Thirty years ago, when we were all young, we spent a delightful evening with David Hockney during which he spoke lovingly of Yorkshire in the north of England. It had been his home since his birth, and his eyes were shining as he described its many wonders. He was at that time permanently living in Los Angeles painting poolside California, but Yorkshire was his English Arcadia. He told us of the beauty of the land there, its sky, its rocks, its hills. Now he has returned to this land because spring there is enough of that season to satisfy his needs while Los Angeles simply has almost no spring. It is his feeling that the arrival of spring cannot be done in one picture, and so he has completed a whole exhibition to record it.

“When you come back the seasons hit you a lot more. I realized there was something I had missed. Spring is a wonderful event to watch and I’m a very visual person.” At 74 Hockney has returned to his boyhood home to retrieve the arrival of spring. If he is painting time lapsing he is returning to the pastoral tradition as many artists have done in the past. Both Poussin and Monet tackled the seasons in old age. However Hockney’s approach is one of exuberant optimism and celebration rather than lugubrious longing. His joyous approach shows no evidence of elegiac memorial. For example, he has produced a 15 metre canvas oil painting of purple and ochre tree trunks with outsize luscious leaves twirling on the lower branches of trees. The huge oil shows the very early beginnings of spring when the sap rises and leaves appear first of all on these low branches.

All of these works reflect Hockney’s approach to 21st century landscape. He uses an i-pad to produce quick sketches of whatever interests him in the Yorkshire worlds’ vast open spaces. He feels claustrophobic in closed spaces and he needs to live near the seas. He says that in his i-pad sketches he is able to deal with the fleeting time of changing nature. A good draughtsman is interested in speed and he feels that Rembrandt could have had a ball with the i-pad. Hockney’s love-hate relationship with the camera seems to have been ameliorated and he has come to terms with what he calls “age post-photographique” digital manipulations which outweigh his distrust of the camera’s claim of veracity. He now has even placed a photographic copy of a 7 metre California work in the major Royal Academy exhibition in order to compare it to his current English works. He is also seeking new challenges and setting up a mini-cinema which records the seasons of the years in two minutes of film and he can study movement in the landscape.

If, in fact, the photograph of Hockney has veracity Hockey’s youth like that of the rest of us has disappeared. It is always a shock to remember the round faces of yesteryear, but his smile is identical to the ones of the past. Today he cannot tolerate long sessions in the Northumberland weather; he feels the cold acutely. However it is his land and sea and he cherishes it. The RA exhibition, however, brings us all back to our younger more feisty days. Hockney has written the copy on a poster for the exhibition , “All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally.” Methinks he is commenting on Damien Hirst. But that will have to wait until next month; stay tuned!


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