About the “Hockney – Van Gogh: the Joy of Nature” Exhibition

Private Van Gogh Museum Tour

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David Hockney’s art is colorful and colossal. Inspired by nature, the British artist utilizes bright colors and experiments with artistic perspective. Another artist who dealt with this was Vincent Van Gogh.

It is no coincidence Hockney’s works resemble that of the “Christ of the Coal Mines”. The Dutch post-Impressionist painter was an inspiration for many, including David Hockney. The “Hockney – Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature” exhibition lets you explore more parallels between the two. The exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum runs through May 26, 2019.

Hockney’s multi-canvas paintings are hung on the museum walls like murals. The smaller landscapes by Van Gogh are placed here and there upon pillars, quite like punctuations to the effusive sentences of Hockney. This also makes it one of the most exciting exhibitions to check out by taking a private Van Gogh Museum tour.

While Hockney’s works are similar to that of Vincent, the British artist has taken this to another level. “More Felled Trees on Woldgate” by Hockney looks psychedelic to the subdued azures and cobalt blues in “The Garden of St. Paul’s Hospital (‘Leaf Fall’)” by Vincent.

There are many drawings in the exposition that could well have been taken from Vincent’s sketchbook. They show Hockney’s admiration for the Dutchman is beyond scale and color. “Midsummer, East Yorkshire”, a series of watercolor paintings, is his homage to the Provence landscapes by the Dutch artist, with their wheel-like haystacks, wheat fields, high horizon lines, and stocky clouds.

David Hockney himself feels the main connection between him and Vincent is not a matter of subject, color, or brushwork; rather, they share a fascination with nature. About this, Hockney once said, “It’s clarity of space, I think. Van Gogh could see space very, very clearly.”

In the exposition catalog, Hockney elaborated that, “Somebody once said that my work has a graphic clarity, and I suppose it does. But if that’s true, van Gogh’s work has a double graphic clarity.”

When on a private Van Gogh Museum tour, you get to see around sixty works by Hockney, and three drawings and eight paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. Most of Hockney’s works of art are landscapes, made from around 2004 to 2011, in northern England’s Woldgate Woods.

Van Gogh Museum’s Chief Curator of Exhibitions, Edwin Becker said that the Dutch artist’s influence upon the British artist started after the latter visited a Vincent Van Gogh exposition in Manchester in 1955. Becker said, “It lingers on and on and on. Sometimes it’s more direct, and sometimes it’s more subconscious.”

Around half of the exposition at the Van Gogh Museum is dedicated to the Woldgate Woods’ depictions, especially that of a path through slender trees that Hockney captured in different media across the seasons. Some works are oil paintings that were made outdoors, like several nineteenth-century artists did, comprising Van Gogh, over a few days. Other works are digital drawings and video compositions made with an Apple iPad.

For the digital video installation, “The Four Seasons, Woldgate Woods”, the British artist mounted nine cameras upon a moving vehicle to simultaneously film the landscape from many perspectives. In the museum, they are presented like clusters of monitors upon four walls, each one presenting a similar view in different seasons.

With each cam pointed in a somewhat different direction, the audience has to look at the landscape as one composite of many perspectives. Hockney said, “I know it makes it more interesting because you have to look at each one, and to do that, you have to make space in your mind.”

In the 2011 spring season, he visited the woods again with an iPad, making a series of digital works. They went on to form “The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire”.

The octogenarian has actively embraced technology, particularly in the recent past. Edwin Becker saw this as one more key similarity between the artists. The museum curator said, “Van Gogh was constantly on the search for new ways of working, from naturalism, to Impressionism to Post-Impressionism, to add to his own style. The same goes for Hockney, because he embraces new techniques, new developments — be it the Polaroid, the Pentax camera, the video camera, the iPad.”

The British artist said that even at this stage in life, he learned to work using modern technologies due to a pragmatic reason. Initially, he said, “I realized that with the iPad I could draw without moving from my bed. The first things I did were lots of sunrises from a window. And I didn’t have to get up to get paint or water or a brush or pencils.” Hockney made seventy or eighty works in this manner, “always in this same window, but every day it was different: different colors, no two sunrises are the same.”

The approach, without the device, resonates with Vincent Van Gogh’s method of exploring the very same subject or view from many perspectives, in different seasons and changing light. There are other parallels to their modus operandi, which you can get to know when on a tour Amsterdam program.