Sunday, 8 April 2012

Talking about Hockney's Landscape Painting

Tomorrow is the last day of the Royal Academy exhibition David Hockney RA - A Bigger Picture.  I'm going to see it for the fourth time at 8pm tomorrow evening.  The exhibition closes at 10pm.

Here are the podcast recordings which the Royal Academy have made from the various events held during the course of the exhibition

The second room in the exhibition reviews his earlier landscapes - which includes his California landscapes.
Constance Glenn delves into David Hockney’s California works, from his signature landscapes of the 1960s to his panoramas of the 1980s that introduce a new perspective and capture Mulholland Drive’s vertiginous curves, which swerve across LA’s hilltops toward his Montcalm studio and home. 
David Hockney - Nichols Canyon, 1980
Acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 152.4 cm
Private collection
Copyright David Hockney
She describes this painting as his first mature painting of California.  It bears no relationship to the work he had been doing previously (swimming pools and palm trees).  Hockney had brought a house at the top of the Hollywood Hills on a street called Montcalm.

The image is to convey the sense of careening down the hill in a car to his studio very quickly - it has a visceral feeling of descent.  The houses are situated at their natural place, have perspective and are quite realistic.  But the painting also includes patterns of the landscape either side - mark-making and images that represent trees and grass.

Mulholland Drive runs across the hills - but "drive" in this painting is a verb - it's what he's doing.  The mark-making has almost become the subject of the picture.  It has a pattern of complementary colours red/orange and blue-green and yet it's not easy to look at a painting of complementary colours.

The Pearblossom Highway picture is a composite of photographs.  She (and Marco Livingstone below) describes how is was created.  The photo collage precedes his multiple canvas paintings.

David Hockney - Pearblossom Highway, 11-18 April 1986 #1
Photographic collage, 119.4 x 163.8 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Gift of David Hockney
Copyright David Hockney
I like listening to descriptions of the drives with Google Maps in front of me!
Marco Livingstone describes how the exhibition was put together and how Hockney tackled the way he painted for the exhibition.  Prior to this he comments on paintings in the exhibition from the Californian era.  He comments on the importance of looking at the images from different distances.

David Hockney - The Road Across the Wolds, 1997
Oil on canvas, 121 x 152 cm
Private Collection
Copyright David Hockney
Photo credit: Steve Oliver

This is the view of the drive he took on a regular basis to see his friend Jonathan Silver who was dying from pancreatic cancer.  Silver was a major collector of Hockney's work and established a museum at Saltaire of Hockney's art - owned by either the Silver family or the Hockney family.  The road is the one between the Yorkshire Wolds and Bradford.  It repeats the process of Nichols Canyon - he painted in the studio of accumulated memories.  He didn't work from direct observation and spent a lot of time on each painting.

By way of contrast the more recent Yorkshire landscapes are produced by a man who is more comfortable painting landscapes.  His landscapes are much spontaneous and immediate.

He liked painting in watercolours because of the disdain it was treated by the royal Academy.  He knew many of the great landscape painters were masters of watercolour painting - and he spent three years just painting in watercolours.  He was also aware that no major British artist had ever painted East Yorkshire.

Latterly he has been painting plein air by the side of very quiet roads.  He's not doing any preliminary drawings, not drawing on the canvas - just getting on and transferring his observations into paint.  He intensifies the colours which he sees in the landscape.

He's made more work in terms of the number of paintings in the last few years than ever before.  The numbers rival a whole lifetime of painting by other artists.

In Yorkshire he really revelled in the changing seasons - in the different look of the place - and the light from the early morning and the end of the day when you have the best light for painting a landscape

He also comments on what a fantastic tool the iPad has been for Hockney in creating drawings of the landscape and there are now hundreds.  They are visually very rich.

He also describes the process for producing the films of moving through the landscape in what has turned out to be a very popular room in the exhibition

David Hockney - Winter Tunnel with Snow, March, 2006
Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 121.9 cm
Courtesy of the artist | Copyright David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt
David Hockney - Under the Trees, Bigger 2010-11
Oil on twenty canvases (each 91.4 x 121.9 cm) , 365.8 x 609.6 cm
Courtesy of the artist | Copyright David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt
She tells the story of the exhibition and explains the paintings room by room.  She has a tendency to gabble in long sentences which makes her talk a bit more difficult to follow.  However she does focus on Hockney's ways of working and how is work is all based on observation and the memories of looking.

Many of the stories in the recordings can be read in Hockney's biography David Hockney: The Biography by Christopher Simon Sykes and True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney by: Lawrence Weschler.

Note: Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Links: About David Hockney - British artist


Bridget Hunter said...

Thankyou for this wonderful post - its so informative - and these images I've never seen before. I was unable to go to the exhibition - but you've brought it to me.

Robyn Sinclair said...

Four times lucky you are! But thanks for sharing here.

David Teter said...

Looks like a great exhibition, wish I could see it.
Having finally gotten around to getting an iPad and Brushes App, myself I would like to see Hockneys.

I did see the Pearblossom Highway and some others from his California work, the swimming pools etc., years ago at an exhibition here in LA at LACMA and fascinating it was.

Cobalt Violet said...

Love Hockney. Living in LA I've been lucky to see a couple of great Hockney exhibits.

Great blog - very inspiring!


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