17 Jan 2012

David Hockney, ‘the hand, the eye and the heart’

On the eve of a major new show David Hockney tells Channel 4 News about his latest love affair with Yorkshire and, after that spat with Damien Hirst, why painting comes from the “hand and the heart”.

Via the squelch of muddy pathways and the snap of twigs, a hyper-coloured east Yorkshire splashes the walls of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Of course it is David Hockney‘s new show.

In conversation with Channel 4 News Culture Editor Matthew Cain, Britain’s most famous living painter explained why the fields of his northern homeland became his muse for A Bigger Picture.

“It’s a place I kept going to – my mother lived there in the last 10 years of her life, my sister lived there 30 years. So I always kept going,” he said.

“And the landscape there was rather subtle and lovely there, I enjoyed it.”

But the works presented in this vast exhibition are far from subtle. The colours are vivid, sometimes gaudy. Perhaps the bright lights and bold ambition of Hockney’s adopted city, Los Angeles, had a subconscious influence.

The iPad is a very serious medium. It’s just a newer one and it affects the way you do things. David Hockney

Having lived in LA for three decades, the Bradford-born painter told Channel 4 News that he would tell people in LA that he was “on location” in east Yorkshire, adding “they understand that word in Hollywood”.

“I found a subject that was interesting for me. If you’re my age and you find an exciting subject you stick with it, that’s very valuable to me, that’s what happens.

“And then when the Royal Academy came to me offering me this space… it was a stimulant for the work.”

'Rejuvenating the landscape'
The new work is exuberant and ravishing. It's infused with Hockney's sense of wonder at the natural world - and his enthusiasm for exploring the possibilities of landscape, blogs Matthew Cain.
His sense of surprise at what he discovers bursts out from the work - and in the process makes the form feel exciting again. Flattened perspectives, collage-work, work which gives the impression of being viewed through a dog's 180-degree eye... The result of Hockney's pushing at the boundaries of the form is to rejuvenate the landscape and infuse it with a new vibrancy.
Read more: David Hockney - 'tour de force'

Yorkshire v LA

“I was born in Bradford and Bradford isn’t a sunny city,” Hockney said.

“So in California every day I’d say it’s a nice sunny day but if you’re born in California it’s just another day.

“I’ve still got the house in LA, I’m still there really, I keep a large archive there. But it does make you see things…

“You see England a bit differently, of course you do, that’s partly what it’s about.”

iPad art

As well as paintings, the exhibition features blown-up versions of Hockney’s much-publicised iPad art. Hockney draws on the device, the images are later printed up, five-feet high. So why did he choose to swap his paint brush for the swipe and tap of an Apple touch screen?

It’s a very new medium, quite painterly in itself, you’ve a great range of colour,” he explained.

“It’s all in one thing, meaning you can speedily establish colour palettes.”

Graphic: Hockney v Hirst.

“At first you think it’s a bit of a novelty, it took me a while to realise it’s quite a serious tool you can use. And it took me a while to get skilful on it. Skill is practise. It’s not just a novelty. I realised this is a clever tool you can use.”

He added: “The iPad is very very direct. I would point out [that] Turner used watercolour because it was a quicker medium than oil-painting so you could quickly get down more fleeting effects. If you find a medium that’s even faster than that any artist is going to be interested in it.

“It’s a very serious medium. it’s just a newer one and it affects the way you do things.

“You couldn’t have had impressionism without the invention of the collapsable tube so you could take paints outside. Technology affects things all the time and it certainly does pictures. I follow it, I follow that aspect of technology. And I’ve no doubt it is a marvellous new tool.”

Hirst row

Hockney recently criticised Damien Hirst who, alongside Tracey Emin, is Hockney’s chief rival when it comes to household names in British art.

Hockney, 74, attacked his younger rival for not personally producing his own work. Instead, Hirst uses a team of operatives to produce sculptures, prints and installations.

And at the Royal Academy show, there is a sign which reads “All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally.” It has been interpreted as another dig at Hirst.

Hockney told Channel 4 News: “I have three assistants in Bridlington who help me do all this, just moving canvasses around, doing the films there were four of us needed to do it. Yeah, I was just making the point that I do all the drawings and paintings myself, that’s all.

“In painting you need the hand. Art is a more difficult subject and it might be more difficult to define. But painting is reasonably easy to define. And I’d say you need three things: the hand, the eye and the heart, as the Chinese say.”

He adds that “art is a bigger subject,” something which surely Hirst would not dispute.

“Remember Gombrich in The Story of Art. At the start he points out he’s not sure there is such a thing as art, he’s sure there are artists. And he knows it’s hard to define exactly what art is…”