Tea With David Hockney
Well, no, I didn’t really have tea with the master, but in my old journal I read where I dreamed I did. I was in the midst of trying to paint, with as much immediacy and facility as I could muster: the dog, the cat, and the elm in our Anchorage backyard.
That winter I’d seen an exhibit of David Hockney’s work at the L.A. Louver Gallery in Los Angeles and been refired with his view of the world and art. Encountering Hockney’s lifelong, ongoing passion for his work inspires courage and renews me always.
Best known as a painter of pleasures like Southern California sunshine and swimming pools, Hockney is a master of line and color and shape, experimenter with photo collage, stage sets, and the iPhone. An extraordinary draftsman, he uses oil, acrylic, or colored pencil to make portraits of family, friends, or his dogs, celebrating life in all his art.
And, to my joy, for this work (painted in his home landscape – the rolling hills, fields, and valleys of England’s East Yorkshire) Hockney turned to watercolor, imbuing it with his particular individual character. I bought the L.A. Louver catalogue “Hand, Eye, Heart” (“An ancient Chinese saying of what is needed for painting.”)
Endpaper photos show Hockney at work in his car, pulled over to the side of the road. A flat wooden box wedged between gearshift and dash holds his premixed colors in lidded jars. Hockney balances paper on a drawing board in his lap, dips a brush into a little palette perched on the armrest with one hand, and holds a moppy brush and a tissue with his other. In the back endcover photo, he paints with a brush held delicately in his right hand – a cigarette with dangling ash in his left.
In an interview in the catalogue Hockney tells Lawrence Weschler why he became interested in watercolor: “The full-laden brush, I realized, was very effective. It’s the most direct method of laying in a mark flowing from the eye, the heart, down the arm to the hand, through the tip of your instrument, everything flowing very quickly and seamlessly. Oil painting in a sense you have to push. Watercolor just flows, ink flows. Much more immediate and direct.”
With unlabored marks of paint Hockney creates flowers, raindrops, the roofs of buildings, roads twisting through fields, and skies – layers of landscape. He tells Weschler of pulling off the road often to “sketch a particular stalk of grass or weed in the low roadside hedge. See? Each one quite distinct, quite different.” I love Weschler’s description of this: “A calligraphic cavalcade of things noticed.”
When I see these paintings I feel like I am in the car, traveling the lanes of rural England past fields in various stages of ripening, trees blossoming or bare. I’ve read and admire that Hockney paints and draws all the time, so I appreciated his taking time out to drive me along those country roads, home to tea.