I had the opportunity to see one of David Hockney landscape video works at the DeYoung in San Fransisco in 2015. It was part of his ‘Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos’ series. Hockney has made a lot of work of varying subjects over the years but I have really loved his landscapes. It feels clique to say so. Landscapes tend to be a safe subject matter. But for a painter, they also say a lot about how the artist’s observer and interprets their landscapes. It’s one thing to create a landscape with a flourish of technique and call it a pretty picture. It’s another to create an image that gives breath to the observations of a moment in place and time. Hockney’s landscapes do that well. When they are displayed at the large scale these new works are, they are all-encompassing.
In Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos, Hockney used multiple cameras simultaneously to capture a single scene. Each scene is then displayed individually across eighteen flat-screen monitors. The scene slowly moves in the same direction but out of sync, each at a slightly different angle. Hockney calls these a “Cubist movie.” The video works, in particular, evoke Hockney’s photo collages from much earlier in his career.
To me, they also play with a sense of memory, shifting focus in a scene, and the difficulty of grasping and remembering a whole moment. It’s very much the artist’s gaze, moving across the scene, recording pieces in an attempt to capture the whole. That plays out a little more clearly in his large-scale panoramic canvases. Painting, in part, plain air, means he can only capture and focus on a small part of the landscape at a time stretched over days. Each canvas separate but joined in the studio, where Hockney had to try to keep the entire scene in his head. The result is a beautiful large-scale work that is always slightly shifting in perspective.