Upon settling in 2005 in East Yorkshire, where he spent his youth, David Hockney left behind his famous Southern California subject matter. Instead, the urbane chronicler of sunny poolsides and West Coast leisure has been painting landscapes, that most British of genres, and making quite a go of it. The display of these works at two PaceWildenstein venues constituted Hockney’s first New York exhibition in over a decade.
The shows included large and small oils of woods, felled timber along country roads, blossoming hawthorn and panoramic views of hills. Color ranges from fanciful to outrageous—red shadows, lavender trail, turquoise tree trunk. The liberties Hockney takes may owe as much to Photoshop as to van Gogh: after painting outdoors, Hockney works things out on a computer back in the studio. There were also several wonderful charcoals that stood out in their very ordinariness. A woody path winds its way into the drawings, broad shadows falling across it; leafy bushes on either side are drawn with the briefest of calligraphic marks. An atmosphere of sweet breezes prevails.
Two large “Woldgate Woods” paintings depicting early and late spring, both 2006, are grand gridded ensembles of six canvases (each 36 by 48 inches, 72 by 144 inches overall) describing a place where three roads converge and then meander off in different directions. Bigger Trees Nearer Warter, Winter 2008 (108 by 144 inches) has jumps in scale, with a hedgerow on one side of splitting roads and woods, and a small orchard on the other. Here, the influence of Hockney’s scenographic work is evident. Because of the huge size and the absence of figures, it feels like an opera set, and as though we are meant to be the characters. The color is typically Hockney, that is to say hyped-up a bit. The effect is chilly.
Especially appealing is a modest-scale painting, Blossom en Plein-Air, Woldgate II (36 by 48 inches), 2008, which contains a single, smallish blossoming tree, keenly observed and expeditiously rendered. The painting conveys a feeling of generous light and the cool shadows of early spring. It’s good to see Hockney turn to a fairly straightforward evocation of nature. He seems to be enjoying himself immensely, and we share the pleasure.
Photo: Davd Hockney: Bigger Trees Nearer Warter, Winter 2008, oil on canvas, 9 panels, 9 by 12 feet overall; at PaceWildenstein.