The greatest of David Hockney’s paintings are imbued with a sense of nostalgia and emotional weight. From the Double Portraits of the late 1960s and early ’70s to the spectacular landscapes of the late ’90s and early 2000s, Hockney’s work enables the viewer to participate in a familiar scene. The present work is no different, a painting of the purpose-built studio at the artist’s mother’s house in Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast, a place imbued with personal significance. Hockney began the V.N. paintings in Bridlington at the start of the 1990s, shortly after his mother first moved there, and from then on would return every Christmas to visit his family. Later, during a sojourn in 1997 to spend time with his close friend Jonathan Silver who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1996, his experience back in Bridlington would prove to be a catalyst for Hockney's large-scale Yorkshire landscapes and paintings of the Wolds. Indeed, 1996 was a year of melancholia for Hockney. His friend Peter Adam describes visiting him at the start of the year, and found him in a downhearted mood, “reciting a list of the departed, people he had known, shared a bed with or a drink… so many people, the most shining, the most brilliant, the most hopeful… [were] no more” (Peter Adam, David Hockney and his Friends, London 1997, p. 132). The present work speaks to this sense of loss and the increased isolation brought on by Hockney's ever-worsening deafness, but simultaneously demonstrates the fashion in which his art became a recourse through which he could celebrate his friends in their absence.
As with the landscapes that Hockney would begin a few years later, Bridlington Studio Interior is presumably painted from memory. The easel on which Hockney paints is included within the picture, suggesting that the work depicts a view of, rather than a view from, his easel. The work locates Hockney within a lineage of artists who have painted their studios, including Gustave Courbet, Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer – whose exhibition at the Mauritshuis had greatly impressed Hockney in early 1996 – and Henri Matisse, whose seminal work The Red Studio (1911, The Museum of Modern Art, New York) had influenced a generation of painters. Much as in Matisse's painting, Hockney’s studio is empty of both artist and subject, emphasising again his feeling of isolation. The objects depicted only serve to reinforce this impression. Hockney painted Henry Geldzahler, who died in 1994, on multiple occasions in front a screen not dissimilar to the one standing behind the easel, and for each of his friends that became ill “it had been his habit to paint them a vase of flowers and give it as a get well card”, which lends significance to the yellow flowers perched on the table (Christopher Simon Sykes, Hockney: A Pilgrim’s Progress, London 2014, p. 320).
However, for all that Bridlington Studio Interior is a work about loss, the warm colours prevent it from becoming a lament, as does Hockney’s technical emphasis on invention and progress. Bright colours and dramatic foreshortening, along with a basic fidelity to painting, were enough to separate Hockney from the recently crowned leaders of the British art scene led by Damien Hirst in London. Furthermore, the formal devices at play here, such as using the easel and desk drawer to anchor the scene to the picture plane, and the exaggerated perspectival shrinking of the armchairs to create a sense of depth, see Hockney drawing on his wealth of experience and experimentation to create entirely new fashions of representation. Stylistically innovative and laden with personal significance, Bridlington Studio Interior epitomises Hockney’s work from the 1990s, and serves as evidence of a pivotal bridge between the V.N. paintings and the first of the Yorkshire landscapes.
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