A decade of Art By David Hockney National Gallery Of Victoria
It was so hot on Monday and I knew it would change by nightfall. I had a day of heat avoidance to fill. I would not waste it in a house that is sans air conditioning. That was what I did growing up on the farm. There was no where to hide back then. That was then and this is now. Now I could simply get a train to the city and find somewhere air conditioned to hole up in. I could not take the silly smile of my face as I sat inside a nice cool train carriage with a new novel in my tote bag. I was going to the National Gallery Of Victoria to see the David Hockney Exhibition. I had been a bit meh at the concept at first. I mean, how many white guys did the NGV need? I guess I was still a little disappointed that when I went to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition in Sydney, I had found it to be very small. I had hoped for more of her paintings to be on display.
There was hardly a line for the tickets, just a couple in front of me who were having a loving time. The young woman giving her boyfriend an affectionate slap on the bottom as they waited. They got their tickets. I was about to step up to the ticket booth when a tall older white man simply walked past me. It was as if I was invisible to him. He simply walked past me and even nudged me a little on his way. I spoke up and said. ”You just walked past me and I have been standing her the whole time.” I then walked up to the ticket booth and tried to get my rage and heart palpitations down to a regular thrum. He did not even say sorry. I am short not fucking invisible, I think in a loud shout of indignation. He was not so old that he was dottery or had simply made a mistake. It is important that you know this. I swear that sometimes my entire existence is akin to Sophie in the land of giants. Luckily I don’t get eaten, I just get incredibly exasperated at the self involvement of old white men, wherever I go.
When I walk into the first gallery space I am confronted by an onslaught of colourful joy and bright posters of ipad made artworks. They are printed and pinned to the wall. Each one different and amazing. There are many impressions of flowers and candles and the changing light of day through widows. There are phones on the walls as well that show some of the works taking shape like magic before your eyes. I walk around and around the first section in wonder. It is like wandering through someones brain who is in love with everything around them. Even an ashtray with some half smoked cigarettes, is a loving beacon to temptations given in to and sated desires. In the image of the ashtray Hockney has seen the beauty and possibility held in the minute moments of a day. Even the ipad image of a bright ball of light behind the black scrawled words of I AM GOING BACK TO BED, is not displayed as a sign of defeat, but more an acceptance of what you cannot change and simply doing what you can. Sometimes all you can do, the best thing to do, it to create one laste art and go back where you are happiest.
Outside this exhibition the city wavers in heat and wind. The sun burns. Here amongst the art, the light is bright and there are no dark corners. The air is cool but not freezing. I stand in front of the ash tray picture and stare for ages. Why do I love it so much? I am never so transfixed by ash trays in real life. I always think they look sad and smell bad. I always think about all the times I sat in a smoke filled room and had trouble breathing. Hockney’s ash tray is a glass one on a bright yellow table and the glass absorbs all the bright yellows and oranges and refracted light. It is not a sad and sorry state as it may have appeared had I seen it in person and not in an art gallery.
The next room has its walls completely taken up by square slabs of forest trees and branches that fill up the walls of the gallery. It is magical and also reminds me of art in children’s wards of hospitals. I guess you have to have spent a great deal of time in hospitals to make such a connection. The walls are very big and reach up high. Creating trees that stretch that high would have been difficult for a man of Hockney’s age, I would imagine. The sheer maths of the whole concept would be beyond me. The whole exhibition is from the last decade. That is astounding. I feel like the whole thing is a beautiful over flow of positive feeling. It is exactly what I need. Of course I find myself thinking cynical thoughts. Like, its easy to be creative and happy when you are so financially secure as Hockney is. How many people have an entire trust with people working for you? At least he using it to create beautiful things before death takes him from us.
Hockney’s large scale landscapes of Yosimite park are really beautiful and it facinates me as to how he manages to capture the play of sunlight and how it reflects on puddles or in the sky, through trees and such. My most loved one depicts a puddle so enticingly that I wish I was there wearing gumboots, so I could decide whether to simply marvel at the perfect stillness, or, jump into it and shatter the serenity. I simply stand and stare at it with a tilted head and drunk smile. A gallery guard walks up beside me and says how it is his favourite as well. ”I like how the light plays off of the water and the colour of the trees.” I nod and smile.
”Would you like me to take a photo of you with the picture?” He asks.
”No thank you.” I say. ”I think it is beautiful enough on its own.”
”More beautiful with you.” He says.
I laugh softly. ”Thank you. But, I’m happy with a picture of it all on its own.” I say.
