British art, is about to start work in a new medium that he has been famously dismissive of in the past. Tourism.

Bridlington-based Hockney is in the process of creating an official tourist trail to a number of sites across his home county of Yorkshire, with a particular focus on those places he has painted in the East Riding's Yorkshire Wolds as part of the Royal Academy exhibition which opens in January.

The move represents a change of heart by Hockney who has been reluctant to promote Yorkshire in the past as he famously does not like crowds of people. This is one of the reasons he settled in Los Angeles, because of the lack of the celebrity-chasing that he experienced in Britain and then Paris in the 1970s.

Even at the press conference to launch next year's Royal Academy exhibition he expressed concern that his paintings might result in an influx of people to the Wolds altering its atmosphere and appeal, especially to him.

However, he is a pragmatist too and he recognises that the David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture exhibition will put the Yorkshire Wolds on the global map for artists as well as tourists as the bulk of the landscape and film works being exhibited were done in this quiet corner of East Yorkshire.

It is already being talked about as Hockney Country in the art world, just as Suffolk is recognised as Constable Country.

So Britain's most popular living artist has agreed to work with the county's tourist board, Welcome to Yorkshire, to create an official tourist trail, rather than allow unofficial versions or websites to identify incorrectly the sites at which he has worked.

It is not yet known whether he will actively promote the trail himself or just lend his name and copyright to it.


David Hockney at the Tate Britain in London with Bigger Trees near Water (2007) which he has given to Tate Britain. Photograph: Heathcliff O'Malley/Rex Features

Sites likely to be featured would include the village of Warter where he painted Bigger Trees (which were subsequently chopped down) and Bigger Trees Near Warter (which still exist). Although it will not be part of the Royal Academy exhibition, Bigger Trees remains one of his most famous works from the Wolds, a giant painting made up of 50 canvases measuring 40 feet in width.

Other areas pencilled-in would be Garrowby Hill and Sledmere, both of which inspired re-imagined workings of the landscapes he knows so well, rather than ones painted in the open air such as those at Warter.

The steep valley village of Thixendale, where he has painted Three Trees through the Seasons might also be on the trail, as well as Woldgate Woods, outside the village of Kilham, both of which have a role in the coming exhibition.

However, Bridlington, where he now spends most of his time rather than in Los Angeles, is less likely to be featured, just in case the trail inspires Hockney Hunters intent on finding the ultimate spot on the Hockney Trail. His studio.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Dec 31, 2011 12:59 am


Winter Timber by David Hockney.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:48 pm

eddie wrote:
A Bigger Splash, 1967.


Peter Duggan's Artoons.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Fri Jan 13, 2012 12:07 am


Peter Duggan's Artoons.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:07 pm

David Hockney's present exhibition at the Royal Academy, London:


A Closer Winter Tunnel, Feb-Mar, 2006. Photograph: David Hockney / Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:13 pm


Under the Trees, Bigger, 2010-11. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:15 pm


Winter Timber, 2009. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:18 pm


7 November 11.30am & 26 November 9.30am 2010, Woldgate Woods, East Yorkshire. Film still. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:21 pm


Nichols Canyon, California, 1980. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:23 pm


Ordinary Picture, 1964. Photograph: /David Hockney / Collection of Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:26 pm


The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, in 2011. iPad drawing printed on paper, one of a 52-part work. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:28 pm


The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, 2011. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:31 pm


The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, in 2011. iPad drawing printed on paper. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:34 pm


The Big Hawthorn, 2008. Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:36 pm


Winter Tunnel with Snow, March 2006.Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:39 pm


Woldgate Woods, East Yorkshire, 2006.Photograph: David Hockney

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 15, 2012 4:14 am

David Hockney: a life in art

'The iPad is like an endless piece of paper that perfectly fitted the feeling I had that painting should be big'

Nicholas Wroe

guardian.co.uk, Friday 13 January 2012 20.35 GMT


New ways of looking at landscape: David Hockney. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/the Guardian

David Hockney is lounging on a sofa in the studio on the top floor of his beachside house. On the wall in front of him are 18 television screens, all showing films he shot of the landscapes near his home. Does it conjure images of an unchanging blue Californian sky?

