David Hockney, and seeing much, much more

David Hockney and Lucien Freud - two remarkable English painters. Creative Commons

I’ve written about David Hockney before. Seventy-four years old now, he’s passionately trying to capture a world he’s obsessively curious about—the world around him—because there’s always “a lot more to be seen.”
In my last post about Hockney, I marveled at his use of computer drawing. He’s apparently still at it. Writes Martin Gayford, the chief art critic for Bloomberg News, in the September/October 2011 technology review:

He uses it as an electronic sketchbook; it’s always by his side. A steady flow of iPhone and iPod drawings —loose, free, experimental, and intimate, pop, sometimes every day, into the mailboxes of his friends and acquaintances. More than 200 are currently in mine.


However, Gayford’s article (soon to be part of a book), is about another Hockney endeavor. In order to better see the world, the artist has created a behemoth of nine cameras mounted on a rig which, in turn, is mounted on a vehicle. The cameras are set at different angles and exposures. Traveling a country road through grass, wildflowers and other plants, the result is what Gayford calls a “moving collage, a sight that has never quite been seen before.” It’s been described by Norman Rosenthal of the Royal Academy of London, as a 21st-century version of Durer’s Das gross Rosenfuck (Piece of Turf):


Durer used the media of the time—water color, pen, ink—to do something unprecedented: depict with great precision a little slice of wild, chaotic nature. He revealed what was always there but had never before been seen with such clarity. Hockney, in 2011, is doing the same job, using the tools of the moment: high-definition cameras and screens, computer software.

Albrecht Durer, 1471-1528. Das gross Rosenfuck.

Hockney believes that the camera can never see what the eye does, and that it in turn has unduly influenced much of art (through the camera obscura in works that preceded the invention of the camera). The camera, of course, has one eye and the human being has two. But,  Hockney has multiplied the two by many more and wants us to see much, much more.


I’m looking forward to Gayford’s book because I have some unanswered questions. Apparently, science has just about concluded that the world we see is a complex creation of eyes, mind and external reality. It’s nothing like what is objectively there. (There is something! I guess.) And that makes me wonder what Hockney’s new invention is seeing. Can it tell us anything more about reality? Or about ourselves?

Author: latefruit

I am forever writing the great American novel, practicing the piano (in hopes of joining an amateur string quartet someday), gardening, and now, since I've gotten old when I wasn't looking, trying to figure out what that means.

One thought on “David Hockney, and seeing much, much more”

  1. You only have to read police witness reports to see that different people see different things. Individual pieces of Art “speak” to some people but not to others. Perhaps individual images “speak” to some artists and not to others. I suppose that artistic “greatness” reposes on an artist’s work appealing to the “right” people; those who can publicize it or pay for it. Real artists don’t give a damn about what people think of their work. Which is fine if they can afford to live without selling anything. If they can’t, they have to “please”.

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