I don't know whether to love or hate this book for being so inspiring. Many times while reading it, I had the impulse to close my gallery, stop writing this blog, and return to making art. Martin Gayford's A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney chronicles discussions between the art critic and artist over a ten year period, giving the reader unique access to this inventive artist's process and his ongoing experimentation with new media. Why does this book make me want to make art? Because Hockney has never stopped seeing, has never lost touch with the primacy of making marks and striving to represent reality in ever more vivid and inventive ways.
Whether working with traditional oil paints or on an iPad, drawing is at the heart of what Hockney does:
"I thought one of the saddest things ever was the abandonment of drawing in art schools ... You can't teach someone to draw like Rembrandt, but you can teach them to draw quite competently. Teaching someone to draw is teaching them to look. When it was given up, I kept arguing with people. They said we don't need it any more. But I said that giving up drawing is leaving everything to photography, which isn't going to be that interesting."
Gayford and Hockney's conversations range from Monet, Turner and Constable to printmaking, theater set design, fax machines and copiers. The contrast between the landscape of Hockney's current home of Yorkshire in Great Britain and his Los Angeles home of 20 years is as central to the discussion of Hockney's development as an artist as are the new mediums he embraces. When the iPad was released in early 2010, he immediately started investigating the possibilities, making daily drawings of the Yorkshire landscape:
This is a real new medium. You miss the resist of paper a little, but you can get a marvellous flow. There are gains and losses with everything. So much variety is possible. You can't overwork this, because it's not a real surface ... You can put a bright, bright blue on top of an intense yellow. But you still have to think in layers as you do with lithographs, watercolours, any kind of prints. But there are other big differences in how you can work. The iPad is like an endless sheet of paper. You can adjust scale forever.
A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney is a fun and insightful read, richly illustrated with reproductions of Hockney's and other artists' work, as well as photographs of the artist working. We see Hockney at the height of his artistic powers, bringing to picture-making the accumulation of a lifetime of seeing, working, studying and always moving forward.
As for me -- am I going to close up shop and return to making art? Not today, but I could try to carve out some time every morning for an iPad drawing ... or wait for the feeling to pass.