David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain

I visited this exhibition, along with what seemed to be much of the population of London, because I particularly wanted to look at Hockney’s landscapes. I was also very interested in seeing at first hand, his photomontages, especially Pearblossom Highway, which I have written about elsewhere within this blog. I was interested to see all of Hockney’s work, but the sheer numbers of visitors allowed in at any one time made it very difficult to concentrate on the paintings or even get close to some of them.

For this blog, however, I will look specifically at his landscape work. The guide book issued by the Tate, in its introduction, says "From beginning to end, running through all the different types and periods of work is Hockney’s principal obsession with the challenge of representation: how do we see the world, and how can that world of time and space be captured in two dimensions?"

Most of the landscapes were in the later rooms of the exhibition, particularly in Room 8 "Experiences of Space" and Room 9  "Experiences of Place". The gallery guide notes how "in these works flatness collides with illusion of spatial depth. But above all, these are paintings through which the eye dances, drawn by a sensuousness of line and colour wet edges of viewpoints fold into and across each other."

A good example from the "Experiences of Space" room is Nichols Canyon 1980.

In a similar style in "Experiences of Place"  is Going up Garrowby Hill 2000, here the gallery guide talks about Hockney creating "An illusion of depth by the use of the foreground plain (plane?) on which were arrayed objects, whether bails (bales?) of wheat or small desert bushes " .

I think that these paintings provide a good example of one of Hockney’s approaches to dealing with perspective In a two-dimensional art form. The shapes and lines within the painting give a real sense of movement whilst the colours add energy. The extremely high horizon line in Going up Garrowby Hill gives a real sense of the scenery enveloping the viewer, and the curves of the road as it goes up the hill leads one into the picture and gives a sense of depth . This is described by Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times(1) as "Here landscape is abstracted into interlocking arabesques of crimsons, purples, lush greens. Edges of viewpoints fold into and across each other, roads wind through luminous terrains where flatness collides with illusions of spatial depth".

It was interesting to see how Hockney had approached this concept of representation and perspective within landscape paintings. Some of these methods are not available to the photographer, but some, as with his photomontage, are.

I’m not one of Hockney’s greatest fans, but I do find his questioning of perspective and how he deals with the issue within painting very interesting.It was a great opportunity to see so much of his work in one place, it’s such a shame there were so many others enjoying it at the same time.

I spent some time studying his photomontages, particularly Pearblossom Highway, and will write about this separately.

(1)  https://www.ft.com/content/27840aaa-ef1d-11e6-ba01-119a44939bb6?mhq5j=e1

Beyond the Great Wave – Hokusai Exhibition at the British Museum

I visited this exhibition out of interest in Hokusai’s work in general but also for his landscape views in particular. The Great Wave is known throughout the world but Hokusai’s designs have also influenced contemporary photography. “Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri (c.1832) from the portfolio, The Thirty-six Views of Fuji”,  which I saw at the exhibition, was the inspiration for Jeff Wall’s image A Sudden Gust of Wind. I wrote a little about these two images on my previous Art History course.

Woodcut, Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri (c.1832) from the portfolio, The Thirty-six Views of Fuji, by Katsushika Hokusai Hokusai [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In East Asian traditional art, perspective was portrayed by placing distant objects high in the composition, an example of this, Mt Fuji  by Kano Isen’in Naganobu was displayed early on in the exhibition.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) https://goo.gl/3iDtkT

It was, however, interesting to see how European portrayal of perspective influenced Japanese art. Two of the first images in the exhibition were Spring View Enoshima painted by Hokusai in 1797 and a portrayal of the same scene in Shichirigahawa Beach by Shakur Kokan. Whilst, at this time Hokusai is utilising a more traditionally Asian composition, Kokan was the leading European influenced artist of the day. Kokan used deeply receding perspective and painted the scene to look like an oil painting. It was interesting to note the differences between the two, and also to see how Hokusai’s style developed over the years.

Hokusai is now very well known for his series Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji which show how the form of Mount Fuji varies from place to place (indeed I mentioned one of them above). It is interesting to look closely at Hokusai’s style, in Sazai Hall at the temple of the five hundred  visitors to the temple admire the view of Mt Fuji.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) https://goo.gl/tOfqZt

 

The converging lines of the architecture encourage the viewer of the image to do the same. In The Great Wave Hokusai plays with European style perspective and draws the viewer to observe Mt Fuji from out at sea through the curve of the great wave.

One aspect of the exhibition which gave cause for thought was Hokusai’s series Wondrous Views of Famous Bridges in Various Provinces from around 1834, for example the Old View of the Boat Bridge at Sanofi in Kozuke Province and The Suspension Bridge on the Border of Hida and Etchu Provinces.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) https://goo.gl/E6Ma87

Perhaps this could be the inspiration for a series of landscape photos I could take of local bridges. I’ll have to see how this idea goes as the course progresses.

Curator’s Talk at the British Museum – Beyond the Great Wave

I was fortunate in being able to book a ticket for the Curator’s Introduction on the day that The Great Wave exhibition opened at the British Museum. The curator of the exhibition, Timothy Clark opened by describing Hokusai’s fundamental belief that the older he gets the greater the artist he will become. This was a very encouraging statement, not least because it seemed to be true, Hokusai’s later works are seen by many as his best.

