A Tour of David Hockney’s Newest Painting Series

Which years were those?

1953 to 1957. And then, from 1959 to 1962, I was at the Royal College of Art—three years, and that’s when I really discovered my painting. I hadn’t done that much painting in Bradford—I’d done models and things like that, but we didn’t know much about color then. Bradford was a very, very dark city, with black buildings from all the coal and things. I left it in 1959 and never really went back.

In school, they were teaching you abstraction, right?

Well, yes. Throughout the fifties and sixties and seventies, abstraction reigned, but I was never really attracted to it. Abstraction at first looked as though it was going to lead to everything, but it doesn’t, does it?

I wrote a letter [recently, to The Art Newspaper] because I read a book review titled “Beyond Abstraction,” and I wondered what on earth that could be. Giacometti said abstract art was the “art of the handkerchief”—which I like. [Laughs.] But I think now abstraction has had its say. You must now depict, but it must be done in a new way. How? That’s the real problem today.

When you think of it, abstraction occurred at the height of photography. Those illustrated photography magazines started in the thirties—Life, Picture Post in England, Illustrated. And they ended when television came. Television took over all these pictures. I mean, Picture Post came out every week—it was all very fast printing, fast photography. But, when Clement Greenberg was saying abstraction is the thing, that’s the time when no one questioned photography, really, did they?

At the Museum of Modern Art, the last time I was there, I think, there was a room full of abstract paintings by [Gerhard] Richter, by a few people—and it was O.K. Then you go into Philip Guston. Well, I mean, it was just a fantastic jump, and I thought, Well, this is much, much better.

Yes, I think abstraction will become just a period piece. Do you know that book “The Power of Images”?

No. What’s its thesis?

It’s by David Freedberg. It’s really good. It was published around 1990. I first read it then, and I read it again around 2005. The first paragraph is stunning. It says that images have great power. We worship them. We go on journeys to see them. We want to destroy them. And you think this is all in the past, but then he says, no, it’s today as well. He points out that, if art gets away from images, what is art? There’s nothing much, because the power is with images.

What was your approach to making art when you were a kid?

I used to paint just around where I lived. Eventually, I got a pram and put the paints in it, and I’d wheel it out and it was a lot easier. [Laughs.] There are some of my paintings of those years that still exist, but a lot of them have gone quite dark. Because I probably used too much white in the paint—that’s why paintings go dark.

Did you see the Monets when you went to the museum? Do you think they’ve gone darker?

I wondered, but I thought it was the lighting.

Well, I can remember seeing them in 1960, which was just about thirty years after they were put there. And I remember them as very blue. And now some of the blues have gone. And, in the Museum of Modern Art, those “Nymphéas” (“Water Lilies”) are not as dark.

Somebody told me that maybe he had used a varnish on these. But I don’t think so, because Monet knew how to paint, and all his paintings still have color and they’ve not gone dark. But some paintings do go dark, and I’m not sure why. I paint all my pictures to last, actually.

For a painter, you also pay a lot of attention to reproduction.

Yes, and I’ve witnessed printing change a lot. I can remember seeing the first books on Impressionism in art school, and you had to wash your hands before you were allowed to touch them and look. And they cost about ten pounds then—which was a lot of money for a book in 1953. When I had my first show, at [Paul] Kasmin’s gallery, he just produced one little picture, black-and-white, and that’s all there was. I don’t think he ever produced a catalogue. And then the catalogues started getting bigger. I remember when—I think it was Robert Hughes—said sometimes they might be the size of a London telephone directory. [Laughs.]

I’ve always followed printing, I’ve always been interested in it, and I’ve always known that pictures get known by being reproduced. But they’ve also got to be memorable. You need memorable pictures. And I’ve painted quite a few memorable pictures, haven’t I?

What do you think makes them memorable?

Nobody knows.

Not even you?

No, because if anyone knew, there’d be a lot more memorable pictures. [Laughs.] But you don’t know even when you paint them. For instance, “A Bigger Splash”—I painted that in Berkeley, California, when I was teaching there. I had no idea it was going to be a very famous picture.

“A Bigger Splash,” from 1967. “I realize that a splash could never be seen this way in real life—it happens too quickly,” Hockney said. “And I was amused by this, so I painted it in a very, very slow way.”Art work by David Hockney / Photograph © Tate

Are there contemporary painters you’re interested in?

Well, yes, there are some. I’m not sure if there are any getting quite to my way of thinking yet, but they might.

I think the star system is going, isn’t it? I mean, movie stars now, beyond Brad Pitt—what is there? The newspapers, the movies needed stars, and the media needed stars as well. They provide gossip and things. But where are the stars today? On the iPhone, your friends are the stars on the screen. Why do you need another star or another screen out there when you’ve got one in your hand? I mean, we don’t know what all this is doing to us.

It’s big, what’s happening.

Yes, it’s very, very big, these changes. It’s probably bigger than the printing press. Remember, Luther printed his sermons, and that’s why they spread so much in Germany at first and why the Church couldn’t control it. The last altarpiece commissioned by the Church by a rather good artist was Delacroix’s, in Saint-Sulpice [in Paris]. But, after that, images left the church and went into magazines, the media, films, television. Images have a very powerful effect on us, they do.

So it’s all these problems that I find interesting. I’m still at work, doing things—and I’m still interested. It is curiosity that keeps you going, yes. [Laughs.]


About pevita pearce

Check Also

Here are some tips for picking paint for home interiors – Reading Eagle

Many components combine to define a home’s interior. Some homeowners may be partial to certain …

furnace maintenance