If so, think again. For the last few years Hockney has been based in Bridlington, where he has been obsessively exploring the always changing climate of rain, winds, snow – and sometimes sun – of the trees, plants, fields, lanes and light of the East Yorkshire Wolds. Throughout his career, Bradford, the city of his birth, and LA have provided a fruitful creative tension, with a Yorkshire sensibility being applied to west coast mores. (When his mother first visited him in LA, her first question was to ask why no one had their washing out in such nice weather.)

The process has been somewhat reversed in recent years. "Bridlington may be physically isolated, but it's not electronically isolated. The technology is as good here as it is in LA. Making these films, we've started to call it Bridlywood. And while the subject is a very local one, I think my essential interests – in images and how they are made and viewed – have been pretty consistent no matter where I work."

The bank of screens will form a spectacular ending to Hockney's new exhibition of paintings, films and work made on an iPad, which opens next week and takes over the entire Royal Academy. On them will be screened multi-camera, super-high-definition footage of the unfolding Yorkshire seasons as well as interior films including a choreographed dance piece by his old friend Wayne Sleep. It is highly unusual for a show of this scale not to be a retrospective, and it is made more unusual in that much of the work was not even made when the show was planned four years ago.

"When we first talked about it I'd never even heard of an iPad, let alone worked with one," Hockney says. Today he is rarely without his iPad, with its bespoke wooden frame, which functions as sketch pad, full-sized canvas and convenient device for firing off letters to the Guardian on subjects that detain him. "It's like an endless piece of paper that perfectly fitted the feeling I had that painting should be big. I see now that a lot of the argument in the late 60s was not that painting was dead, but that easel painting was dead. Easel painting means small painting. The moment I got a very big studio, everything took off."

Hockney now works in a huge warehouse on a Bridlington industrial estate that can accommodate work varying from the large to the enormous. So big is the floor area that he has bought a fleet of wheelchairs for him and his team to scuttle around on. He calculates how long he has been back in the UK by the fact that he has "observed seven springs. I've watched them extremely carefully and have tried to capture as much of it as I could. One year we missed the hawthorn flower because we were away for a week in May. Another time we were supposed to go to LA in June and the hawthorn hadn't arrived before we left. So this year I refused to leave Bridlington even for a day." His commitment to the locality is reflected in the way he has hung the show. "There are also some iPad works of Yosemite in California, but the obvious grandeur of Yosemite will be in smaller rooms than the less obvious grandeur of Woldgate. I like that."

Hockney was once quoted as saying he couldn't return to Yorkshire because the days are too short in winter. "I first realised I was missing the seasons when walking through Holland Park every morning while sitting for Lucian Freud. It's a great subject for artists, but how do you record it? It is too slow for movies, but too fast for a single picture, so it takes quite a few pictures to show the changes. But that's true of most things. And it's been a remarkable discovery. I wouldn't have thought this was a subject even three years ago. But when I found it I realised straightaway it was something that could be developed."

It is a strategy that has seen Hockney, now 74, finding himself routinely referred to as the UK's greatest living artist, after a career that started with pop art and went on to define a Californian aesthetic, trail-blazed the use of gay themes, included design work for opera and ballet, made innovative use of new technologies, questioned art-historical certainties about Old Master technique and continues to display a restless energy. His popularity is reflected in a rash of new books: the lavish RA exhibition catalogue, A Bigger Picture, comes with contributions from Margaret Drabble and Hockney himself, there is a book of conversations with the art critic Martin Gayford, A Bigger Message (both Thames & Hudson) as well as Hockney, a semi-authorised biography of the first half of his life by Christopher Simon Sykes (Century).

