Conversations with David Hockney
by Martin Gayford
Through these conversations, you get to hear not just what but how Hockney thinks. I’m always curious about that — how an artist thinks — especially an artist with as long and varied a career as Hockney’s. I think I first became aware of Hockney for his pool paintings, then his polaroid collages. His most recent work is at opposite ends of scale: iPhone and iPad drawings on one end, giant multi-panel landscapes on the other.
One thing that has drawn me to his work is the vibrant color and the ways he sees light. Hockney doesn’t seem to think it odd he’s worked in different media, as to him it always comes down to the same problem: depiction. How do you make a 2D interpretation of a 3D world?
…how can one translate a visual experience such as a sunrise — a fleeting event involving expanses of space, volumes of air, water vapour and varying qualities of natural light — into a picture?
Hockney says that, “I’ve always believed that pictures make us see the world” and he is right in that. “Pictures influence pictures, but pictures also make us see things that we might not otherwise see” he tells us, and it’s true, from the spread of hipstamatic iPhone shots to photographs stopping a moment in time in a way that experience doesn’t, to paintings interpreting the world in a way that changes how and what people see.
Not that Hockney isn’t critical of photography — he is known for saying controversial and outrageous things about it. Photography is just part of the problem of depiction Hockney is continually trying to solve:
Most people feel that the world looks like a photograph. I’ve always assumed that the photograph is nearly right, but that the little bit by which it misses makes it miss by a mile. This is what I grope at.
The title of the book is taken from on of Hockney’s more recent pieces. The giant landscapes are easy to criticize, and I’ll admit I found the reproductions in this book (tiny as they are compared to the originals) almost garish at times. I don’t share other’s fascination with the size of these landscapes, in the same way I don’t find the iPhone and iPad images that interesting. For me, it’s the picture that does something for me (or to me) and not the method by which it was made or the size it appears.
The book is more interesting than the later work, because how Hockney talks about these pictures is still interesting. I might not be taken with the end results, but I am fascinated by how he considers problems, and that he is still after all this time seeking out new tools and process for depiction.