Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hockney at the deYoung

I saw an exhibition of Hockney portraits about 15 years ago in London which knocked my socks off.

I was impressed by the draftsmanship but also by Hockney’s ability to ask people to sit for him. It takes a long time to do a finished drawing and it can be embarrassing when the likeness is not good. I very much want to do portraits but it is hard to feel calm when someone is sitting for me. I fear they are impatient. I am afraid it won’t turn out.

Hockney obviously has none of these issues. Which tells me something about his personality.

At the deYoung exhibit, the first room I saw was the watercolors which I liked very much. I am a landscape painter too and ‘understand’ what he is doing but was impressed by the handling of the watercolor.  I think much of his work relies on really great drawing skills, and obviously he is a good colorist. He used the trick of hiding colors all around the canvas (like I do). I liked his urban views—they are the views I like to paint as well. The compositions were good but not always great. He was using great paper and lots of it.
My friend Kathleen and I enjoyed the abstract quality in the work. We liked the views of Iceland.

The second room, as I recall, contained beautiful oil landscapes of a nice size. The color combinations were unexpected and interesting. I noticed that Hockney uses warm shadow colors, similar to Delacroix and others of that time period, in contrast to a lot of modern painters (Thiebaut, Impressionists) who use blue shadow colors. This creates a bit of a shock because it is different from what many others are doing.

I noticed that he often starts the view from what's at his  feet on out. Many of us start a landscape a few feet farther away.

As I went around the exhibit, I felt it was just too large. I could have done without all the ipad enlarged drawings. I didn’t like the line or brush that he was using. I have similar issues in Photoshop, getting the lines to look like real brush or pen lines, or at least interesting lines.

The ipad drawings at actual size and seen on a screen were much better. The software saves all the keystrokes and that was fascinating to watch Hockney complete the work. Like a tutorial. However, at the same time, it was not surprising. It is exactly how I would proceed with a painting like that.

Some of the giant canvases…ok, nice, but just not as searching and experimental and alive as the early ones.

After my friend Kathleen and I had lunch, we found the upstairs exhibition. I was enthralled by the charcoals. They were lovely, charcoal on paper itself is lovely, and yet at the same time I didn’t think they were GREAT drawings. Very good drawings. In some of them I wish for more drama in the composition, more variety of line, or something. Can’t quite put my finger on it. I felt like I could do these drawings (though I probably can’t). Many artists could do these drawings if they put in the time. Of course few artists put in that kind of time.

Again I wonder about his life where he has all this time. Or about the confidence to spend all the time. It help that he sells well so he doesn’t get that ‘studio filled up’ feeling that many of us have.

Again could have done without the enlarged charcoals.

At that point I had seen enough but we did look at everything else. The later large oils were well done but I didn’t detect that sense of risk that I like to see in a painting. Why were they all blue? Perhaps that is the wall color of the studio.

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