Thursday, September 8, 2011

"A window on the world means you're cut off from it." --David Hockney

I still have my cold... so I watched, again, the wonderful "A Bigger Picture," a film by Bruno Wollheim, from 2009, on David Hockney, painting across the seasons in Yorkshire.  From the beginning... where Hockney shows us a folding sketchbook filled with delicate sketches of each kind of flower and plant and leaf and blade of grass that makes up the roadside splendor in Yorkshire, when he says, "When you've drawn it ... you've seen the hedgerow ... and you realize ... there's a tremendous lot to it," the viewer (also) realizes that this is Hockney, teaching us all to see. There isn't any window between Hockney and his subject ... not even in the winter cold, where he is photographed in what look to me like gardening gloves, handling the paintbrush, trying to catch the mist before the sun clears it away.

The filmmaker notes that Hockney chooses subjects for these landscapes that seem, to any of us, "unremarkable," and Hockney admits that he intends to "make something quite different out of it. "

And he does; he makes "big, dramatic landscapes," with the biggest destined for the Royal Academy of Art walls, and then, in a hugely generous move, Hockney gives the painting and its giant reproductions to the Tate ... As he is making this multi-(50?)-canvas piece, Hockney says "Time and space are not separate, are they? I used to think they were.... It's the NOW that's eternal, actually."

And he does do it... he makes you see "the NOW." Here is a still from the film, looking through Hockney's windshield at the Yorkshire countryside, quickly painted over, by me, to show you what a painting of an "unremarkable" Yorkshire road might have looked like if Hockney were an average "Sunday" painter:

And another:

But below is (a rather well-worn) example of what Hockney painted of this same Yorkshire in 1997, from my poster (which has, as you can see, been hanging in my studio ever since) from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts show in 1998. Check out the way the landscape in front of us seems to move towards us. It defies single-lens perspective. It will not confine the viewer. It rises up at us just like Cezanne's fruit-laden tables, but on a far larger scale, and without fear. It pulls painting away from camera obscura and allows you to see far more than the canvas's four sides would normally allow. You see the sweep of Yorkshire. You feel as though you are turning in a big circle. Look!:

And as for this latest effort, twelve years later, documented in the Wollheim film from 2009, here's a link to an article on it from the Guardian newspaper:

Just astonishing. And that's just one of the walls with the reproduction... here is a wrinkled and bent ad from an art magazine, showing another smaller (!! --108 x 144") work, "Bigger Trees Nearer Warter,"  that was shown in 2009 at Pace Wildenstein (copyright for all work retained by David Hockney):

At one point, near the end of the film, Hockney gestures at one of the paintings and asks the filmmaker "Does that seem like an empty wood to you?" ... The answer from Wollheim comes slowly, because he says there are "no people" in it, but after some consideration, no, it doesn't look empty.   Hockney continues, in almost the same breath, that it's "because somebody is looking at it ..." and then he adds, with a smile, "do we know what an empty room looks like?"

Well, of course not. And that's a large part of the point. Looking brings things into being. That's what we can do, here, now. And yet, we won't always agree on the final representation of the thing. And that is going to have to be alright, because, this painter says, we all see things differently. Hockney says that even when we are in the "now," two or three of us standing looking at a road, a tree, a hedgerow, that what we each see is different, because we each have our own distinct memories that crowd into our sight. There's a sadness  -- but also a sense of quiet triumph -- in his saying, that, because of this, "we're all on our own." This is a great, great movie. And I will not give you the last lines of the film, so that you will be sure to go and see it.

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