Good Art is…Hockney’s ode to joy

David Hockney serves up a great antidote to the cynical, downslide much of 2016 delivered to us. Anyone waking up to the New Year with that intangible gut nagging feeling of abandoned hope which can’t be attributed to alcohol alone, should get themselves to a gallery and see some Hockney.


The last days of 2016 had a certain undertone – even the suburbs of far flung Australia felt the grinding numbness of it all.

The exhibition- David Hockney: Current at the NGV offers a total immersion in unloosed colour, exploration of light and landscape and the love of drawing reimagined for the skeptical and world weary.

Hockney’s current opus is an ode to joy delivered with the exuberance you see in toddlers let free in a room of finger paints. Just as a toddler takes to an iPad with a learning imperative, Hockney has made the technology bend to his creative urgency and we are let into both his process and the wonder of the delivered work.

In Arrival of Spring Hockney provides a Monet-esque display, rendering a much loved part of Yorkshire at Woldgate; a lane, a gateway, hedgerows, puddles, over and over and recreating the whole anew each time. Remarkable animated works give a generous insight into the efficiency of Hockney’s compositional form, mark making and colour mixing as he translates from eye to hand to build up each digital painting in what he describes simply as “drawing on a sheet of glass”.


This is not to say that Hockney has strayed away from the hero effort demanded of a master painter.Surrounded by the monumental assembly of Bigger Trees Near Warter my brain physically changed gear: the emotional trigger art is meant to provide happened. The towering trees set against a luminous winter sky embrace the humbled viewer to spurn a re-awakening to nature along with a sense of loss as the trees thin and boughs taper to the landscape’s edge.

Hockney’s marathon 81 Portraits and still-life, exhibited in a classical shooting gallery style, also provides a breathless sense of the challenge of time, physicality and intensity with each portrait allocated just three days per subject in an uninterrupted work that stretched to take up two years. There is no parade of the great and the good here, but rather a chronology of sitters – friends, family, workers and those that wandered through – all threaded and now held together by Hockney’s sure hand.

Painters live in the now … all art that is alive is contemporary,” he says of his lifetime’s work and his fortune to live through the better half of the 20th Century. At 79 Hockney perhaps feels the need to push himself further and faster but his interview by the NGV reveals a gentle, laconic Yorkshireman interested in a respective observation of nature and the people around him, rather than a hunger for anything more. There is also a humour which tips into the work – the still life on a bench painting not only replaced the human sitter when someone failed to show but probably allowed Hockney to retain his momentum.

Nevertheless Hockney’s parting work is testament to his ongoing challenge to art practice with a take on perspective and even a joust at the law of optics. Small iPad sketches at the entry to the exhibition show the workings of this idea – a puzzle of a car with nine cameras mounted around it and a set of questions Hockney asks through his sketches, ‘Why is the single vanishing line to the horizon – the point of infinity – such an accepted part of art and design practice? Why not evert the line and take in multiple infinities- look out to all possibilities?’

At last the riddle of the car with nine cameras is revealed in the Four Seasons with a single journey’s perspective delivered to the viewer through the separate eyes of nine lenses along laneways of Yorkshire on four large screens with multiple slowly emerging images looking to the horizon, but yet giving us the whole.

I probably see all my life now as one work,” Hockney says wryly and by the close of the exhibition I felt that I too was more whole – able to go out into the world (precarious as it seems to be) with hope that 2017 could promise to be a good, even joyous, year after all.


The full interview conducted by the NGV with David Hockney and the notes on the exhibition can be downloaded from here



15 thoughts on “Good Art is…Hockney’s ode to joy

  1. Having read this I really must go down to Salts Mill in Saltaire to see David Hockney’s permanent exhibition, it’s only 1/2 an hour down the road…there’s a good fabric shop down there too apparently 🙂


  2. Happy New Year, Chas. I love David Hockney’s work and was fortunate enough to see an exhibition of his work at Tate Britain a few years ago. It was inspirational, especially his i-pad creations. Maybe I’ll take up painting this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Once again, you’ve made me miss the availability and range of good art I used to have when I lived in Melbourne. On the other hand… sea, mountains, fabulous sunsets and brilliant flowers vs exhibitions, great shopping, good theatre… Nah, nature still wins 🙂 Have a very happy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

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