How David Hockney sees the world, with the use of technology

San Franciscans are indeed blessed with many opportunities of appreciating interesting art shows.  Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco  (de Young Museum) ‘s “David Hockney, a Bigger Exhibition” is closing today, January 21, 2014. I finally had the chance to see it yesterday.  David Hockney is one of the best known living artists, renowned for his mastery of drawing, oil painting, printmaking, art design, photo collage, and the use of camera and video-making, with the help of technology.

I had seen a PBS interview of David Hockney back in October, 2013 when the show just began. I would like to share with you this video from PBS to get an overview of this exhibition and then two articles of art review by  art critics of San Francisco Chronicle, and New York Times.

Kenneth Baker, Sf Chronicle, published on Oct 25, 2013

“The answer to a single question can confirm the significance of an art exhibition: Do you see the world differently – even for a moment – after visiting it?

“David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition,” opening Saturday at the de Young Museum, passes that test. Golden Gate Park, half steeped in fog, never looked as symphonically green to me as it did after I exited the Hockney show.

Not only does he make vivid a startling range of green hues in landscape paintings, but his drawings – even those made on an iPad – continually probe for marks, textures and patterns to register nature’s details.

That, at one level, may be the essence of observational drawing. The show’s last rooms contain charcoal landscape drawings Hockney made outdoors, and inkjet enlargements of them, describing from five woodland vantage points “The Arrival of Spring in 2013 (twenty thirteen)” in Britain’s East Yorkshire, where he has lived intermittently in recent years.

In making these images, Hockney worked without color – “of course, the Chinese thought you could get every color from black and white,” he said in conversation at his Los Angeles studio – finding graphic equivalents not only for physical detail but for the changing play of light and shade across shifts in weather and time of day.

Careful viewers will find their eyes taking up that challenge unconsciously as they study the drawings. And responsive visitors’ minds will carry the search for adequate graphic notation into the de Young’s park surround. For a while, every branch and leaf will seem to trigger it.

The quandaries of pictorial representation have driven Hockney’s whole career, of which “A Bigger Exhibition” samples only the past decade.

The confident execution of the first works we encounter makes it seem that Hockney never struggles. But he has included here something that deliberately contradicts that impression. The second large room at the de Young opens with a wryly labored watercolor on seven connected pages titled “The Massacre and the Problems of Depiction” (2003). The top six sheets, framed together, include a remake of Picasso’s frankly terrible 1951 Korean War protest picture and backfired homage to Goya, “Massacre in Korea.”

Abutting the watercolor at the bottom, almost like a label, is a separately framed watercolor image of a man shrouded by the tent of an antique camera pointed at “The Massacre.” Hockney has somehow made the faceless photographer figure suggest a self-portrait.

The first-referenced “problem of depiction,” of how to picture something, was Picasso’s: He could not make style and sentiment connect in his politically motivated “Massacre” – he didn’t even come close.

The second was Hockney’s. He has not made his satirical picture justify the effort, no matter how facile, spent on it.

The third and fourth problems: how to reprise another master’s work – as Picasso failed to do in this case. Hockney has made no secret of his competitive feelings toward Picasso. Having tried to undo pictorial art’s obsession with illusions of deep space based on perspective geometry, Hockney naturally hopes to supersede Picasso, who did it first through collage and cubism.

Camera as symbol
Finally, the camera symbolizes yet more “problems of depiction,” having resolved automatically certain difficulties of transcribing appearances and thus, in Hockney’s view, locking us into a limited understanding of how seeing is experienced, as if we saw everything with a single eye, like a camera lens, rather than two.

He has tried by various means to unsettle that understanding – most dramatically through four nine-screen videos, “Woldgate Wood” (2011), which enfold visitors at the center of “A Bigger Exhibition.”

But Hockney’s main tactic in trying to break the complacency of vision and our thinking about it has been shifts in emphasis. These appear throughout the de Young survey.”

Another Art Review:
“Returning Home, but Always Going Forward”.
Recent David Hockney Work at the de Young in San Francisco

Drew Kelly for The New York Times

David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition “A Closer Winter Tunnel, February-March” (2006) is one of the large landscapes in this show.

Published: December 23, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO — At 76, David Hockney is in one of his primes, and apparently he knows it. Not for nothing is his exuberant, immersive survey at the de Young Museum here cheekily titled “David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition.”

Drew Kelly for The New York Times
The show includes videos presenting four versions of a nine-screen view of Woldgate Woods in Yorkshire, one version for each season.
This sprawling romp through more than 300 works in several mediums and technologies fills 10 often large galleries and yet primarily covers work from the last decade of Mr. Hockney’s 60-year career. It is dominated by radiant landscapes — some the size of murals — of the fields and woods in different seasons of East Yorkshire in Britain, near where Mr. Hockney was born and grew up.

Canvases like “The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)” argue convincingly that early modernist styles from Post Impressionism to Fauvism and beyond are grounds for further development. Synthesizing aspects of Munch, Klimt, Derain, Cézanne, van Gogh and late Bonnard, these works are alluringly modern for their startling colors — roads of light magenta, tree trunks of purple or orange, along with quantities of different greens and yellows — their notably nonprecious, dashed-off tactility of surface, their welcoming spaciousness and bold internal scale, and their often Abstract Expressionist size.

With an emphasis on bucolic farmland that seems very British, they nonetheless convey the grandeur of nature, still the mother of us all, and of all art. And they also confirm Mr. Hockney’s theory that representational painting can tell you more about reality and perception than either photography or the human eye, which is one reason it can still thrill.

