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February 26 - April 2, 2005, at L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice

by Margarita Nieto

"East Yorkshire. Spring Landscape," 2004, watercolor on paper, 29 1/2 x 83".

"Bridlington. Gardens and Rooftops III,"
2004, watercolor on paper, 26 1/2 x 40".

"A Larger Valley. Millington," 2004,
watercolor on paper, 40 x 60 1/4".

"Two Trees, East Yorkshire," 2004,
watercolor on paper, 29 1/2 x 41 1/2".

Photos: Richard Schmidt

“Looking at Landscape / Being In Landscape,” David Hockney’s last major exhibition here in 1998, consisted of a series of landscape paintings of the English countryside, specifically the East Yorkshire area where he was born and grew up. This recapitulation, a (re)view of his past, was significant in that in returning to his point of origin, Hockney turned away from his quasi-signature space, California and specifically, Southern California.

Now seven years later, that shift is even more evident perhaps due to personal losses, among them his mother, close friends, and his beloved companion Stanley, his dachshund. These losses have both freed him from one locale and pulled him toward the other. The consciousness awakened by those events reveal a different exploration of that English space in the watercolor landscapes in this new exhibition, “Hand Eye Heart,” which consists of 19 individual works and a 36-part work that is installed as a grid frame and presented as a single piece.

“Hand Eye Heart” are signs, Chinese ideograms that refer to the vital parts of the body from which painting emerges. Hockney conceptualizes these ideograms through his re-discovery of watercolor. Through the process of probing into drawing and color, and through recapitulation and meditation, we gain new insight into where Hockney is spatially, physically and intimately, both as a painter and as an individual, quite aware of his mortality.

In the lively dialogue/essay by and with author Lawrence Weschler that accompanies the exhibition, Hockney refers to his rediscovery of the Hand through a return to drawing and painting with watercolors. Plunging into the process, he has moved away from his obsession with the uses of optical devices, which he wrote about in 2001 and which caused such controversy in the art world. In his own words he has come to realize that, “. . .the trouble with optics is the trouble with photography: it’s not real enough, it’s not true enough to lived experience. The Chinese say that painting draws on three things: the eye, the heart and the hand. And I longed to return to the hand.” (quoted from the show’s essay by Weschler).

Returning to York brought him up against the limitations of the pinprick view through the lens. Landscape demands painting. The sketchbook replaces the camera, and Rembrandt is his master teacher in utilizing the hand and studying the energy of the marks. Through the pen, Hockney discovers the connection between Rembrandt and the Chinese masters of that time: in his lack of shadows, the Dutch master was possibly influenced by imported Chinese porcelain.

“Untitled” (2004, watercolor on paper [2 sheets], 29 1/2 x 83”) is a case in point. The contained palette--shades of lavender, grays and black--and the spare, stark trees reveal his mastery of the full brush: “The full-laden brush, I realized. . .is the most direct method of laying in a mark flowing from the eye, the heart, down the arm to the hand. . .Oil painting . . .you have to push. Watercolor just flows, ink just flows.” The road seen here pulls your eye away in a diagonal direction toward the distant horizon, toward the unknown point in space, and metaphorically toward the unknown itself.

These changes in light and color, this contrast between Hockney’s California and East Yorkshire nevertheless invite comparisons because Hockney builds upon what he has already explored. “East Yorkshire, Spring Landscape, 2004” (watercolor on paper [2 sheets], 29 1/2 x 83”) recalls the curvilinear spatial exuberance of “Mulholland Drive. The Road to the Studio” through its patchwork hills and roads, the energetic bounding and rebounding of light and color. But we are in a more delicate world here, a pale transparent landscape of mossy greens, grays, lavenders and reds; and this world for Hockney, is not merely a creative appropriation. “Two Trees, East Yorkshire. 31 III 04,” (2004, watercolor on paper, 29 1/2 x 41 1/2”), conveys the silent dualities of the exhibition: Trees that are not representations but entities of the present and the past.

The profundity and scope of this project, the re-discovery of fresh possibilities for the hand, the eye and the heart, the medium itself and the exploration of this East Yorkshire space mark an entry into Hockney’s most intimate world: “Hand Eye Heart” embodies what he has been and what he is.