There is a room that has about seven or so blue benches in it. On the walls are paintings of chairs and people that are not quite right. They are at weird angles and seem to be sitting on a chair strangely or standing weird. You look at the walls and your eyes move al over the space. There is a mother and baby sitting on one of the benches and the Dad is taking a photo of them on his phone. He is standing far away so as to get the surroundings in the photo. In another room there is a large screen that is made up of smaller screens. The screen starts black and then square by square a scene appears of people juggling. Then another scened shows people throwing brightly coloured balls to each other as a tiny adorable dog trots around their feet. There is an old women standing on a bright ottoman. I sit and watch the dog for ages. I love how happy it seems to simply be around the activity even if the little thing cannot seem to figure out how to join in on the fun. The little dog simply trots around and sniffs at the balls as the sit on the floor for a second before someone picks it up and throws it to another. I am that little dog, I think.Or, more accurately: we all feel as if we are the little dog at some point. To be specific creativity is the little dog. Is that dog a super special personal pet of David Hockney? Or is it a pet owned by one of the jugglers or the people playing with the bright coloured bouncy balls?
There is a thirty minute interview with David Hockney that is filmed in the exhibition. I watch it twice. He is dressed like a mix up of old English Farmer and artist. I am especially taken with his tweed jacket and bright yellow tie. He tells of throwing away his paint brushes and paints as he totally embraced the new innovative ways to create his art. He sits amongst his Yosomite works and discusses how he never looks back as painting is all about the now. He does explain that he considers happiness to be a retrospective thing.
“Happiness is a retrospective thing, I think. It’s only when you look back, you can think oh, I was happy at that time.”
The long rectangular gallery that exhibits the entire collection of Hockney’s 81 Portraits And 1 Still Life is overwhelming at first glance. You simply have to take a deep breath and have little sits on the seating provided, in order to take them all in. There are famous people like Barry Humphries ( who did look splendid in his dapper as all get out suit and hat and shoes combination. I was far more taken by this fellow. The hair stylist to the A-list: Earl Simms. I like how his posture and gaze is inviting and not bored. A few of the portraits show faces that are less than ecstatic at having to sit in the same chair for three days straight. I feel like Earl is about to laugh or is at least thinking thoughts that are amusing to himself. He could just be incredibly excited to be sitting for a potrait for David Hockney.
This is a portrait that Hockney did of one of his L.A home’s house keepers. Her name is Patricia Choxan. Her gaze is serious and thoughtful. I wondered as I looked at the paintings if each person was paid the same in order to sit for Hockney. Did they get paid at all? Was it an honour just to be asked? Did Hockney pay his cleaners extra for the sitting for the portrait? I found myself really hoping that was the case.
This is the portrait that begun the entire series. The man with his head in his hands is J-P Goncalves de Lima, long time gallery assistant to Hockney. Hockney found him this way after the news of a young man who committed suicide. A young man dear to them both. David found him and since he looked exactly how they both were feeling, Hockney decided to paint it. It must have been so difficult to paint this portrait, but the feeling that it had to be done, would have powered them both through. Who can stand before this painting and not feel such intense sorrow and loss for everyone who has ever lost someone in this way. Everyone knows someone who has felt this way first hand. The colours are bright and this juxtaposed against the very real sadness in the man’s posture creates a sense of hope through pain. This to shall pass and rear up inside again and pass and return. This portrait makes me think of all the times that I have ever seen my own father sitting like this. The clothes are different. The chair and rug is different. The posture and physical embodiment of despair? very much the same.
In a ”post truth” world and a world that seems happy to let the idiots take over, there is something cathartic about seeing this male human in a posture of frailty and woe.
The portrait of Julia Green is my pick of portrait with best outfit. It was difficult to choose amongst so many well dressed people. But Julia’s outfit caught my eye and drew me to it like a magpie to a bottle top. I have a particular perchant towards black and white outfits with bright coloured tights. It was interesting to walk through the exhibition and pay attentions to each person’s choice of footwear. Hockney always painted the shoes with great care and it is interesting to see how much the shoes told you about each person.
The final section of the exhibition was in a large dark room with a large screen on each wall. The screens each showed the progression of a season as experienced in Yorkshire, the north of England. There was summer, autumn, winter and spring. It was magnificent and awe inspiring and above all it was calming. I stood in the centre of each of the screens in turn. It was like walking through into the other side of the world. The colours change and alter as time goes on. Seeing the winter season was like walking into a haze of white. If you stood close up and blocked out anything from the peripheries, it was like drowning yourself in something pure and blinding.The whiteness gets you feeling dizzy and disoriented.
I have always loved Autumn the best out of all the seasons. Seeing the leaves changeand the foliage of Yorkshire countryside, change right before my very eyes nearly made me cry with the emotive wave that this video art instilled within me. Seasons change and comeback. Even if you don’t.