Last week Hockney twice made headlines: first for supposedly insulting Damien Hirst by stressing that all the work in the RA show was "made by the artist himself, personally". "It was just a light-hearted thing and I'm not going to pursue it." And then being appointed to the Order of Merit. He had turned down a knighthood in 1990, but says he agreed to accept this time after the Queen's private secretary telephoned him to explain that the OM is from the Queen and not the government. "So I had to be gracious, as I think I am a reasonably gracious person."

But it is a grace that is combined with a combativeness about the issues he cares about, from renaissance optics to the smoking ban. "I did come from a pretty independent-minded family." His mother was a devout Methodist and his father a socialist activist, first world war conscientious objector and eccentric campaigner who bombarded newspapers – and world statesmen – with letters about his causes, just as his son does today. "He died just before the invention of the fax machine which he would have loved, let alone computers and blogging and all that."

Hockney says his own political views were set by his early 20s into a "sort of anarchism that took from both the left and the right. Personal responsibility is sort of a rightwing thing that anarchists would support, and so do I. Looking after your neighbour is a leftwing thing, and again I would support that. Ultimately, I'm about liberty and I think you have to defend it. This whole anti-smoking thing just doesn't add up. The anti-smokers have to deal with the fact that I am still here with a lot of energy. What are they going on about? Some of my colleagues, Picasso, Monet, Renoir, all lived to a ripe old age smoking. My friends have died of alcohol. And it is also terribly bad manners. Smoking is legal, we pay tax and still we're treated like children. Actually, my father was vehemently anti-smoking, and there's a film of him trying to take a cigarette out of my mouth, but friends and people who knew him will tell you that we are fairly similar to each other."

Hockney was born in Bradford in 1937, the fourth of five children. As a precociously talented young artist, his interests didn't lie with landscape or the countryside – "though I did collect frog spawn and things like that" – but more with the advertising, posters and signwriting he saw around town. As a teenager he won second prize in a national newspaper competition to design an advert for a watch – years later he learned that the young Gerald Scarfe had come first – and he transferred from grammar school to Bradford School of Art. Following in his father's conscientious objector footsteps, he worked as a hospital orderly rather than do national service. In 1959 he went to London and the Royal College of Art, where fellow students included RB Kitaj, Allen Jones and Patrick Caulfield. He says his upbringing had instilled in him a certain confidence – "certainly enough not to bother when they mocked my accent: 'Trouble at t'mill, Mr Ormondroyd' and stuff like that'." And success came immediately. As a student he exhibited in important shows and sold work. When he left the Royal College – having been awarded its gold medal – he was taken on by the fashionable dealer John Kasmin and quickly became one of the best-known figures in what was turning into swinging London. But he still felt the city was only a staging post.

"I arrived in September 1959, but by the summer of 1961 I'd spent a few months in New York" – resulting in an early set of etchings updating Hogarth's Rake's Progress. "As soon as I got there I realised that this was the place for me. It was a 24-hour city in a way London wasn't. It didn't matter where you were from. I absolutely loved it, and then when I went to LA I liked that even more. So when swinging London was going on, for most of it I was actually in California. And I never thought London was that swinging when I did come back. It was for a few people, but in LA it was for the many, which I preferred. In LA in 1964 there were enormous gay bars. There wasn't anything like that in London, or even in New York."

By the mid 60s Hockney had embarked on some of the paintings with which he will forever be most associated – of the swimming pools, the boys, the blue skies and beautiful people. Works such as A Bigger Splash and the large double portraits of subjects such as Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy not only crystallised his artistic vision, but also California's vision of itself. And he says it was not coincidence that this work emerged while he was living at the heart of the film industry. "I caught the end of the great period of Hollywood, which ran from 1920-1970. They made some masterpieces, and whether they thought they were making art or not, they were great picture and image makers."

