By Camille Okhio.
What interests me most about Hockney, rather than the visual content of his work is the window through which he views the portrait. His thought about the variation of viewpoints that can coexist in one work is singular. Its astounding how he joins multiple elements, previously considered as impossible to include in one dimensional art pieces. He manages to combine time, movement and experience all within his work. His paintings and photographs are one in the same in that sense and they with that they offer the viewer a larger aesthetic reservoir to pull from. Viewing Hockney’s photography and painting is like viewing sculpture, in that one is usually offered more than one perspective. His work can be digested as a mathematical equation: one is given variables and can logically assume what he cannot see, from what he can.
In a 1982 interview with Paul Joyce, Hockney discusses his “joiner photographs,” illuminating the process behind some of his most innovative works. They are images he creates from photographing the same subject and expanding the viewing spectrum by collaging together these different images, occasionally at different angles. With these works he presents his opinion that each person sees differently, and so he addresses these differences by offering a bounty of viewpoints, in the chance that one viewpoint may appeal to at least one person.
This I find extremely flattering. For an artist to make work with the knowledge that not everyone will view it as he does, is not always to be expected. It seems Hockney invites this, and perhaps rejoices in it. This consideration of his audience also adds another level of possible viewer-comprehension to his work.
The different mediums he works with overlap and accent each other. It seems as if he does not have quite the same motive when creating a painting or drawing as he does when creating a photograph. His drawings seem to showcase reduction and excess simultaneously. In his drawings the figures are overflowing with descriptive lines, details and hints, while the environments they occupy are next to non existent, while another family of his figures which reside in his paintings, are almost cartoonish in their simplicity. This jockeying between styles I find very interesting and perhaps indicative of his desire to represent many standpoints while catering to many viewpoints.
“Margaret and Ken Bridlington”
In the beginning the goal was just painting. At first Hockney started off with photographs as a preparatory stage of his painting, and then he found that they offered an entirely different and equally interesting spectrum of representation to be played with. He says that when he first discovered his joiner photographs, mostly constructed from polaroids (which adds another dimension to his work which will later be discussed) he spent nights awake staring at them, wondering what more could be done.
Susan Sontag discusses the discrepancies between looking and seeing in her book On Photography. Looking takes almost no time at all, but seeing does. We cannot see by taking a photograph. We can only record. We see when we notice, digest and apply an image. That is why it is extraordinary that Hockney has managed to truly see through the camera and collect his mental catalogue of images, physically and freshly for the viewer to digest as a work of art. This is why a piece by him never translates as just an image without any roots.
One gets a sense for this multi-dimensionality in his paintings as well. A portrait by Hockney is a story. His sitters are drawn or painted so fluidly that they seem to be moving, melting off the sheet. It’s as if Lucian Freud smoothed over his figures, made them out of clay rather than wax and lit a red hot fire under them. One can see the movements and expressions of his sitters from just one image. Hockney has the ability of not just displaying lifelike representation but also providing the viewer with a truthful record of his sitter, both visually and emotionally. There is nothing in his images that is not essential.
“Arrival of Spring in Woldgate.”
That brings us too his influence. Hockney applies the rules of Cubism to photography rendering fascinating results. The dimensions, layering, collage and shapes of his joiner photographs are all reminiscent of cubism. He quotes elements of Cubist theory as the reason why he paints, photographs and assembles with such clarity and direction. He demonstrates how Cubism “filters things down to essence.”
“Chris and Don.”
This essence is what is essential to provide his audience with an idea of what or who his subject truly is, and gives a basis that is both visual and factual for their assumptions that are later to be made. Hockney gives us all the tools to appreciate his work, but makes no demands, as he knows “there is no neutral observer.” He suggests, and I agree that there will always be new ways of seeing, new truths and new opinions.