David Hockney RA, has distinguished himself throughout his long and successful career as a gifted draughtsman; his confidence and strength of line characterises his work from single line portrait studies, to large scale paintings of LA in the 60s.
So established is he that he can retire to Yorkshire and revisit his beloved landscape, and every resulting drawing with his name tag will sell. Set against emerging artists without this benefit, themselves pressured to define their individual style and/or concept as new, bold and valid, Hockney’s contribution to furthering art’s progression is a series of iPad drawings of Yorkshire at the burst of spring, here exhibited alongside charcoal drawings in a separate gallery. It is not the best advertisement for this radical new medium, with much of Hockney’s selling point – exquisite and effortless draughtsmanship – fuzzed by a clearly cumbersome and difficult digital medium. The linearity is lost in clumsy execution and the desire to portray some kind of spatial depth. Adding to this childlike effect is the similarly garish saturated colour afforded by the medium. The palette of his earlier paintings imagining Yorkshire in bright yellows and purples is here turned up to eleven, queasily saturated like early Technicolor film. By unfortunate contrast the simplicity of the charcoal pieces display an astonishingly convincing portrayal of leaves and country dappled with soft spring light. Call me a Luddite, but beside these beautifully crafted drawings, there is much still to prove for the iPad as the next artistic medium.
Even if it smacks of unfairness that a major established artist can gain exhibition space over up and coming talent simply with a collection of unassuming charcoal sketches of countryside roads, closer inspection reminds you of the sheer skill in Hockney’s possession. It is extremely sophisticated handling of humble charcoal that can evoke the distinctive texture of light upon leaves and ground at this particular time of year with such vivid clarity. The boldness in execution is staggering; whole sections are populated by jabbing dots and strokes, leaves are denoted by simple outline, suggesting by reverse bright dappled light. He has deliberately forgone linear accuracy for the sake of textural depth and mood, brilliantly conveying a rhythm and tone that we can instantly recognise as natural elements softly shimmering in a breeze. This doesn’t set up favourably for the iPad drawings, proving if anything that satisfyingly well executed and perfectly evocative monochrome pieces can be produced without the need for colour at all.
There is something about this digital drawing medium that stifles the natural line drawn by hand, and the subtleties that can be gained via a deft touch. Certainly the technology is admirable in picking up the physical strokes of the fingers and recording them accurately, however via the transfer to digital ‘surface’ they are somehow made crude. It is perhaps fortunate that the subject of natural form, devoid of straight lines, can more easily be fudged, but where man-made items are required such as a traffic signpost, the resulting clumsiness is cringe-worthily childlike that have a visually jarring effect. Hockney has chosen in some areas settings where the paint ‘stroke’ is realised as a series of perfectly circular bubbles of diminishing size, elsewhere as a fuzzy haze, or again as a single line (itself jagged due to its pixelated construction), a curious quality of the medium. Some areas display inventive areas of success using this variety; the haziness of puddles shot with harsh light, or the effect of clouds of tree branches for example. However a major problem this method presents – even with the benefit of smudging tools – is clearly the difficulty in depicting spatial depth, with the whole appearing rather ‘flat’, requiring one to stand back in order to perceive more easily the intended image of a receding road. It is always slightly worrying when an artist tells you that the work looks better when viewed from far away.
Perhaps it is a cop-out to simply label this as all feeling rather ‘artificial’. And indeed it felt rather hollow listening to a gallery assistant carefully telling a visitor that these are printed on Inkjet: surely the plunge into digital negates the importance of textural material of paper. Yet it is true that Hockney has chosen this method to create representational art, and in this simple goal the iPad pieces have yet to convince. Perhaps more abstract or patterned work may benefit from this medium with its overly-pure, anti-naturalistic colour, and relying not on the extremely problematic rendering of spatial depth. If a draughtsman as skilled and confident as Hockney produces clumsy works such as this, I’m afraid the old fashioned charcoal works still put them in the shade.
Words: Olivia McEwan © Artlyst 2014 Photo: courtesy the artist and Annaley Juda Fine Art
David Hockney The Arrival of Spring Annaley Juda Fine Art Start 08-05-2014 End 12-07-2014