Sources of Inspiration #3: David Hockney

David Hockney was the first artist I paid any real attention to. During the summer I turned 21 I got on a bus to Paris with a couple of friends for a little explore. It took 26 hours, and being small I was the only one who managed to sleep, so when we arrived I was bursting with energy and excitement, while the others were knackered. We found a place to stay, they went to bed, I, in no fit state to sit still, wandered out by myself with a little pocket guide, and found the Centre Pompidou. I didn’t yet know I was quite as interested in architecture as I have turned out to be, but I was smitten with that building in the way I had been by Marc Bolan in my early teens. I wanted to touch it, and sniff it.


But I was too overawed to go inside by myself, so I just mooched in its presence for as long as I dared, hiding behind my camera (a Pentax ME Super, which I still have), until my pals were rested and I could drag them there. It was well worth the wait: inside was full of light, air, and David Hockney paintings. I actually can’t think of a better combination as an introduction to the contemporary art world for a young woman who’d grown up with no access to art at all (if you discount, and I do, the 3D reproduction of da Vinci’s The Last Supper that hung on my mother’s dining room wall). I don’t think I could quite believe what I was seeing: the colour, the tones, the light, the space. Of the paintings and the building, they sparked off each other like beautiful newly weds.

I can’t tell if I love Hockney because of that introduction, or if I’d love him anyway, but love him I do. He has his own very particular style, and no matter his subject this signature is evident: you can always tell a Hockney in the same way you can always tell a Picasso. His images explode with light and space, even the more cluttered ones

David Hockney's cubist desk

give a sense of being able to move freely within them. And there’s a delightful cartoonish aspect, as if the Roadrunner could appear at any moment.

One of David Hockney's Yorkshire landscapes.

But the thing I like best about his work is the way he suggests human presence without actually showing any people. As if we, the viewers, have just missed the action. His paintings are like the last few sentences of a novel that you have to write yourself. Which adds a sense of darkness to the cartoon brights: what, for example, is going on in the painting below?

57_2012-05-23 17-10-10_DSC00246edit

It’s this I find so inspiring. I started as a writer (am a writer still), and my visual work, which arose from writing, is often more representative of a background on which action could take place, rather than anything more solid. Or, at least, that’s what (I think) I aim for.

Street photography by Eryl Shields

I was in London last weekend with The Mr. (hence my lack of posts) and hoped to see the Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain. Sadly when we got there it was full, we should have booked. I’d love to have seen these paintings again, but, it’s been said you can’t, or shouldn’t, go back, so perhaps fate did me a favour.

David Hockney's montage, Pearblossom Highway




4 thoughts on “Sources of Inspiration #3: David Hockney

  1. I *love* Hockney. He’s great. I’ve read that many of his photo collages are fading and that nothing can be done to save them. They’re not oils or watercolors. Photo paper pigment has no staying power and is sensitive to overexposure to light.

    I’m not so sure about not going back. Going home to Cleveland or visiting the Met and seeing paintings that I first saw as a youth feels like seeing old friends again.


  2. That’s a shame, those montages are wonderful. Though it would be quite interesting to record their demise.

    Going back to London was like that, I worried that I may not be able to handle such a big city after being in the country for 20 years, or that it would have changed beyond recognition, but it’s just the same old home it always was.


  3. I love Hockney too. There was an excellent Hockney exhibition in Belfast last year. There’s a tremendous sense of life and vitality in his paintings, even the ones without any visible human presence, as you say. And far from losing inspiration as he ages, as some artists do, he’s still innovating like mad.


    1. Yes, that ability to keep trying new things, learn, play, innovate, as you say, is truly inspiring. By making art on an iPad recently he helped legitimise the practice, and create a new path for young/emerging artists; I’d love him for that alone.


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