David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition

Reviewed by Karen Adelman
Hockney 4
Frames panels lenses lines looking
I don’t really want to hear about Hockney and his life; I don’t want to know. I want to see what he sees and I want him to show me what he shows, but I don’t need all the backstory. I can see it with my own eyes as well. There are some things that you have to will into being all by yourself, because you need them there, and art can often be like that. Instead of sticking by your side like some therapeutic blanket however, art goes out into the world, nestles its view among the others.
Cracks perspective edges screens
In some way he’s preserving the better parts of the utopian modernist impulse, using technology as a tool to express a worldview, one of color and composition, form and surface, alignment and gentle fracture. Perhaps it’s the queer position he’s unavoidably inhabited, having been physically ejected from normative environments even while enjoying mainstream and critical success. But somehow he’s kept a privacy within a sense of sharing, and an adaptability that evades the customizable culture of late capitalism. That is, he doesn’t express himself through the modification of a commodity, like hand-painting an iPhone skin; instead, he modifies the practice, his behavior – he uses his thumb to paint the digital drawing. He merges the digital and the digital, bringing the hand back into the technology.
Dashes breaks seams abut curving
Hockney 6
Never forget that “digital” refers to a unit. Like each of the fingers on your hand. A system of units, all lined up and (perhaps only seemingly) infinitely configurable. Late capitalism’s really got us by the balls if we don’t bring the units of our bodies into the foreground, and stop hiding them behind prepackaged bits. Forget the fingerless gloves and find something else to do with your digits.
Glows sucking glops pointing arched
Digital comes from digit, which derives from dicere, “to tell, say, point out.” Pointing something out with your finger, to put your finger on it, call attention to it. Hockney uses the digital in an esoteric way, hooking its corporeal origins up to its contemporary dispersion. Hockney interpolates his body within the digital, revealing the component fleshy packages that truly comprise it. He also breaks down enormous works into freely-transmissible painting-screen units, both in series and comprising several enormous wholes. He seems to be pointing to unification over fracture, even while he insists upon perpetually including the cracks.
Taut scratches sharp lain stretched
Hockney 3
The multi-panelled works seem to point to a world seen through lenses. Not just our own individual lenses, one for each of us, but multiples, always gazing through insect-like refracted flickers, but never noticing those tiny shifts of movement. I see smooth transitions. I feel continuity. And I believe in the future.
View-lined flattened squaring whole
But seamlessness breaks down into halting, component parts between the slim wooden lines that isolate each of the six panes of a painting that overall occupies a rather enormous 6 x 12 feet of space. The enlarged perspective of a video running across 18 monitors over 25 linear feet of gallery space is tucked gently back in on itself, in fits and starts, as the seams and edges languidly refuse to match up. I begin to question whether what I saw in the past was really so seamless after all, or perhaps only just a manufactured memory of it. Hockney’s pieces continue questioning such remembered perspectives, even as they represent them from within the collective memory.
Jagged slots streak views smears
Hockney 2
Because, and this is important – the landscapes seem generally familiar to me, page after page, even though I haven’t seen the majority of them before. They’re mostly classic vistas – a tree lined allée, solo tree, mountain break; not to mention tons upon tons of portraits.
Scratch arc bled smearing rays
It’s endearing to see Hockney go through the same realizations as the rest of us: “Me draw on iPad.” “It’s amazing what you can do on an iPhone.” Traveling through the world at large, he really manages to make a case for style. It’s not just about watching what happens among shifts in perspective, or the shifting coloration of a sunrise; it’s about watching what happens when more or less the entire world is squished through his sieve. Common referents are transliterated into Hockney’s stable of gestures, itself retaining holdovers from the time of Impressionism, Fauvism, and other Modernist projects. He performs a kind of reverse post-modernism, insisting that his varied gestures can consume and digest a broad swath of our present landscape through every possible line width, opacity, and color swatch, still coming out Hockney on the other side.
Stipple stick angling sheerly lain
Hockney 1
Hockney reminds me that paintings, though remaining discrete and whole objects, can hinge almost entirely on a single detail, while conversely essentially falling apart without a certain all-over balance. He maintains, unsurprisingly, an outright refusal to engage with the project of “provisional painting,” which at this point reads like a strangely surrealist Modernist exercise, attempting as it does to elevate painting via an intentional debasement effected through arbitrary spurts and ambiguous reductivities.
Repeated background broken frame
Sometimes it feels like being so concerned with the question of whether or not something qualifies as a painting can make you forget how to look. It’s like you go to the library to research something important but get lost in the card catalog and never make it to the stacks. I’m using an intentionally anachronistic analogy because, if you replace that process with its digital successor, you can see how easily one might get lost before ever even coming close to any “book.” So stop googling and opening tabs and clicking through and start looking at the world again.
Enmeshed struck cast shorn raking
There’s also something to be said, to back up my earlier desire NOT to hear about his life, for leaving it all in the image. One thing the profusion of imagery does is make it seem irrelevant to read words or hear dialogue about the meaning of it all. It seems obvious, with such a prolific body from which to make observations, that reading up on it all won’t do you many favors.
Cascade gloaming glom entirely atop
Rubbed staining sharp prick point
Cut lapped ground enamored dotting
Flits scattered murky peeled glow
Left held grid division check
Smudged appearance pinkish burst
Yawning carcass snaked across tapestry
Green spotted tree-stuffed window
Richard Benefield and Sarah Howgate, David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition, (Prestel USA, 2013)
Images: From David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition.