“I have known David Hockney for a quarter of a century now…”
WHEN you look at the fabulous new paintings from David Hockney in a Normandy farmhouse, there is often a tiny detail – a ladder, a bird, a van, a chair – somewhere in there that reminds you that these are not simplistic daubs but the work of the master craftsman. They are static, but perhaps you could view them for as long as a film, maybe longer.
This is not so much a biography as an audience with, the artist transcribed through conversations and emails with the critic Martin Gayford. Contemplative, inspirational, inquiring, even the reference works included from other known artists take second place to the new works. A last great spurt of creative energy from Hockney, now aged 82, determined that he still has something to say, a legacy to be fulfilled from a lifetime literally of scratching on paper.
This is a refreshingly intelligent book, a visual existentialism transferred to the easel, a living in the present, enjoying moments the better for seeing them through Hockney’s eye, an art junkies dream. Van Gogh in Arles. Gaugin in the south seas, Hockney in Normandy with the freedom (and money) to paint plus lunch with a bottle of wine and a slice of pate. A garden re-ordered in his own style like Monet and Giverny.
Hockney is up at six each morning for the dawn light. The works he is doing are his last great statement. That the apparent abstractness is steeped in the work of other artists, secret homages to a lineage of art back to the Middle Ages. That Hockney is not just the draughtsman, but also in awe of the joy of colour. However much some of the paintings may seem to be just fantastical from the imagination, they are all drawn from life.
There are elegant arguments such as why seeing the original canvas can have more value than a photograph, the meditative power of the craft, how opera and writers can be explained in oils, or how what we see is constantly shifting and changing.
There is an argument that art has always sought to capture life in a moment. The decisive moment the photographer Cartier Bresson said. Hockney is busy reminding us that that moment is an illusion, in reality landscapes are always in motion, changing hour to hour as the light changes, nature is not still, life is not a still life.