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
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.
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?
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.
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.