Acquired from the above by the present owner
Marco Livingstone, David Hockney, London 1996, p. 268, no. 206, illustrated in colour
Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts; Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum; Cologne, Ludwig Museum; David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture, January 2012 – February 2013, p. 292, no. 62, illustrated in colour
In the late 1980s, Hockney was closely involved with opera set design, crafting stages for Tristan und Isolde in 1987 as well as for Turandot and Die Frau ohne Schatten in 1992 – the same year as the present work’s creation. He had been fascinated by the genre since the 1960s, and these endeavours should be considered the pinnacle of his engagement with the subject. The Fourteenth V.N. Painting, although nominally abstract, seems absolutely attuned to these contemporaneous pursuits. Twenty-two pink roundels are carefully positioned on a beige outcrop at the bottom of the composition in a manner entirely redolent of players on a stage; we can observe their individual shadows suggesting dramatic lighting, and the horizontal beige brushstrokes recalling the boards of a wooden stage. Meanwhile, the swathes and passages of daubed and flecked colour that surge up around these egg-like forms appear as though on stage, bedecked with extraordinary spotlights. In the early 1990s, Hockney was living in Malibu, and the landscape of the Californian coastline was also proving hugely inspirational to his work. In the preceding years he had created a number of paintings of the surrounding landscape, in which his sense of depth, recession, perspective, and scaling became more and more abstract. Exemplary amongst these carefully constructed works is Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980, which shows the winding mountain highway that Hockney took on his way to work in a warped and foreshortened manner, and even features the city grid of Los Angeles as its imagined backdrop. The V.N. Paintings should be seen as the next logical step to works such as this; a unique moment within Hockney’s oeuvre upon which his experimentations into, and manipulations of, perspective and human perception ceased to be limited to identifiable figurative subject matter.
All of Hockney’s most important works are steeped in art-historical reference. By opening up his oeuvre to abstraction in the V.N. series, Hockney also opened up an entirely new field of influence. Indeed, through the swathes of saturated colour, we can recognise the influence of a number of the great artists of the early Twentieth Century in the present work. We think of Pablo Picasso, who created works of comparable chromatic dynamism, with different passages of paint appearing to flow over one another; meanwhile, the specific juxtapositions of shape, tone, and hue, recall the work of Robert Delaunay, whose works hover between abstraction and figuration just like Hockney; or even Franz Marc, who executed colourist works that were just as dynamic, energetic, and engaging as this, using similar compositional devices. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist precedent has always been important to Hockney, and one would be tempted to chalk up the brusque horizontal dabs of brushwork that proliferate in this work as a reference to Claude Monet’s broad style. However, in the sheer variance of texture and technique on the canvas, we are better reminded of Hockney’s painterly contemporary, Howard Hodgkin. Hodgkin and Hockney were friends and peers, who painted each other at various stages in their career. Their relationship was one of immense mutual respect and influence, and in the hot oranges, cool blues, and thick sharp brushstrokes that populate this composition, Hockney seems to be have made direct reference to his compatriots work.
As explicated by the present work, the V.N. Paintings represent an extraordinary moment within David Hockney’s oeuvre. They represent the sum of his experience in the preceding years – in opera houses and Malibu landscapes, and in deference to art history – and yet, through their extraordinary abstract compositions, also appear to look forward. As described by, Tate Britain curator, Andrew Wilson: “the geometries that Hockney was exploring would go on to inform his paintings of the Grand Canyon later in the decade and his first paintings of Yorkshire. The narratives contained within each painting are what the viewer brings to it in terms of their movement into and through its depicted and suggested surfaces and spaces. With these paintings, Hockney believed that he was starting to find a way to represent three and four dimensions, space and movement – as well as emotion – on the flat surface of two dimensions” (Andrew Wilson, ‘Experiences of Space’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain (and travelling), David Hockney, 2017, p. 147).
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