In Arts + Entertainment

Film: See The World Through David Hockney’s Eyes

David Hockney is one of the world’s most important living artists. With his signature bright pops of colour and an expressive vibrancy, Hockney’s art is instantly recognisable. As part of the brand-new season of films from Exhibition on Screen, David Hockney at the Royal Academy of Arts explores Hockney’s incredible practice. Offering the chance to step inside Hockney’s world through a cinema session, it’s now showing at screens throughout Australia.

The film focuses on two hugely successful exhibitions of Hockney’s work shown at London’s Royal Academy (RA) in 2012 and 2016 — the former focused on landscapes, and the latter on portraiture.

We talked to Grabsky about what viewers can take away from the film, and a few insights into the life of the artist himself.

Portraiture and the self

Director Phil Grabsky Photo: David Bickerstaff

The 2016 exhibition at the RA, 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life, reveals how Hockney embraced portraiture with a remarkable drive of energy. We meet 82 people who form his family and friends (and friend’s children), and together, these portraits form a body of work. There’s also one still life of colourful fruit perched on a wooden bench — added just for good measure.

The film encourages viewers to look closer, and to observe with intention, as the camera lingers on several of the portraits. We can begin to question just who these people are: how are they connected to Hockney? What are they thinking? What is their body language really saying?

“When people engage themselves, and aren’t just receptacles for information, and actually start asking questions it means there’s a much more powerful reaction,” says Grabsky.

Just like Van Gogh, only three days were spent on a single portrait. There’s a sketchy quality to many, yet what really stands out is an immediate sense of life to each of them. You can begin to build up a sense of real human engagement as you view them. Each portrait represents an extension of the self, and a wider reflection of Hockney’s inner circle.

“You have to see them as 82 portraits, then they start to have a more profound meaning. Even though it’s the same chair and same floor, the same background though slightly amended, everyone is different. Everyone sits differently. You can’t hold a pose or facial look. Everyone dresses differently. Then it starts to have a different resonance. That’s what a film can do. It opens the door,” says Grabsky.

As Hockney says in the film, “I got to know them a lot better. They got to know me.”

Returning to childhood landscapes

David Hockney Painting “Winter Timber” in Bridlington, July 2009 © David Hockney Photo: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima

As Hockney says in the film: “Landscapes seemed big to me, and so I wanted to make them bigger still.” And so he did.

In his 2012 RA exhibition, A Bigger Picture, large-scale paintings of bright nature scenes — often the result of many canvases pieced together — signify Hockney’s return to his English childhood county in later years. After spending most of his life away in California, he returned to Yorkshire and went back to the motif of painting nature directly. There’s a real Hockney-esque touch of expressive colour to these paintings, as well as bright vistas and vivid light.

“He didn’t go back and paint Bradford in a miserable, dark, northern way. In some ways, it’s very unrealistic the colours he uses, but there’s a real life and vitality to it,” says Grabsky.

These landscape paintings represent Hockney’s reconnection back to the landscapes of his youth, seen anew with fresh eyes.

Embracing technology to make new art

David Hockney, “Felled Trees on Woldgate” 2008 Oil on 2 canvases (60 x 48″ each) 60 x 96″ overall © David Hockney Photo: Richard Schmidt

The 2012 exhibition not only included traditional paintings, but video art (made with 18 cameras) and impressive drawings of nature scenes made with an iPad, too. Hockney is an artist constantly experimenting, and always engaged with modern advances. Embracing new technologies and methods to make art is a huge part of what cements Hockney as one of the greats.

The iPad drawings — though still printed and hung in the traditional manner — show the arrival of spring as the snow melts and makes way for fresh blossoms. Using the iPad allowed for Hockney to experiment with speed and an enormous range of marks, and the results are quite unique.

“A great artist has a stamp, and with David, he’s never afraid to change direction. He certainly loves engaging with modern technologies… It wouldn’t surprise me if he pops up at age 82 or 83 with a Virtual Reality project… He’s passionate about being an artist. So anything that can help him scratch that itch of curiosity, he will take advantage of,” says Grabsky.

Well, whether there’s a VR project on the horizon or not, it’ll be really exciting to see what he does next. But for now, head to the cinema to experience the world of David Hockney through film.

David Hockney at the Royal Academy of Arts is now showing at selected cinemas across Australia.

(Lead photo: David Hockney Painting “Winter Timber” in Bridlington, July 2009 © David Hockney Photo: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima) 

Published 21 May, 2018