Book cover for Hockney on Art

Paul Joyce met and interviewed David Hockney many times between 1982 and 1999. The interviews were taped, and the book is a transcription of the tapes. The fact that the conversations happened over a 17 year period, means we as the readers witness time passing. Some of the things Hockney enthuse about in the 80’s, he later on appear to focus less on – demonstrating that world class art doesn’t stand still, but progresses.

Large parts of the book is about what Hockney refers to as “joiners”. A joiner is a collage or composite made up many individual photographs that have been stuck together. Hockney explains that he doesn’t like the perspective from a wide angle lens, so he decided to instead make a picture by gluing together polaroids. By doing this, he realised that as things don’t necessarily line up perfectly, the finished picture gives a result that is similar to the way we look at the world – focusing here, then there, then somewhere different, rather than taking in a whole vista in one go.

He also realised that whereas a single picture is a point-in-time image showing what something looked like for, for instance, 1/60th of a second. But his joiners, with the individual photographs being taken one after the other, shows time passing. A sitter shifts his body or moves her hand, a cloud drifts, people blink, and so on. So rather than compressing a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional picture, he captures time as the third dimension from a four dimensional reality.

Hockney and Joyce cover a lot of ground in the conversation. There are a lot of thoughts about perspective – with the contrast being highlighted between the traditional Western perspective, which Hockney believe is a result of one-eyed camera obscura gaining popularity from the 16th century onwards, eventually being refined into the modern day photographic camera on one hand, and the Oriental perspective that focuses more on feelings and importance of things, rather than just physical distance from the viewer. I can’t help think of the similarities between the latter and the early pre-renaisance Western religious art, with size in the image being primarily related to a person’s importance.

There are references to many isms, but cubism in particular gets significant coverage. The  Hockney believes that Picasso and cubism is extremely important for the development of art. With cubism depicting a holistic – as opposed to one-eyed camera obscura – view, it influences Hockney’s joiners. He experiments with multiple viewpoints in the same image (e.g. “Nude, 17th June 1984”) and reverse perspective (e.g. “The Desk, July 1st 1984”) where items get larger the further they are from the viewer.

Hockneys most favourite joiners – Place Fūrstenberg, The Grand Canyon Looking North, Walking in the Zen Garden at the Ryoanji Temple, Pearblossom Highway, and so on, are shown in large format with glorious detail, and the book is amply illustrated with both Hockney’s beautiful artwork and also paintings and occasional photographers by famous artists.

Towards the end of the book, Hockney is fascinated by the art he created using telefaxes and laser printers. I didn’t “get” this part and while interesting from a techno-historical perspective, it didn’t give me the same “wow” feeling as the earlier part of the book. That said, the interviews are all interesting with a lot to learn, and the illustrations throughout are absolutely stunning. The book is inspiring, and Hockney’s enthusiasm and knowledge makes me want to try my own hand creating joiners.