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Retrospective David Hockney: "The sharpness of his gaze is of a rigor that goes almost to cruelty"


In Aix-en-Provence, the Granet museum is devoting a retrospective to the great British artist. Lights!

His canvases reach record sums at auction, like the 90.3 million dollars awarded for

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)

in 2018. Born in 1937 in the United Kingdom, David Hockney has crossed the guards on both sides of the Atlantic, without derogating from the rules of figuration taught at the Royal Academy in London.

Today, he no longer paints naked youths in Californian swimming pools, but the landscapes of his adopted Normandy.

A retrospective at the Granet Museum retraces his career in 103 works, mainly from the Tate Gallery, from the end of the 1950s to the present day.

It reveals that David Hockney, as explained by Bruno Ely, chief curator of the Museum of Aix-en-Provence, has calmed down without losing any of his audacity.

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In video, David Hockney in a few words

Miss Figaro.

– After Belgium, Austria and Switzerland, this traveling exhibition ends in Aix.

Is there a special link between David Hockney and this city?

Bruno Eli.

– We should have inaugurated this exhibition in 2021, but the Covid decided otherwise.

As in Brussels, Vienna and Lucerne, we present six decades of Hockney's work, from his first drawings to his latest digital compositions.

But we are adding a room designed around two artists who lived in Provence and are part of David Hockney's sources of inspiration: Van Gogh and Cézanne.

From the first, from which he retains the simplification of the line and the vigor of the color, he pays homage by painting

Vincent's Chair and Pipe,

from the second, he takes up the theme of

Card players.

But David Hockney doesn't just depict two players, he went for one of the versions with three players and a standing man watching the scene.

It's more than a wink, it's a mise en abyme, a true reference within the reference.

We often quote Picasso or Matisse about the painting of David Hockney.

What did he borrow from these masters?

From Picasso, he borrows the “cubist” way of getting out of the single point of view;

to Matisse, the valorization of the object by the color.

From his great knowledge of the history of art, he made a book,

Savoirs secrets.

The lost techniques of the old masters

(Éd. du Seuil, 2006), in which he analyzes optical devices, mirrors or

camera obscura

, used by artists from the 14th to the 19th century.

It demonstrates the continuity of the uni-circular vision in Western art, and how the patent filed in 1839 by Daguerre, the inventor of the daguerreotype, forced the Impressionists to reinvent.

His own use of the camera – with which he creates “photographic drawings”, ie electronically managed photo collages – stems from this.

David Hockney's strength is to fit into a form of painting tradition and to be able to bring a personal touch to it.

David Hockney in front of his painting,

The Tall Trees near Warter

, in November 2009 at Tate Britain, London.

Marco Secchi/Getty Images

The series of

Pool Paintings 

takes up the codes of pop art: the theme (everyday objects) and the technique (acrylic painting, bright colors).

Why does David Hockney refuse to be linked to this movement?

This work is more interesting than it seems at first glance, it is a criticism, almost a satire.

It is a representation of reality, but it goes further: it paints social facts.

Here it shows the symbol of the American dream, the prosperity of the United States, its economic hegemony.

At the time of the

Pool Paintings,

abstraction is the dominant artistic movement.

David Hockney goes against the grain.

It is not badly considered, it is not considered at all!

He is so attached to this mode of expression that he even goes so far as to write to the Tate to denounce the lack of consideration for figuration.

It is by taking the decision to go to America that he will free himself from the yoke of abstraction.

He became famous because the figuration allows the general public to immediately recognize the subject, but the subject allows David Hockney a form of subversion.

In his portraits, the acuity of Hockney's gaze is of a rigor that goes almost to cruelty.

Bruno Ely

What are the characteristics of his work?

The affirmation of his homosexuality.

In the early 1960s, in the United Kingdom, homosexuality was not yet decriminalised.

He expresses it in an encrypted way, by adding to his paintings numbers that correspond to the letters of the alphabet.

The 23rd is the W of Walt Whitman, a homosexual poet.

His arrival in the United States, in 1961, is a real breath of fresh air.

He creates a series of engravings inspired by

A Rake's Progress (La Carrière d'un libertin),

by William Hogarth, a pretext to tell his own life, that of a young gay artist in New York.

Then, he devotes another series to Constantin Cavafy (1863-1933), whose poems fascinated him so much that he never returned the work borrowed from the library of Bradford, where he is from... another characteristic of David Hockney is undoubtedly his desire to translate reality without ever embellishing.

In his portraits, we see those close to him evolve over time, like Celia Birtwell, represented in all the strength of her youth until today, aged, impastoed... The sharpness of her gaze is of a rigor that goes almost to cruelty.

He is uncompromising, even vis-à-vis his mother, the woman he surely loved the most in the world.

Read alsoSix of the most prominent female artists on the contemporary scene

Is he still avant-garde, whereas since the 2000s he has mainly painted landscapes?

By his taste for figuration, he could have been an academic painter, but he never is, because he is capable of renewing himself.

He worked with the first photocopiers, with the first faxes – he sent fragmented works to his friends who had to reconstruct them as soon as they were received – and, at over 70, he started using an iPad, and he is become a digital virtuoso, as he was in drawing, watercolour, engraving, painting… Like Picasso.

The comparison would please him, I believe.

“David Hockney.

Collection of the Tate”, from January 28 to May 28, at the Granet Museum, in Aix-en-Provence.

Source: lefigaro

All life articles on 2023-01-27

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