Hockney was friends with the director Billy Wilder – "directors are much more interesting than stars. Billy used to say 'show me a bright actor and I'll show you a bad one'" – who introduced Hockney to "old Hollywood. But Billy has now gone and there won't be people like him again. Quite a lot of the little worlds I knew well have now gone: Christopher Isherwood's, Tony Richardson's, the world around Joan Didion. So when I go back to LA now it's a little different. Because my hearing has gone I can't socialise like I did, but I still like LA and America is still an energetic place. It's gone overboard with the anti-tobacco thing and they are all a bit doped up with antidepressants since they stopped smoking, but it can still be an incredibly creative place because it is still free and it will always benefit so long as it stays free."

Hockney's deteriorating hearing contributed to the premature end of his career as a designer for ballet and opera that began with his now much-revived Rake's Progress at Glyndebourne in 1975. But, characteristically, it has also prompted a few theories. First that his visual perception has actually improved as his hearing has declined. "Someone who can't see locates themselves in space through sound. If you can't hear you locate yourself visually. And as someone attuned to the visual world it is very noticeable. I see more." The second theory concerns his hero, Picasso, who once said that music was the only art in which he couldn't tell which were the masterpieces. "So he was obviously tone deaf. But while he couldn't hear tones, he obviously saw more tones than anyone else because his grasp of chiaroscuro was stunning, as good as Rembrandt." Hockney never met Picasso – "too in awe of him. Why would I waste his time?" – but he remains for him the greatest artist of the 20th century. "Not only was he the best painter, he was also the best sculptor. I still don't think we've fully grasped what he achieved, and, of course, he would have absolutely loved something like the iPad."

Hockney makes the point that both a paintbrush and an iPad are "technology", but he has been a determined early adopter since the mid 60s when he started to use a camera as an aide-mémoire. By the early 70s he was making his first "joiners" – large assemblages of photographs that produced an almost cubist effect – in response to his dissatisfaction with the distortion of wide-angle lenses and was quickly aware of the possibilities of office-quality photocopiers and the fax machine. He has also made art-historical investigations into image making that have taken in the study of Chinese scrolls, has conducted a long critique of photography and engaged in a prolonged study of the use of optics by Old Masters that culminated in his 2001 book, Secret Knowledge.

He argues that his own multi-camera work is not that far away in essence from what Caravaggio was attempting. "Caravaggio had the equivalent of nine cameras. They are collages. By the time you get to Vermeer it is one camera, like we have today. With nine cameras your eyes watch in a way they don't with just one. You continually scan and you look much harder. And in a way it is more like drawing. There are questions of composition and infinite ways to do it."

His interest in the creation and the power of images also informs another theory. "Art history feels as if it has stopped because it doesn't know how to deal with photography and therefore how to sort out today. But if you just look at the history of images then it becomes much easier. For 500 years the church had social control because it was the main supplier of images. You can point to Darwin, but social control moved with the control of images in the early 19th century to what we now call the media: newspapers, then Hollywood and television. There is now another revolution and the images are moving to individuals. Mr Murdoch will lose his power just as the church did. It might cause terrible chaos. What happens when authority leaves? We don't know. But we do know that nothing is for ever. Even though I'm hidden away in Bridlington, which I like a lot because it is hard for people to drop in and you can get a lot of work done, I can watch it all."

Hockney had regularly returned to the area to visit his mother, who died in 1999. He now lives, with his partner of over 20 years, John Fitzherbert, in the large converted guesthouse he bought for her. "I lived in LA so long I'll always be an English Angeleno, but to me now the big cities are less interesting and sophisticated than they were. To get something fresh you have to go back to nature. When they say the landscape genre has been done, that is impossible. You can't be tired of nature. It is just our way of looking at it that we are tired of. So get a new way of looking at it."

