David Hockney and the Scientistic Vision of Artists

Dear Paul,
Thank you so much for sending me the clipping from The Times Literary Supplement, Feb 3, 2012, about David Hockney’s show, “A Bigger Picture,” at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Hockney continues to thrill me with his brilliant mix of scientistic vision and ravishing aesthetic appeal, as he has done throughout his career. Even the TLS color reproductions on newsprint of Master Hockney’s recent work knocked my eyes out of my head and into my heart and stomach and cerebral cortex. But the TLS article by Clare Griffiths, “Yorkshire’s Prodigal Son — David Hockney’s Awakening from the California Dream” — made me realize once again how influential Hockney’s scientistic aesthetics have been for all 20th and 21st Century artists, including me.
When I first became aware of Hockney way back in the ’70s and ’80s, I was a gay man living in Southern California, and so was he. I understood his swimming pool paintings on a visceral and experiential level — the light, the heat, the beautiful young swimmers. But what grabbed me by the throat was the immediate realization that he was seeing the world — my world — with a radically fresh new vision, and an aesthetic built upon all of art history — especially starting about 1800 with the English landscape painters, then the impressionists, the fauves, the colorists and eventually the cubists. Hockney’s unabashedly sensual, fruit juice and candy application of color as if it were a sexual lubricant, was captivating in and of itself to say the least. But his deconstruction of visual viewpoint through reverse perspective, multiple viewer and vanishing points, and fractured visual planes also tickled my aesthetic intellect.
Hockney as never stopped demonstrating that while we artists are certainly motivated by our passion for sensuality, light, color, line, mass and form, we are also given to a scientistic way of seeing the world which would surprise many laymen, if they could step into our heads for even a minute. The essential elements of an artist’s vision are analytical. We dissect any scene like a biologist exploring a cadaver, but then we put it back together again in a new way. We seek to understand the mechanics of positive and negative space, perspective and light. We examine the crucial balances and tensions between contours and masses. We study every nuance of the interactions among colors. Yes, artists also create from emotion and passion, but that is largely about content. The process of seeing analytically in order to create art is as scientistic and disciplined as is the mastering of materials, tools and techniques. David Hockney is the artist who best articulates and demonstrates or reveals the reality about the analytic artistic process.
Beyond his lifelong dissertation about aesthetic vision and analytic process, Hockney has also pulled back the curtain on the artist’s obsession and constant search for new tools and technologies that will serve our desire to produce a new aesthetic to dazzle the world. This, too, is scientistic — this deep interest in technologies and tools. As it happens, while cleaning house two days before receiving your TLS clipping, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a 90-minute David Hockney documentary on the Ovation TV Network, entitled “A Beginning,” if I remember correctly. In this fascinating film, Hockney is an aesthetic detective, seeking to prove by scientific methodology that the renaissance artists achieved their shockingly natural new images through technology. He proves convincingly that as early as the 1400s artists were projecting images of their subjects onto their canvases by using curved mirrors and tracing the optically accurate forms. In the 1500s the camera obscura was invented, or more appropriately, “discovered,” since it is little more than a hole in a surface, capable of projecting a completely detailed photographic image of the artist’s subject, albeit upside-down, on a small canvas. It turns out that we artists have been “cheating” by using optical technology for at least six centuries. Not to leave us disenchanted with art, in his documentary Hockney points out that it is not the optical accuracy of an image that makes it art, but its brilliant aesthetic execution.
What woke me up at 3:00 am this morning was Hockney’s use of the iPad to create large prints for his current show at The Royal Academy. He is also creating images with his iPhone, and creating landscape films using 18 cameras and projecting images on multiple screens. Again, I identify thoroughly with Hockney, because I have been creating digital images with my scanner, computer and Wacom drawing tablet for many years. Several years ago I began printing them on large canvases with the help of my friend sign-maker Dave who lives and works in these woods down near the river. He helped me print a 3 x 4 foot image of my digital composition “I Miss Smokin’ SOooo Much…” (see below.) One of those just sold to some good friends in New York.
Lately I have become increasingly worried about the competition for time between the income requirements and demands of daily life versus the imperative to create art. Let’s face it, at our age you and I are hearing the clock ticking louder and louder and thinking more carefully about how to spend each moment and get the most out of our time. I thought life would slow down as I got older — especially living like a hermit in the woods — but it is speeding up instead, and I find myself analyzing periods of time that I used to waste and thinking about how they can become productive moments. So I awoke at 3:00 am this morning with the realization that I have to buy an iPad! I have frequently carried sketchbooks for the last 50 years, and created some pretty interesting images in them, too, if I do say so myself, but almost nobody ever sees those drawings. It’s time to take the hint from Hockney and my own years of stationary desktop computer digital art, and trade in my sketchbook for a portable iPad so that I can continue to make sketches as I have done for five decades, but then develop the best ones and email them to sign-maker Dave to create large prints. Thank you for waking me up David Hockney!

 And thanks again for sending me the TLS clipping, Paul! Love, -Kevin
P.S. See more about Hockney’s exhibit at www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/hockney

Below: “I Miss Smokin’ SOooo Much…” 2009 digital print — line art drawn by hand by Kevin who then scanned it into his computer and colored, shaded and detailed it with his Wacom digital drawing tablet. Sign-maker Dave in the woods then printed the image on a 3 x 4 foot canvas which Kevin stretched on a homemade pine frame and varnished before displaying. 

I Miss Smokin' SOooo much -- digital art by Kevin

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