|David Hockney, The Atelier, March 17th, 2009|
I have always associated David Hockney with the photocollages, polaroid snaps and hyperreal portraits of lovers and friends from the 1960s and 1970s. When a friend saw the Hockney retrospective in Bilbao and came home raving, I wondered if Hockney had radically changed direction in the second half of his life. At least, my friend’s description of the show made it seem as though this was the case. I haven’t seen Hockney’s work since the late 1980s, so I didn’t know what to expect of the much applauded exhibition of so-called drawings at Galerie Lelong.
|David Hockney, Summer Sky, 2008|
While the works are billed as drawings, they are, in fact computer drawn and inkjet printed. In the statement from Hockney that is the press release distributed by the gallery, he says that the computer allows a speed of execution not possible with oil or even watercolour. With the computer, there is no need to change brushes, wait for paint to dry, and the colour has a certain speed. In addition, as we see in the exhibition, Hockney is able to work with a whole range of vivid new colours thanks to the computer. For example, in many of the portraits we see areas of an appealing light peppermint green. And, particularly in the landscapes, I noticed a layering — of trees, background, sky in different forms and colours — that makes these more recent Hockney works both specific and different from the older photo-collages.
|David Hockney, A Bigger Green Valley, 2008|
While my initial response was of a stronger interest in the landscapes because of this layering, the more I stood before the portraits, the more interesting they became. With time, I realized that they had the appearance of still lives. Much like Hockney’s best known portraits, the figures are caught, one could even say, frozen, on the image. The figures are static, a stasis that is reinforced by the deliberate pose, the expressionless faces, the fact that they are usually sitting, not doing anything, just looking “at the camera”. The stasis is also enhanced by the backgrounds which are typically made of two different sections. The larger section is of parallel lines on the page, angled and skewed, and the figures look as if they are placed on a raked stage. And so, I was inspired to think of them as related, if only distantly, to Chardin’s and Cezanne’s still lives. That is, they were falling off the image.
|David Hockney, Matelot, Kevin Druez 1, 2008|
The figures are also curious because they are photographic, but as Hockney insists, they are not photographic reproductions. This is the connection to Warhol’s screen prints, also in artificial colours: they are reproduce-able but not reproduced. But while Warhol is clearly painting, Hockney’s works exist somewhere between painting, computer drawings, prints, with an inflection of the photographic. It is as if he is creating a new medium. The longer I stood before the “drawings”, the more intrigued I became by the creative process. There is something very enigmatic about both the portraits and the landscapes which seems to be attributed to their stasis together with the questions that the viewer cannot help asking about the process. In the works for which he became known in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the enigma is elsewhere, namely, in the narrative of what just happened, or what is about to happen. In this sense, the earlier works are akin to Edward Hopper’s spotlight on what is taking place outside of the frame. However, in these more recent drawings, the figures have impenetrable expressions: are they happy or sad? And what of their past stories? Of course, none is revealed. The opaque expressions of course contribute to their ambiguity. Nevertheless, what makes these images interesting and even at times inaccessible (in the best possible sense) is the creative exploration of the technology he uses.
Copyright for images : Courtesy Galerie Lelong / Photo Fabrice Gibert