Soon after returning to Bridlington Hockney completed the giant – 40ft x 15ft - painting Bigger Trees Near Warter for the 2007 Royal Academy summer exhibition and the following year donated it to the Tate. It is an indication of the scale of his recent productivity that it is not part of the RA show. He says that after the show opens he has planned one of his regular trips to take the waters at Baden-Baden. "I can go in on my knees and come away dancing. But if I'm honest, the work itself keeps me going as much as that does. My theatre colleagues would always slump after a show opened. But I am always on to something else." He says his rediscovery of landscape and new ways of capturing it is "as fascinating and exciting as anything I've ever done. Even after the Royal Academy I'm not going to stop with this work and so I don't really have time to do low. It's been wonderful to find a place like this where I am pretty much left alone to do what I want. When my friends in LA ask me what I am doing, I say I'm on location. They understand that, even if it has proved to be rather a long shoot. But you get to a stage of life when that's what you want. Monet stayed out at Giverny, Cézanne was in Aix, Van Gogh stayed in Arles. You might need a big city when you are young, but there comes a point when you need somewhere else. I've found it here."

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Tue Jan 17, 2012 6:43 pm

David Hockney landscapes: The wold is not enough

The Royal Academy's major show of David Hockney landscapes has its crazy moments. But all that fresh air wears Adrian Searle out

Adrian Searle

guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 January 2012 19.01 GMT


Hockney's homecoming … The Road Across the Wolds (1997). Photograph: Steve Oliver

Out in all weathers (rain excepted), standing in woodlands and at roadsides, David Hockney has come a long way from the California poolside, and from the Bradford of his youth – to the east Yorkshire landscape inland from Bridlington, where he now lives for most of the year. Setting up his easels in the great outdoors, or sitting in his car recording his observations with a painting app on his iPhone or iPad, or cruising quiet lanes in a van bedecked with video cameras, Hockney's reinvention of himself as a full-blooded landscape artist is not without danger. As well as nature and the weather, he's up against history.

Hockney's homecoming is recorded in A Bigger Picture, opening this Saturday at the Royal Academy in London. It is a very big exhibition. It goes on and on. It is hard to like Hockney's later work in its entirety, but then you do have to be selective when faced with any facet of his long career. Those funny, sassy, sexy 1960s paintings – caught happily between figuration, storytelling, jokiness and abstraction – are winning in all sorts of ways, as are his pools, his lawn-sprinklered buffed California, his boys in the shower and on their sun-loungers.

Hockney's strengths are mostly graphic and illustrational. He can draw like Ingres (or redo Picasso redoing Ingres) and make of it something of his own. His later landscapes lack the charm, but carry the vices as well as the wit that gave his earlier work such character. They're just big and wilful. Hockney lacks the elan and notational elegance of, say, America's Alex Katz, as well as the vision of Samuel Palmer and the wonderment of Stanley Spencer, never mind the degree of perspicacity shown by dozens (if not hundreds) of lesser-known landscape artists, many of whom line the walls of the Royal Academy summer shows. And we haven't even got to the very great painters of nature: Courbet and Turner, Monet and Constable, Cézanne and Van Gogh.

The best landscapes here, depicting hawthorns in full spring flower, their branches heavy with blossom, do attain an almost surreal and visionary delight, but they culminate in a painting so over the top – May Blossom on the Roman Road, from 2009 – that it looks as though giant caterpillars were climbing all over a kind of mad topiary, beneath a roaring Van Goghish sky. I wish more works could be as crazy as this: Hockney captures and amplifies something of the astonishment of hawthorns in bloom. I kept thinking of dying Dennis Potter describing in that 1994 interview with Melvyn Bragg how "nowness" had become so vivid: "Instead of saying, 'Oh, that's nice blossom' … I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom."

