I recently was asked to do a piece on the David Hockney trail in Yorkshire. Understand – design a roadtrip itinerary through the Wolds to find the views that inspired the famous artist. For hours, I studied his trees and valleys, hawthorns in bloom, fields and overgrown grass sprinkled with wild flowers… and of course these vibrant, surreal colours. Blue, yellow, purple where you expect them the least… Yet, his art I had only seen on a screen or in glossy magazine. The Tate Britain’s retrospective, presenting 60 decades of genius, was an irresistible opportunity to dive further into his world.
The amazing palette he uses is so hypnotising it distracts you a while from his technique, his message. Hockney, you see, likes to challenge art – one frame, in the first room, shows his lover asleep in his studio. In the background, we glimpse the artist… only to realise from the title that he hasn’t so much featured himself but a canvas of an unfinished self-portrait. His swimming pool features mix both a flat 2D drawing and the marbling of sunshine in the water, suddenly creating movement, a splash betraying a human presence in an otherwise desert space. This work on illusion, possibly, is his main recurring theme, through his many styles and experiences. Take his canyon or Yorkshire landscapes, designed for the gaze to wander, follow the winding roads, rather than focusing on a central detail – in a way, the limit of the painting is redefined. Same goes for his collages, mixing different angles of the same scene, often using hundreds of photographs in the process, small details, sometimes take a few seconds apart, others playing with size. An exploded Polaroid version of reality.
Even filming a road lined with trees takes you away from conventions. One room, 4 seasons and therefore 4 screens, each divided in 9 panels, slightly different angles. A moving mosaic, a cubist immersive movie, a whole year in a few minutes… Hockney, after all, always tries the give the viewer the most important place, allowing him to fully enjoy the view from a VIP seat, not spy it from the side. There are iPad drawings too, showing the progression of the artist work: how a contrast was created, an evening atmosphere brought to life.
I could go on and on – his use of pointillism, his incredible level of detail, his use of geometry, particularly striking in his Los Angeles pieces. Hockney, however, is a religion of its own. It has to be experienced, felt first hand.
Probably the best exhibition of the year. Don’t miss it.
David Hockney at the Tate Britain | 9 February-29 May