David Hockney, Yorkshireman

My husband and I took a brief vacation in Yorkshire, where he grew up. We stayed in Leeds, a stone’s throw from Bradford, his home town. He took me to his grammar school, a beautiful old Victorian building surrounded by rolling lawns and many playing fields, with tree lined avenues and perfectly tended gardens to complete the picture. Bradford Grammar School, Ian’s alma mater, boasts quite a few famous “Old Boys,” from writers and teachers to judges and prime ministers. But arguably the most famous today is David Hockney.

So seeing the Yorkshire gallery that holds a permanent collection of Hockneys, in addition to special exhibitions of new works,  was at the top of my list–even over seeing York Minster and the medieval city of York.

The gallery is in the small town of Saltaire, a short drive from Leeds,  housed in an old woolen mill, in an excellent adaptive reuse renovation that includes several art galleries, shops and restaurants– not your typical mall experience, but a real sense of walking around in history as you move from room to room. The web site is great fun to go through: www.saltsmill.org.uk

The main gallery, where Hockney’s works are exhibited, is a gigantic dual-purpose space filled with art books, sculptures, ceramics and art materials for sale;  as well as the paintings, drawings, collages and other works by David Hockey. (I saw at least five art books I coveted, but restrained myself.)

The majority of the paintings and drawings are from the 1980s, but the works do span many years. There are some very early works, and I was especially taken by the early pencil and charcoal drawings.  Here are also shown some fascinating and sometimes disturbing photo collages. His body of work is astonishing, but most touching for me were two very early self portraits of very young man, clearly aware that he is “different” and tentatively but clearly showing that awareness  in his face and body language. They were the most vulnerable self-portraits I’ve ever seen.  Brought tears to my eyes.

Upstairs, via an ancient elevator that crawls at a snail’s pace and creaks and groans, is a set of smaller galleries; and here, too,  is the famous photograph of Hockney with playwright Alan Bennett (of Beyond the Fringe fame), in which they look startlingly like twins separated at birth.

Here is where Hockney’s latest works are shown: Five wonderful, revealing portraits of friends, painted using Photoshop on his computer. They are so good they look like paintings. Amazing.

Hockney loves technology; he’s always doing something experimental and imaginative with new technological toys. He tries any medium that strikes his fancy, from pencil and charcoal, to Photoshop– even huge works made of faxed pages put together like a mosaic.

All of David Hockney’s works are copyrighted, so I won’t reproduce any here. His web site, however, is huge, and  you can see hundreds of his works there:  www.hockneypictures.com

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