This kind of presentness, and sense of presence, is, I think, what Hockney would like to capture. He has always been good at finding surprising and elegant ways to orchestrate differences: the palm tree against the sky, the light on the water, the splash in the still pool. These allow your eye to alight on things in different ways, just as the mind records what the eye sees with various degrees of nuance and recognition. Hockney still tries to do this but fails as often as he succeeds. Looking closely at his paintings of tunnels of trees overhanging a country track, I just get irritated by all the dibbling and dabbing, all that poking and flicking, the results of his attempts to vary the pace and the touch. What he actually lacks is touch itself. I don't mind the coarseness of his smaller and larger painterly gestures, but they seem as affected as they are impetuous. It all becomes a sort of slurry. Large or small, in watercolour or in oils, the paintings seem to sag, their variety – bright celandines under a canopy of spring foliage, a carpet of fallen beech leaves tiger-striped by shadow – becoming a sort of sameness.

Often, his painterly effects work well enough in reproduction. Looking at the catalogue I get the point, but in the raw, the paintings aren't nearly so successful. They don't bear looking at for very long. And there are other artists, whose ambitions aren't nearly so developed as Hockney's, who do this sort of thing much better. I think he is fighting slickness, or too much style, or rote solutions to painting problems: how to do bare branches, puddles on the path, the grass under your feet, the herringbone rhythms of tractor tracks. It is clear Hockney is excited by these variations and difficulties. But all those splodges and patterns, smears and dapples and churnings get very wearying. I just can't wait to get indoors and kick the gumboots off.

A Bigger Picture opens with a group of large paintings depicting three big trees near Thixendale, painted from the same vantage point in different seasons. Leaves come and go, crops grow, the autumn fields are tilled. Green hills turn blue in winter, under milky skies. We've seen this sort of thing many times.


David Hockney's Winter Tunnel with Snow, March, 2006, oil on canvas. Photograph: Richard Schmidt

In the catalogue, Margaret Drabble drivels on about Hockney's homecoming. "He eschews the misty elegiac pastoral mode," she says. But it is precisely this mode, updated, that gives Hockney's later work its charm, such as it is. Hockney, Drabble tells us, "has not founded a Bridlington school". But he runs very close to a school of mucky, chancy English landscape painting that is already ubiquitous – and degraded by its overfamiliarity.

The show takes a detour through earlier Hockney landscapes: from mid-1950s student work depicting a dreary Bradford suburb, to a huge 1998 painting of the Grand Canyon. Along the way there are witty photocollages, including 1986's Pearblossom Highway, a desert road littered with signage and beer bottles, and a full-size photographic reproduction of his 1980 painting Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio. It is extremely unpleasant to go from real paintings, with their record of touches and accretions, to this gigantic reproduction. There are things the photograph can't record. This is the work of art in the age of electronic reproduction – and it is just a precursor to what comes later.


iPad drawing No 2 from David Hockney's The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire 2011

The largest gallery is filled with a single work in many parts: The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty-eleven). The piece is as cumbersome as its title, which is printed on the wall above a giant multi-panelled painting. The other walls are double-hung with blown-up, printed images of drawings made on an iPad. Hockney uses the app again, in works depicting Yosemite in the American west. It allows him to draw like Van Gogh, to blur and smear and dapple and dot, to do all the things painting can do, except paint. The images have no texture, surface or sheen. They look almost wipable. They can never hide their electronic origins, no matter how painterly they appear. There's something inescapably dead and bland and gutless about them.

Hockney mistakes, I think, technology for modernity. He has worked with older technologies: the Polaroid, the colour photocopier, the fax. Lately, he has even been making multi-panelled digital videos, shot while driving along the same roads he paints. The camera doesn't linger and neither should we. Openness to technical innovation is one thing, art another. All you are left with is spectacle. The video featuring dancers in the artist's studio, hoofing, tap-dancing and generally enjoying themselves adds nothing either. These flashy films and iPad drawings feel like filler. Hockney's best landscapes carry a sense of real presence, of being there.

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Re: David Hockney

Post  eddie on Sat May 12, 2012 6:43 am


Peter Duggan's Artoons on Hockney's A Bigger Splash.

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