Is that … the Ladybird Book of David Hockney?
A few things about David Hockney, based on the exhibition now closing at the Tate:
1. His palette resembles the acrylic paints we used in school – those saturated hues that came in squeeze bottles, like condiments. The blues were especially intense, including the bright turquoise color of the squeeze bottles themselves. Hockney likes that blue spectrum, a bit more to the purple and less to the green side. Most of his works have at least one patch of intense blue, like a ground socket. Some of them work through the blue obsession more subtly; for example, pictures of modern window-walled buildings and tiled bathrooms in which the blue/grey patches vary systematically like Pantone samplers.
2. Hockney loves to vary techniques and treatments event within the same work. A single painting may have faces with their features resting lightly on the skin in the Alex Katz style, wireframe representations of furniture, deep fluffy fur, solid and shaded Platonic shapes of Russian constructivists, the depth of pool water, and the occasional patch of realism just to show he can do it. Sometimes the same object gets a double treatment, as in Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool where the ring flickers between Rothko style abstract with extra layers, and photorealism.
3. Some favorite paintings:
– A landscape of the Pacific Coast Highway, showing the variegation of terrain with different paint treatment techniques – layering, swirling, scratching – and another of the Colorado River in rich reds.
– Breakfast at Malibu Wednesday 89 and Sunday 89, with the background of deep blue and teal ocean, zen-combed like a Japanese print, looming over the willow pattern pieces on the table in the foreground. He uses the broadest of brushstrokes to suggest the willow pattern, blue in one canvas and deep pink in the other.
– And of course Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy. The basic story of the love quadrangle comes through even in reproductions, but what you get extra in the painting is the textures of the objects ringing it: cool copper frame, elegant vase of flowers, supertufty rug, and oddly flat lamp. All these are not enough to fill the void at the center.
4. He experimented with mosaic photographs, which split the field of vision into hundreds of white-edged panes like an old window. The three early portraits and double portraits assembled from SX-70 Polaroids are especially fine. The overlapping and repetition, especially of the central human features in the portraits, gives the cubist effect of multiple perspective. There was also a large oblong assemblage of a pool with a swimmer. The swimmer appears in successive frames like a graphic novel, several chains of them in different parts of the pool. All of the mosaics feel cognitively real in that the field of vision is not even and the glance must dart around.
5. David Hockney can work in any medium including crayons, mostly with exquisite control though some of his portrait sketches are a bit distorted. His video installation The Four Seasons gives a sense of layered, simultaneous time by surrounding visitors with massive, pinpoint sharp slow zooms of the same Yorkshire forest in winter, spring, summer and fall. It is the same forest but not quite the same view, exclusive of the seasons, as if he wanted to make the point that you can’t walk into the same forest twice. His pictures on the iPhone and iPad, in streaky Warhol brights that appear through time lapse video, are astonishing. It’s like watching someone paint a Gauguin on a blackboard using only the eraser. Part of the pitch of Apple devices is that they make everyone a creative. It takes more. David Hockney is still streets ahead.