Ahead of Tate Britain, Centre Pompidou, and the Met, the National Gallery of Victoria is hosting David Hockney’s latest art. ‘Current‘ features painting and new medium work from the past decade, among which are Royal Academy hit ‘Bigger Trees Near Warter’ as well as 82 portraits and one still life.
Why is Hockney significant? NGV director Tony Elwood replies, ‘He experiments’.
Experimenting features consistently in Hockney’s painting. Bigger Trees Near Warter (2007) involved a combination of classic and contemporary landscape techniques: a mosaic of 50 open air oil paintings, tessellated in virtual canvas space. Painted over a winter season, its subject is sycamore treetops, branches bare before the arrival of spring foliage.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as with his 82 portraits (and one still life, 2013-5). Along a corridor gallery, Hockney’s dapper sitters are rendered by dappled brushstrokes, flattened perspective, and saturated colour, in reference to modernist influences.
Hockney’s new medium work is characterised by the use of new technology. Included in this exhibition are large-scale landscapes, drawn on iPad, from Yosemite Suite (2010-1) and Yorkshire Wolds (2011). The light in both locales are intense; in that sense, these are sites which suit Hockney’s abstract expressionism. Yorkshire, his birthplace, is a repeat subject in The Four Seasons (2011) and other video work.
Also here is his first video installation – The Jugglers (2012) – an innovative interpretation of theatrical tableaux. World premiere works are a self-referential photomontage (4 blue stools, 2014) and process videos of iPad-drawing.
Overall, I preferred the paintings. The nontraditional work is conceptually innovative but aesthetically lacking. Hockney is rethinking motifs by using new techniques, as did his contemporaries Lichtenstein and Warhol in the 1960s, as did van Gogh in the 1880s.
‘Current’ shows Hockney’s personal and defiant way of seeing, an antidote to the conventions of conservative times.
Maloti writes about art and books.