Sunday, November 24, 2013

"And it is. I make sure it is." Hockney and the thrill

“The care with which the rain is wrong and the green is wrong and the white is wrong.... The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain.”  Gertrude Stein, the final Tender Button

Consider the work of Gertrude Stein and David Hockney, and you will realize that neither artist is afraid to fail nor afraid of happiness.  For both, I get the impression, happiness is contagious.

The De Young Museum in San Francisco is showing "David Hockney: A Bigger
Exhibition," (his recent portraits and landscapes), through January 20, 2014. Hockney's landscapes are the thing, though. At the De Young, the show moves almost entirely chronologically, tracing Hockney’s movement through one medium after another in his portrayal of his Yorkshire woods and fields - water colors, oil, video, iPad drawings and charcoal, and, full circle, beginning and ending with classical tools. The classical approaches present Hockney’s art-school credentials.

But, much like his hero Picasso, Hockney appears to find that Raphael or Rembrandt pretty much had the classical thing covered, and he pours his passion into making us see – “how we see.” The works on video and iPad stop viewers in their tracks.

To the video presentations, first. 18 video screens, 3 high and six across,  are combined in a single space, although the boundaries of each camera’s view prevents the screens from fitting exactly, a slight tradeoff for having each angle and distance within the 18 screens in perfect focus.  Hedgrows wave lazily (here is a still from the catalogue... May 12th, 2011, Rudston to Kilham Road):

We look first at one screen, then another, then the time passes and we see we have stood there watching time, watching wind, watching air. We are surrounded, even though we are responding to just one wall of flat screens. We then move to the room of  “trees down the tunnel” that Hockney painted over and over again, here in nine screens (Woldgate Woods, June 2nd, 2010). Here is a still from the catalogue:

 Cars pass, unevenly from screen to screen. Snow falls delicately and slowly from tree branches, leaving one screen’s border, and then entering another ‘s,  just a little askew. Here is Woldgate Woods, November 26th 2010, a still photograph, from the catalogue:

The artist told Lawrence Weschler that mounting these cameras onto his car and driving through the fields meant "at least eighteen different vanishing points, and all of them moving" (catalogue essay, p. 39).  Or, in the case of the room that surrounds us with the four seasons of Woldgate Woods in the De Young, nine screens, nine moving vanishing points.

So what? you say.  Hockney has spent his life as an artist worrying about how to make art that makes us feel the way we feel when we are walking through the world. The now-famous photocollages (here, a detail of Grand Canyon from North Rim Lodge, Arizona, 1982):

offered up multiple (but rather fragmented, like broken glass) perspectives.  The  later paintings moved along further-- here is a detail of  "Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio," 1980:

Finally the “Bigger” series arrived; this work is part of that series, and Hockney truly began to find a straight line to our senses. (See :

He has come all his life to this point... where he shows us how we can see the world we know. It’s a little neglected corner. It isn’t Claude Monet’s towering sharp-edged cliffs at Etrétat, or Caspar David Friedrich’s Alps and fog in “Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer“ (The Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist) or any other landscape that would add drama all on its own.  Hockney’s landscapes are where you walk the dogs, where you go to play hide and seek, where you go for a quiet ... anything.  We all know this place. We begin to find that we love it, in all its powerful humility.

Hockney said, in 2004 (I cannot find the reference!) that  “I can get excited watching rain on a puddle. And then I paint it. Now, I admit, there are not too many people who would find that exciting. But I would. And I want life thrilling and rich. And it is. I make sure it is.”

And the puddles?  Well, they come into play in the iPad drawings. Here is 18 December, from the catalogue:

I remember when, at 13, I first noticed raindrops on a puddle, walking to the bus-stop.  But somehow I remember thinking about the dropping water and the “plop” sound it made, hitting the puddle on the asphalt.  These are very simple things Hockney offers us;  simple, yes, but so hard to recreate.

2 January:

Go and see. 

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