[ed. note:Â For the best photos of David Hockney’s work, check his official website which has both current work and paintings, etc. from the last ten years as well as those from throughout his long career.]
I have been a long-time admirer of David Hockney, although I’ll admit it was more an admiration of his thinking and observing than about his art, which I hadn’t seen in real life until January 15th, 2014.
I can’t remember the first time I encountered reproductions of Hockney’s work and thinking, but the one image that stands out clearly in my mind is of his collage of polaroid photos, Pear Blossom Highway, April 11-18, 1986.
In his polaroid “joiners,” Hockny took photos over time and space and then put them together to get the idea of what the subject looked like from different viewpoints and at different times.
David Hockney, Pear Blossom Highway, 11-18th April, 1986. Image taken from AIUS.com, where a full description of Hockney’s “joiners” can be found
Here’s Hockney’s description of Pearblossom Highway, the scene at a crossroads in which, as he says,Â there is “a very wide open space, which you only get a sense of in the western United States. . . . [The] picture was not just about a crossroads, but about us driving around. I’d had three days of driving and being the passenger. The driver and the passenger see the road in different ways. When you drive you read all the road signs, but when you’re the passenger, you don’t, you can decide to look where you want. And the picture dealt with that: on the right-hand side of the road it’s as if you’re the driver, reading traffic signs to tell you what to do and so on, and on the left-hand side it’s as if you’re a passenger going along the road more slowly, looking all around. So the picture is about driving without the car being in it.” (quotation from the Getty website).
Hockney’s work and talk and writing is all about how we “really” see, or better, how he really sees, as he changes viewpoints, or sits in a place for hours, or closes one eye or opens both eyes. He continues the Cubist tradition of collage art in his joiners; he says that our whole visual experience is a series of collages — that every instant that we see is collaged on top of the instant before, almost always from a different angle of vision, changing angles caused by eye and body movement which in turn changes memories and desires.
Another of Hockney’s ideas caused an uproar in the art world when he wrote in Secret Knowledge (2001) that some old masters, such as Van Eyck, Vermeer, Caravaggio, and Ingres, used a camera obscura or lucida to paint, the same way Andy Warhol used a projector to lay out his images. This discovery, validated by an optical engineer, Charles Falco, caused Hockney to think differently about how the camera has changed our way of looking — and not necessarily for the better. Here’s the Wikipedia article which lays out the thesis and its critics.
“An ordinary photo is okay,” as Hockney had noted as far back as the early eighties, “if you donâ€™t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed cyclops, for a split second,” — quoted by Lawrence Weschler, whose article on Hockney was what first captured my imagination. A recent movie, Tim’s Vermeer, recaps what Hockney and Charles Falco worked out in detail.
Below is the Van Eyck that various art critics and scientists have discussed in terms of the Hockney/Falco thesis:
The National Gallery, London, captured from this site
But I digress. The deYoung exhibit in San Francisco (closed January 20, 2014) showed work from about 2005 to 2012, 20 to 30 years after Pearblossom HighwayÂ and 5 –15 years after the 2001 publication of Secret Knowledge. As was apparent in “A Bigger Exhibit,” at the deYoung, Hockney’s on-going studies about how he, and we, see haven’t stopped; he has built on his ideas and added to his quest for an understanding of how to translate the human vision of three dimensions intoÂ two-dimensional space.
I will continue with my discussion of my experience at the deYoung Museum exhibit in the next post.