Sunday, 21 November 2010

Research: David Hockney

David Hockney, 1976, By Robert Mapplethorpe

This won't come as any surprise to those who regularly read my blog, or who know me, or just happened to have bumped in to me in the street, but I'm an idiot! Now hopefully, you're not all sitting there nodding your heads in agreement (at least not too strongly.) Because I'm exaggerating a little to make my point, never the less, I've definitely made a blunder. You see, I was under the impression that we only had to provide four pieces of research to support our work. As it turns out, it's actually ten! Having managed to retain the contents of my stomach (I could have said something else, but this isn't that kind of blog), I realised my previous lackadaisical approach wasn't going to cut it. The upside of this, is that I'll be posting things for you to read more regularly. The downside of this, is that I'll be posting things for you to read more regularly. Still, you've got to take the rough with the smooth.

As we've started the manipulation section of the course, I thought I'd post a research blog about someone who does just that. Although he only started to dabble with the production of art using digital mediums late in his career, Hockney has been experimenting  with what's considered the conventional photographic production process since the 1980's.

Born in Bradford in 1937, Hockney attended a number of art schools and colleges before he became well known as an artist. In the early 1960's he moved to Los Angeles, where his colourful paintings, combined with an ability to make seemingly simple things interesting (usually swimming pools), ensured he became inextricably linked with the now firmly established pop art scene, though Hockney himself has always denied the connection. Through the 60's and 70's, his paintings guaranteed he was a permanent fixture on the radar of most art critics, but it wasn't until the 80's that he decided to branch out and seriously try his hand at photography.

David Graves Pembroke Studios London Tuesday 27th April,
By David Hockney

Hockney has always had a somewhat unconventional approach to producing his work, so it wasn't too much of a surprise that his method of creating photographs was just as strange. Made in 1982 and measuring 513/4  inches x 261/4 inches, the above image is actually a montage of Polaroid photographs. Like a lot of developments in both art and other fields, Hockney apparently discovered this technique by accident. He needed some reference photos of a house he was painting, but didn't like the way 35mm photos taken with a wide angle lens created distortions at the edges (I assume this was barrel distortion). He decided a better method would be to take a series of Polaroid pictures and glue them together. After completing the process, he noticed that due to the slight variations in angle and location, the pictures contained a sort of narrative, they told the story of the interactions between the location, the photographer and their subject. Deciding to explore this phenomenon further, Hockney coined the term "joiners" to describe the process and the resulting photographs.

Running the risk that I might be revealing myself as a philistine who can't understand the subtleties of fine art. I think Hockney's early attempts, such as the David Graves picture, are often more about refining the process, rather than creating an  interesting picture. The subjects are usually simple set-ups, with a seated person in the centre of the picture and often just a room as the backdrop. You can already see the elements that would become a hallmark of Hockney's collages though. The odd frame is deliberately set more out of sync than it's neighbours and in some he has allowed more time to pass, therefore changing the lighting conditions. Taking all of that in to account, I actually find these early pictures a little dull (sorry!) I can appreciate the technical aspects of the pictures, and I like the idea of using Polaroids to make something greater than the constituent parts, but the subject matter doesn't inspire me. His later work on the other hand, is a whole different kettle of fish.

Place Furstenberg, Paris, August, 7,8,9, 1985, #1, By David Hockney

After perfecting the process with Polaroid pictures, Hockney moved on to using photos from a standard 35mm camera. Often taking several days, these shoots were not only technically more difficult, but frequently much grander in their scale and choice of subject. Having said that, Measuring 35 inches x 311/2 inches, the Furstenberg picture is actually smaller than the first image. Freed from the constraints of the Polaroid layout, He's now able to add some more traditional compositional ideas, such as the road leading the eye in to the distance.

Pearblossom Highway, 11th-18th April 1986 #2, By David Hockney

In many ways, this picture is the culmination of Hockney's exploration of the "joiners" concept. Measuring 78inches x 111 inches, and consisting of over 750 individual photographs. It was produced after three days of travelling, in which Hockney alternated between being the driver and the passenger. When he wasn't driving he noticed just how many more things you see compared to the driver. Split down the middle, the collage is supposed to represent this concept. As this is America and they drive on the wrong side, the right hand part of the collage, represents the drivers view. It's sparse in detail and is predominantly constructed with roadsigns. Whereas the left hand side is the passengers view. The ability to look wherever you want, means there are lots of tiny details like the litter and the extra plants. The most striking part of the picture is the sky. I don't know if it's deliberate, or not, but it reminds me of Hockney's favourite subject: swimming pools. The rich blue and the lighter edges, creates an almost prismatic texture, as if sunshine was reflecting off the water.

Apparently one of Hockney's ambitions for these pictures, was to create a modern twist on cubism. You can clearly see this in all the works, but the thing I find interesting is, although there were elements present in the Polaroid picture collages (obviously the frames create clearly delineated edges), by removing that demarcation, these later pictures are actually far more reminiscent of the cubist paintings. I know there's not a lot to really separate the two's work (or is it just me), but for some reason, they remind me more of Georges Braque's work than Picasso's. Maybe it's just because I've seen more portraits of Picasso's than landscapes, so have different mental associations.

Les Usines de Rio Tinto a l'Estaque, By Georges Braque

I don't know if it's as obvious to you reading this, as it is to me writing it, but I'm suffering from a bit of writers block. The sentences don't seem to want to flow properly today and the syntax is all over the place. I'm chalking it down to tiredness (I had a late night last night), so when I'm feeling a little more awake I'll go back and fix it.

On a better note, Marie told me on Wednesday, she thinks these ramblings are actually at distinction level, so if you'll permit me a moment...Whoop! Did I make the noise as I typed? Yes..yes I did!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome photography, nice creation that type of photography and their thought makes them a unique photographer.