The exhibition was selected and designed by Gregory Evans, Mr. Hockney’s curator and manager of business and exhibitions, working with Richard Benefield, deputy director of the de Young, and is divided into sections with titles like “En Plein Air,” “From Pixels to Print,” “Looking Up” and “Back to Basics.” The landscape paintings are joined by watercolors, a suite of exceptional charcoal landscapes and portraits, and self-portraits in several mediums.

There are deft iPhone and iPad drawings: Scores of them flutter past on thin screens, pausing occasionally to show the process of one being made. (This gives you the odd sensation of being inside the drawing looking out and clarifies how labor-intensive the best are.) Others, printed on immense sheets of paper, resemble large pastels whose textures have been dusted off, which is more interesting than it sounds.

There are also about 20 examples of the sketchbooks that Mr. Hockney continues to carry nearly everywhere he goes — their every page visible on adjacent thin screens — as well as various forays into video. All told, this array forms an in-depth portrait of the artist as a tradition-fluent progressive working nonstop at the height of his powers, deftly juggling digital and analog modes of representation and energetically pursuing newness on several fronts.

Mr. Hockney has always been a prolific artist ever more curious about how two-dimensional works convey the complexities of actual experience. He has been an art star since he emerged in the early 1960s with a personalized Pop painting style in which figures of an Egyptian stiffness were seen against flat backgrounds (a style evoked in his recent videos of jugglers and acrobats). Since then his career might be described in terms of his growing awareness of illusionistic space in his own work and throughout the history of painting, encouraged by his experience with cameras both still and moving and his opera-set designs.

After Mr. Hockney settled in Los Angeles in 1964, his art became increasingly involved with real light and space. His interests in these matters expanded further in the early 1980s, when he began taking numerous Polaroids and arranging them in large collages to create elaborately fractured views of a given subject. These ignited an interest in Cubism that led him to conclude that style’s multiple views were perhaps closer to actual perception than the single vanishing point of Western painting.

He was also drawn to the spatial tactics of Chinese painting, as evidenced by “Day on the Grand Canal With the Emperor of China (or Surface Is Illusion But So is Depth),” an enthralling 1988 film in which he discusses the seamless yet shifting viewpoints of a 17th-century Chinese scroll as the camera scans its 70-foot length.”

I have stopped buying art books for a while as my bookcases and cabinets are all full and many books are scattered everywhere in my house.  But I could not leave the museum without buying the beautiful hardcover (with dust jacket) DAVID HOCKNEY, A BIGGER EXHIBITION, 228 pages, published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It includes many paintings and drawings (from iPad), and also four essays from curators, art manager, and art writer, and an essay by David Hockney himself:  “To see the bigger picture is to see more”.  His essay is quite interesting.  He said he is not a historian, or an art historian but would like to offer a different way of viewing history.  He is particularly interested in depicting images, the use of photography and technology, the use of iPhone, iPad, and Photoshop.  He cited a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art named “Faking”.  This reminds me of Pablo Picasso’s famous quote:

” Art is a lie that makes us realize truth”!

To answer Kenneth Baker’s question: “Do you see the world differently – even for a moment – after visiting it?”  I did.

I think David Hockney is not only successful as an artist.  He is also  a living proof that older adults can learn about technology and also utilize technology to continue to be creative.  As my work includes a piece which provides training to older adults in broadband technology, I am thrilled to see Mr. Hockney’s achievement in the use of technology in creating art. I look forward to seeing more creative productions by Mr. Hockney in future, particularly the use of media technology.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. I once saw Hockney in San Francisco’s Chinatown, walking down the street, as was I. He dressed very colorfully and lively. Around the same period, I also heard him lecture at Berkeley, but this was like 30 years ago, so he must have been only about 30 years old and already very famous. At the lecture, I think he was explaining some set designing he had done. He filled a gigantic auditorium to capacity. Since I’m originally from L.A., I was always interested in his L.A. paintings. I also like to see older adults up-to-date on and utilizing technology, which is rare.

    1. friendlytm says:

      Thank you so much, Gayle. You have added some important information about Mr. Hockney in your comments. He was the set designer in Puccini’s Opera TURNADOT in SF Opera around 2011, I think. I did see that Opera which was great. I think his artworks this time have brought him to a higher level of fame. The museum was packed, with timed admission every 15 minutes. I was more impressed after seeing the exhibition. You would love his works. Where are you based? I am sure his works are being displayed in many venues. Thanks again for visiting my blog. You have been very supportive of my posts. I do appreciate that.

    2. friendlytm says:

      Hi Gayle. I just found that his next exhibition is in LACMA in February. Don’t lose thus opportunity if you are in LA.

  2. Clanmother says:

    Brilliant! He is redefining aging and time! Thank you for an excellent post.

    1. friendlytm says:

      Thank you, Rebecca. The museum was packed yesterday with timed admission every 15 minutes. I was more impressed after I saw the exhibition. It was the biggest exhibition in de Young Museum so far, with more than 300 works exhibited. I think he is a very talented person.

      1. Clanmother says:

        Wish I could have been there with you!!

  3. artdone says:

    You can’t imagine how I would love to see this show!
    I knew about it 🙂
    I’ve seen two major Hockney’s exhibitions in Europe – portraits and landscapes.
    He is one of my favourite artists – his art is so clever.
    And fun to watch.
    Thank you so much for this post!

    1. friendlytm says:

      Glad to know that you are his fan! His next two exhibitions this year are in LA and Japan.

      1. artdone says:

        Still a little bit too far… ;(

  4. shabnamphoto says:

    wonderful and informative article, thanks for the share….

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