The exhibition had been designed in six themes

  • Hokusai from twenty to sixty
  • Mt Fuji and The Great Wave
  • Worlds Seen
  • Worlds Imagined
  • Hokusai’s World
  • Immortality (the last three years

From the early work Fast Skiffs Navigating Large Waves, a woodblock from 1804-1807, was a forerunner of The Great Wave. Clark described how the works were very influenced by European ideas, a low horizon, chiarascuro and the framing all followed the European norm. He believed that this could have been brought about by a commission that Hokusai received from Dutch visitors to paint scenes of everyday life.

Clark also commented on The Great Wave which he described as emblematic for the power of the sea and the power of nature as a whole. The foam of the wave forms tentacles and the whole scene seems to be one of suspended animation – the moment before the wave is about to drop.

Under the Wave off Kanagawa, colour woodblock, by Katsushika Hokusai
© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)  https://goo.gl/j0KRC0

 

Talk at the British Museum – Redefining the golden age of watercolour landscape painting

This talk was about landscape watercolours from the 1880s to the early 20th century and broadly talked about the shifting aesthetics within this period. It started with comments on the Victorian aesthetic, very detailed highly tech finished technique. A typical Victorian watercolour landscape would be similar to this by Helen Allingham, Cowdray cottage.

This is a classic piece showing a period cottage with “Gertrude Jekyll” type of wild garden. Hollyhocks are portrayed in the garden with winsome female figures standing at the entrance to the garden.

 

Artists at this time wanted to preserve nature and the vernacular buildings. But it is a very idealised image, it doesn’t represent the troubled times that existed then in rural areas. The female figures portrayed are thin and winsome despite carrying out heavy manual tasks such as carrying water. But this is what Victorian audiences wanted to see.

 

As a reaction to this a period of aestheticism followed, epitomised by the works of James McNeill Whistler. He introduced a preference for form over narrative, art for arts sake. Linked to this was Japonisme, the interest in Japanese art in the 1860s and then a little later the influence of French Impressionism.

 

Three Whistler images were used as examples of this radical shift.

Nocturne from the 1880s.

Whistler was very careful about the titles he gave to his works. This image was extremely radical for the times and genuinely shocked people. It is all about suggestion e.g. the marks on the bottom left corner suggesting figures.

 

Some of his works were very small (5 x 8”) which was also radical. For example

The Thames at Battersea c1876-78

Whistler used a much more tonal colour palette and embodied the influence of Japanese art.

Whistler’s precise use of title was illustrated in

Blue and brown – Westgate – the Moors, c1886

The title emphasises reform over narrative, the artist wants you to see first of all the colours of the image. Again there is a suggestion of figures on the horizon.

 

The frame for this work was very contemporary and Whistler was very insistent on the frame and other aspects when his paintings were exhibited – lighting, wall colour and spareness.

 

We then looked at the work of Hercules Brabazon Brabazon and and his depictions of Venice.

 

This is very much in the tradition of Whistler and the French Impressionists. This also contains the idea of suggestion and a mixture of loose handled washes and dabs of paint. In John Singer Sargent’s Torrent in the Val D’Aosta c1907.

 

One can very much see the influence of French Impressionism. It is an extremely gestural piece. You do not see a wider narrative come, compositionally it is very cut off – it forces the eye on to the gesture, the paint and the brushwork.

 

But by the 1920s there was a reaction against Impressionism and against the breaking up of the surface in painting.

 

Some artists created a sparser watercolour for example Eric Ravilious in 1923 Wannock Dew Pond.

This demonstrates a painted painterly reaction against Impressionism. It demonstrates that Ravilious was looking back to the work of  John Sell Cotman

And Francis Towne

And being inspired by them bringing a much sparser feel to his watercolours.

It was a fascinating talk to attend and made me think much more deeply about what is a landscape and how is it portrayed:

  • It can be a simple representation
  • It can be idealised, what you want it to look like rather than what it really is
  • it can just be suggested

And what is more important – a recognisable feature or just the colours as in Whistler’s paintings above?

OCA Study Visit – Deutsche Borse Prize

I joined the other OCA students at the Photographers gallery for this visit to see the works of the 4 shortlisted artists for the 2017 Prize. What was particularly interesting about this study visit was the opportunity for each student to put forward their work for the views of others. I learned a lot from seeing the work brought along and then giving my views on it and hearing what other students had to say. As I had only started the landscape course 5 days earlier, I didn’t have any images to take with me to submit for comment, but I did outline my thoughts for the ‘Transitions’ project and received encouraging feedback for it.

The four artists shortlisted for the 2017 Prize were Sophie Calle, Dana Lixenberg, Awoiska van der Molen, and Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs.

For this post I will concentrate on the work of Awoiska van der Molen as her work was concerned with landscape. According to the gallery leaflet van der Molen “explores ideas of place allowing them to impress upon her specific emotional and physical qualities”. She spends extended periods in isolation in remote locations, allowing the landscape to impress upon her rather than imposing any pre-determined views on the landscape.

The results were some stunning black and white, silver gelatin prints. The images seem to draw you in, embrace you with the landscape as you view them, you could almost be on a ‘viewing platform’ as you look at them. Except that you aren’t, you can’t be as they are images of solitude mainly with (apart from one exception) no signs of human presence or intervention.

Displayed as large scale prints in the gallery, they are very powerful representations of the surrounding environment whether of forest or rock faces, allowing the force of the environment to impose itself on the viewer.

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