David Hockney Yosemite Series: Digital Mischief In An Analogue World

David Hockney

Sly and obliquely, but also unmistakably, another Hockney show currently available in London, this time at Annely Juda Fine Art, the artist’s regular dealer, casts doubt on the proposition the Royal Academy exhibition of his recent portraits seems determined to put forward, which is that nothing can match a figurative painting made when directly confronting the subject, with no technology to modify or mediate the artist’s immediate perception of what he is looking at.

Entitled The Yosemite Series, the show consists of a new suite of digital prints, all of them landscapes. Some of these, printed on four sheets of paper, the joins almost invisible until you look very closely, are much bigger than the portraits presented at the R.A. They measure 235 x 177 cm and are genuinely wall-size, or should one even say ‘palace size’?

In A Bigger Picture, the exhibition of landscape prints and paintings of his native Yorkshire that Hockney offered at the R.A. in 2012, just before the tragedy of an assistant’s accidental death uprooted him from Bridlington, there were some paintings (not prints) that were bigger still than the compositions now on view at Annely Juda. That show was a huge success with the public, but looking back at it now, many of those huge landscapes seemed pretty labored, not to say banal. I don’t think I was the only visitor who concluded that Hockney’s real genius was for painting the human figure.

The prints of The Yosemite Series suggest that I ought not to be too stubborn about changing my mind. They have a wonderful verve, a great feeling of transparency and lightness, which seems to contradict their roots in up-to-this-very-minute technology. The paradox is that, with the Yosemite landscapes, you actually feel that you can see how the artist’s hand moved to create the image you are now looking at. With the portraits at the R.A., you can’t.

With Hockney’s new digital prints – ‘digital’ in a very precise sense of the word – what you are in fact looking at is not just a record of a scene but a record of how the artist’s fingertip moved on his Pad – moved with miraculous, virtuoso deftness. Every mark is just enough, never too much. You not only see what he has seen, you also empathize with the whole process of re-creating it.

The Yosemite Suite, though it is the product of the very newest digital technology, also has a firm place in the history of British art. Britain has long been known for accomplished landscape painters working in watercolor – these prints are descendants of the watercolors of J.R. Cozens and John Sell Cotman. They are just as immediate and personal. Cozens and Cotman had to be content with the technical limitations of their epoch. Hockney doesn’t. In all senses of the phrase, he has discovered how to ‘seize the day’. It’s a lot of fun to see how confidently he does it.

Words: Edward Lucie-Smith © Artlyst 2016 Photo: Courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

David Hockney Yosemite Series Annely Juda Fine Art, 12 Dering Street London W1, until 19 August



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