Sunday, August 16, 2009

What I Like About David Hockney

He's always exploring. He doesn't settle into one style and repeat himself endlessly. He plays. Not everything that results is good, or good art, but it's always interesting. His interests keep expanding. His style as an artist keeps changing. As a viewer of his art, he keeps me guessing, and makes me think.

He sometimes leaves part of a drawing or painting unfinished. He allows an outline of a figure or shape to remain an outline. He's not attached to absolute realism. Thus, his paintings and drawings evoke emotion and memory because they become iconic, presenting just enough detail to relate to a specific personal experience, and leaving out the details that would force the art into being purely biographical rather than universal.

His homoerotic drawings, etchings, and paintings. I like the way he paints the male nude, but often only suggests rather than explcitily renders. There are subtleties and reflections in this way of suggesting a nuide's form. His nudes can be highly charged, highly erotic, but they stay this side of the line of explicit pornography. They are about the people inhabiting the flesh, not just about the flesh. This might be the result of using friends as models, rather than strangers. You can see similar looking for the person inside the flesh in the art of other artists who use friends as models.

The way he frames a painting, it's often like a snapshot from a camera, rather casual, even apparently accidental. I like the way things are often not formallly framed, but go out past the edges. Going outside the frame gives a composition energy, as though the story continues beyond the edge of the picture, or the end of the book. It is the conventions of closed narrative that habituate us to tidy endings, neat resolutions, and definite ends to stories. Hockney de-habituates us from our expectations of formal compositions and tidy endings by giving us untidy snapshots and voyeuristically casual compositions. It's almost as if the composition didn't matter: yet one can be certain that Hockney was very thoughtful and careful about it, and worked towards that effect.

Probably his most famous paintings are his swimming pool paintings. But they're only one style and one period from his larger body of work. They're iconic in part because of their subject matter, and how he treats that subject, but they're not his most original work.

Cubism shows up most strongly in his photo collages. He has frequently stated that Cubism was an important and powerful influence on his art. Yet I think his most Cubistic innovations lie in his assembled photo collages. These are often Polaroid pieces, many individual shots taken of a scene from multiple viewpoints, then arranged evocatively. This is a technique for collage in photography that I have used myself, and I admit to a Hockney influence here, among others. I find Cubist-inspired photography to be very fertile precisely because it allows me to step outside of narrative and tell about some person or place from simultaneous multiple viewpoints outside normal time. You're able to see everything all at once: when you re-arrange spatial perception you inevitably re-arrange your awareness of time as well, because they are inextricably linked.

I like many of his drawings for their graphic sense: design, layout, overall scale and arrangement. As a painter he isn't afraid of white space. White space seems to terrify most people, including artists and graphic designers. In commercial publication, white space comes as a premium: each inch of paper that can contain info or advertising usually does, as that's how you make a profit from your publication, by packing it in. There can be an artistry to dense-packing, but one of the key differences between commercial art and fine art is their intentions. Hockney sometimes plays with this tension, as does Robert Rauschenberg, by toying with the tension between dense-packing and an evocation of openness. One reason some of Hockney's California paintings are so popular, including the swimming pool paintings, is that they evoke the archetype of the open spaces of the West, which is linked to our mythologies of open spaces, the open road, endless travel, and the psychology of openness that underlies all this which is based on the heroic individuality of free choice. One thing I like about camping out in the wild areas of the West is the silence: unfortunately, just as white space comes at a premium in visual design, so too has our aural space become increasingly constantly filled with noise: silence too comes at a premium. I think most people are afraid of silence; of emptiness; of the void; of white space; and do everything they can to fill it in rather than just let it be. Hockney's iconic California paintings evoke a high-class (lifestyles of the rich and famous) aesthetic experience because they are both visually quiet and seem to be silent. There's a silence and tranquility present, even in the double portraits wherein there is depicted tensions in the relationships between the people being portrayed, and between the subjects and the objects that surround them in the painting. Hockney seems at times quite playful in his depiction of an artificial stillness that we all know is a fiction.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

We've had quite a few documentaries on Hockney over the years; he like TV. I remember him once playing with an early professional version of Paint - he really was like a kid in a candy store.

I love his Polaroid work by my favourite pieces by him are his drawings of Celia Birtwell although I couldn't find my the one I have in my head online. I saw him draw her live (well, live TV) once - he starts with the eyes you know. I was so jealous. What he managed to do in just a few lines was amazing.

4:41 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I've seen a couple of documentaries here, too. He does indeed like TV.

That's cool, watching an artist draw. There's only a few documentaries that actually watch artists at work. I really enjoy that. I like seeing their level of focus on what they're doing.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have to do a 2 sided project on hockney-but i cant do a wonderful mans or artist only on just 2 pages-he is a great guy
i think he is like a child, they say u shouldnt expect alot from them, but sometimes even if you do you will see what they can do to make them shine, and u wouldnt even beleive ur eyes.

i wonder what his inspiration is?

2:19 PM  

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