On Tuesday night I watched Bruno Wollheim's film David Hockney - A Bigger Picture about David Hockney and his return to both Yorkshire and painting. You can read Brono Wolheim's own account of making the film in this Daily Telegraph article David Hockney profile for A Bigger Picture and this article Making the bigger picture with David Hockney
How you can watch this film
First - for those who didn't see it
- if you live in the UK - you can catch up using the version on the BBC iplayer David Hockney - A Bigger Picture
- Wherever you live, you can also see small excerpts from some of the filming on Bruno Wollheim's own Coluga Pictures website. Click the link to see:
- Hockney painting a watercolour and talking about Rembrandt
- Click "Latest" in the menu on the left to see links to two further clips from the film in the drop down menu
- Click "The Making Of" to see Bruno Wollheim talking about the making of the film and yet further clips - some of which didn't make it to the final edit
- Click "Reviews" to see some of what has been said about this film so far.
Why you should watch this film
It's unusual to be able to see a film of an artist working through a process of both changing direction and creating work. It's even more unusual to see a documentary about an artist towards the end of their career. All too often we see documentaries after they are dead with extracts of interviews filmed by different people.
This film records the move from California back to East Yorkshire - back to his home in Bridlington and the Yorkshire Wolds which are beautiful, unspoilt and very quiet - and back to painting.
It's apparent from the interview with Bruno Wollheim that he wasn't too sure what the film was going to be about when he started or how it would finish up. Personally I'd have liked to see it continue with Hockney's recent developments in digital art but I guess it needed to end somewhere and the focus on painting makes for a more coherent documentary. Plus it leaves space for another one about the digital art!
I'm very happy with documentaries which place an emphasis on observation, listening and asking salient questions from time to time - they give you time to think and to respond to what you see and hear. It seemed to me that this documentary was very much about letting Hockney talk for himself about the things he wanted to talk about.
There were also various mini-themes within the documentary
- about transitions towards the end of his career - and how these impacted on his sense of place and home. It struck me that the deaths of both his mother and of Stanley (his dachshund) were both important in bringing him back to live in the UK. He now lives in his mother's house in Bridlington and he loves the fact that the office is in LA and he never gets disturbed during his painting time in the day!
- about photography and its place in his work -
I don't look through the camera anymore
- about what's involved in painting
You need three things for painting - the hand, the eye and the heart
David Hockney quoting a Chinese proverb
- about painting his childhood (he used to work stooking corn in some of the fields he has painted) and painting for posterity
- about painting as an extreme sport - painting nature outside in all weathers - stripping painting down to the essentials
- about perspective and the principle of the moving focus - and how this affects how you portray landscape. He's very interested in ancient Chinese scrolls where the landscape is painted as a continuous painting in a massive 'landscape format' where you can only see part of it any one time
- about drawing - with a brush; how drawing enables you to see more and how drawing more also enables you to work faster
- about the process of seeing and how pictures are the product of subjective experience
We always see with memory.... we can't be looking at the same thing as everybody's memory is different"
- about painting on a big scale and the production of Bigger Trees near Warter (15 feet x 40 feet on 50 canvases).
It's a real Royal Academy Picture - the big one
In terms of visual images, we see him, with his assistant, setting up his easel and folding table for paints at the side of tracks and Hockney painting - in all weather. He obviously became very good at knowing how many layers are required to keep the cold out! We also see paintings set in their context and in front of the views which are being painted.
As the film progresses we begin to see him working on more canvases at one time - plein air. Plus we're not talking about small canvases - these are big ones. Every plein air painter will identify with the moments when the easels fell over! I did spend some time wondering how they managed to keep the canvases from blowing off the easel!
Wollheim comments on how the subject matter seems unremarkable to him, subjects he wouldn't notice. Hockney comments that making something quite different out of it - through painting - is what makes it attractive. His style of painting is apparently naive and yet, as with Van Gogh, it involves some very complex mark-making within a simplified vision. He strips out all that is unnecessary. He's creating work which is representational and yet is nowhere near photographic.
What was fascinating was that the only time he ever saw Bigger Trees near Warter as a whole while painting it was on a computer screen. Each canvas was photographed individually and then each canvas was added into a matrix of completed canvases which made up the bigger picture. (I'm still trying to work out how they managed the stitching and the file size!) The work was erected with some difficulty just once to check it before it was delivered to the RA for the Summer Exhibition of 2007. You can read about how Bigger Trees near Warter was developed in this interview The bigger picture with Martin Gayford for the Daily Telegraph.
It struck me also that Hockney was maybe 'doing a Monet' - painting a work deliberately for posterity, like the large panels of the Nypheas at the Musee de l'Oorangerie, to give to the nation - which indeed happened with Bigger Trees near Warter when it was donated to the Tate. (The painting is due to go on exhibition in the Autumn of 2009) In fact the catalogue for the German exhibition mentions Hockney visiting the Musee Orangerie to see Monet's panels when it reopened in Paris in 2006.
The Tate called Hockney's donation one of the most generous gifts presented by an artist to a British gallery in recent years.Hockney is knowledgeable about art history and dropped quotations from other artists into the conversation from time to time
Independent - Hockney donates biggest painting to Tate
Never believe what an artist says, only what they doThe radical departure of this documentary is that Hockney wanted to b seen painting. I couldn't help thinking, when I heard a comment later in the documentary, that being filmed painting was maybe his way of emphasising the fact that HE created his work and this was the difference between his work and that of artists whose work is painted by other people and they just sign it at the end! (I think it might have given him great satisfaction to know that he beat Hirst to being the most popular living artist in the UK - he was ranked 33 in the Times Poll while Hirst came in at #53! I guess he must have even more pleased that his 'mentor' Pablo Picasso came top!).
Maybe Hockney's decision to invest both time and effort in this project was about him demonstrating that it's important for an artist's reputation and longevity to be seen to do and not just to have "a good idea".
Whatever his reasons, I thought this was a fascinating film which all Hockneyphiles will want to rush out and buy on DVD - it will certainly repay repeat viewing.
You can also read Vivien Blackburn's perspective on the documentary here in David Hockney. review
More posts about Hockney
Tomorrow I'm going to be reviewing his exhibition Drawing in a Printing Machine at Annely Juda Fine Art
On Making A Mark Reviews, I'm also going to be reviewing the catalogue of David Hockney Nur Nature Just Nature - the German/English language catalogue for the current exhibition at Kunsthalle Wurth - which I bought at Tate Britain on Tuesday.
- Bruno Wollheim - Coluga Pictures
- Reviews of Hockney - A Bigger Picture
- David Hockney - Resources for Artists (includes a module for Hockney - A Bigger Picture)
- Making A Mark - posts about David Hockney
- David Hockney "15 sketchbooks" DVD - a further update (8th October 2007)
- Turner watercolours with Hockney and Shirley (28th June 2007)
- Drawing, tea and DVDs at the National Portrait Gallery (13th January 2007)
- David Hockney - Fifteen Sketchbooks 2002-2003" - update on DVD availability (8th December 2006)
- David Hockney and Shirley - sharing art and sketchbooks (26th October 2006)