Friday, April 30, 2021

iPad Painter

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston features two masters at once for its first contemporary art exhibition since reopening: Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney. Who has not seen "a van Gogh" or at least a reproduction? Hockney on the other hand, best known for his paintings of swimming pools inspired by California's lifestyle, has reached a more selective audience of connoisseurs in the United States. The show is the occasion to see the works from the artist whose 80's birthday was celebrated with a five-month-long comprehensive retrospective at The Centre Pompidou in 2017.  Hockney-van Gogh: The Joy of Nature which premiered at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, highlights the Dutch painter's influence on Hockney and their shared love of nature. Paintings, drawings and other works are displayed in a succession of rooms, each focused on a theme: landscapes, trees, the arrival of Spring, the four seasons, and in the last room, new perspectives. 

Back to his native Yorkshire in 2004 after spending more than two decades in California, Hockney began to paint 'en plein air'. His landscapes of Woldgate fill the first room, intermingled with a few carefully selected scenes from Van Gogh, to highlight the similarities between the paintings. Fields, forests, roads, skies, horizons, subject, style, perspective, colors, show the correspondence. The comparison goes on with close-ups of trees, followed by a display of seasonal scenes from both artists. The Arrival of Spring in 2013, a collection of twenty-five charcoal drawings emphasizes the delicate process of representing nature: first looking then rendering 'every bit of grass', and showcases Hockney's draftsmanship. Watercolors complete the display which as we progress features less paintings from Van Gogh and becomes a one man show with works noticeably larger and more experimental including the famous iPad drawings. To meet the challenge brought up by the size of his oil paintings, Hockney divides huge canvasses like The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011, into  thirty-two smaller units assembled like a grid and prints his iPad drawings on four sheets of paper. The resulting landscapes are an invitation to walk in the forest, under the trees, on the path, and savor the precious gift of nature. Hockney's passion for images brings him to look through the lens of a camera or better nine at once on a monitor installed on a moving vehicle to record the forest's seasonal changes in Woldgate. The bench in the middle of the room offers a place to rest while watching The Four Seasons, Woldgate Woods, 2010-2011, a dizzying synchronized projection of thirty-six videos, nine per season and per wall, offering different views of the same scenery. After this visual overdrive, walking through the show's conclusion is underwhelming, from the blinding orange of the walls to only three pieces which highlight Hockney's search for new perspectives during his sixty-year career with In the Studio, December 2017, featuring the artist surrounded by 3D renditions of his works for a grand finale. 

Of course, setting the works of the two artists in the same room highlights the similarities between them, and also their differences: heavy brush and garish colors for Hockney who favors a naive style. It appears also that size does not matter regarding a work's content. Van Gogh's landscapes offer more than a visual feast with to quote the artist: "that flat landscape in which there was nothing but.......... the infinite... eternity." Over the years, it feels like Hockney the artist who keeps experimenting with new technologies to enrich his practice in his pursuit of ways to describe space, is becoming Hockney the neophile. This should not become his legacy. The exhibition focuses on a period less than a decade of a long career which is ongoing. Van Gogh was 37 years old when he died, a pauper. At 83 years old Hockney just discovered Normandy in France (where he can smoke) and announced two upcoming exhibitions, 116 iPad drawings/paintings for the reopening of  the Royal Academy of Arts in London  and one involving a 288-foot-long tapestry in Paris. Prices of his works are skyrocketing.
Will David Hockney be remembered for his iPad drawings? 

photographs by the author:

"The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011", David Hockney

"Tree Trunks in the Grass, April 1890", Vincent Van Gogh

"May Blossom on the Roman Road", 2009, David Hockney

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