- David Hockney
- Fruit in a Chinese Bowl
- signed, titled and dated August 1988 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 36 x 36 in. 91.4 x 91.4 cm.
Nishimura Gallery, Tokyo
L.A. Louver, Venice, California
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1991
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, David Hockney: New Paintings, March - April 1989, cat. no. 5, n.p., illustrated in color
Frankfurt, Galerie Neuendorf AG, David Hockney, Recent Paintings, May - June 1989, cat. no. 3, p. 15, illustrated in color
Tokyo, Nishimura Gallery, David Hockney, Paintings: Flower Chair Interior, October - November 1989, cat. no. 19, illustrated in color
Honolulu, Contemporary Museum, Some New Pictures, February - March 1990, not illustrated
Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, David Hockney: Exciting times are ahead, June - September 2001, cat. no. 52, p. 151, illustrated in color
David Hockney’s remarkable oeuvre is one which oscillates among and contributes to the greatest avant-garde movements of the Twentieth Century while simultaneously defying any strict categorization. In addition to excelling as a master painter, printmaker, draughtsman, stage designer, and photographer, Hockney is, above all else, an avid scholar. Deeply influenced by the Dutch Masters, Post-Impressionists, and Cubists, his ever-evolving artistic practice is a means of advancing art history from within. Fruit in a Chinese Bowl seems to do just this; the still life, one of the most traditional genres of painting, becomes Hockney’s template upon which he subverts traditional perspective and notions of depth while trying to depict one true reality.
Since its rise to popularity in Northern Europe in the early Seventeenth Century, the still life tradition has historically chronicled the abundancies of nature enjoyed by society’s elite. Dark, intimate scenes of lush flowers, ripe apples, and overflowing goblets of wine illuminated by a single light source not only recorded the taste of the wealthy, but often provided subtle moral reminders that life was transient and to pursue these material possessions was to be consumed by vanity. As in Pieter Claesz’s Still Life with Peacock Pie (1627), the realistically depicted scene reeks of luxury, yet the overturned glass and stuffed peacock tell the tale of overindulgence. Artists such as Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne would go on to reinvigorate this tradition; their rejection of one-point perspective in favor of flattened, unidealized subject matter undermined their predecessors by returning to the quotidian scene altogether.
In 1982, after a gradual fascination with the eye of the camera led him to become fully immersed in photography, Hockney produced his first photo-collage; a montage of snapped images assembled like a 'map' that realistically documented how the eye sweeps across a scene in a geographic location. With this new working medium, Hockney radically broke with the traditional notion of a single central perspective which had come to dominate Western art since the Renaissance. He was clearly looking to the innovative use of perspective and flattening of space that Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso explored early in the Twentieth Century. Adopting a kind of "non-perspective" space, Hockney assumed that the viewer was not located in front of the picture looking through a window or keyhole, but within the plane of the picture, consciously and simultaneously connecting multiple vantage points. Hockney quickly translated his photographic innovations to canvas, creating a fundamentally new way of using the pictorial space.
Executed in 1988, the year Hockney’s critically acclaimed retrospective opened at LACMA and traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tate Gallery in London, Fruit in a Chinese Bowl epitomizes the artist’s exploration of this “non-perspective.” The flattened composition is devoid of any single vantage point; it is as if hundreds of photographs representing one single, static moment have been collaged together to create a fluid collection of time where multiple vantage points not only coincide, but coexist together on one canvas as the truest form of reality. This, as Hockney elaborated to Lawrence Weschler, “comes closer to how we actually see—which is to say, not all at once but in discrete, separate glimpses which we then build up into our continuous experience of the world” (Lawrence Weschler, “True to Life,” The New Yorker, July 9, 1984, p. 62).
A lack of traditional perspective renders the elements in the composition to an almost crude and distorted flatness. The table and cloth upon which the Chinese bowl sits has been reduced to a collection of linear yet rhythmic, colorful brushstrokes, executed undoubtedly while studying van Gogh or perhaps even Matisse’s Still Life on a Blue Table (1947). While the background remains completely abstract, the attention given to the curvilinear forms of the assorted fruit restore our mind’s ability to recognize what is familiar. Each fruit’s distinctive shape is complemented by a wealth of color and attention to detail referencing the realistic depictions in still lifes of the Seventeenth Century. The tonal gradation and accompanying shadows on some of the forms provide depth and three-dimensionality while the two-tone coloring of the other forms suggests that Hockney has combined multiple angles of the fruit in one plane, like that of Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples (1893-94). Similarly, the Chinese bowl is distinctly and figuratively decorated in contrast to the background. Having visited China in 1981, Hockney remarked “I started using brushes and flicking ink. I used all kinds of media…I started drawing from memory more and more, realize[d] all the beautiful things one could do with the brush” (Nick Stangos, ed., David Hockney: That’s The Way I See It, London 1993, pp. 78-83). As Chinese scroll and ceramic painting often excluded any notions of perspective, presenting one continuous landscape after another, it synecdochically references to the entire composition.
Fruit in a Chinese Bowl exemplifies Hockney’s distinctive, idiosyncratic vision and deft eye for color. Hockney has unlocked the beauty from the compositional conventions of quotidian objects while playfully and successfully contributing to the art historical narrative of the still life.