Hockney’s 25 Trees and other pictures at Salt’s Mill

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On Sunday we had another trip over the border into Yorkshire. This time to re-visit the exhibition of pictures by David Hockney at Salts Mill near Bradford. We’d been over to Saltaire and seen the exhibition in October last year, but wanted to have another look before it finishes at the end of April.

Hockney hardly seems to have been out of the spotlight since the autumn last year – with numerous articles in the press and appearances on the radio (including a special edition of Start the Week with Andrew Marr on Boxing Day) and TV, featuring on the Culture Show and even Countryfile. There’s been a lot of interest in his work producing pictures on his iPhone and iPad and the large number of paintings he’s created of the countryside in the East Yorkshire Wolds that formed the basis of his massive exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

The exhibition is on the top floor of the Mill and features Hockney’s triptych showing the same view of a row of trees in Bridlington. The full title is ’25 Trees between Bridlington School and Morrison’s supermarket along Bessingby Road in the Semi-Egyptian style’. It’s a photographic work with each scene made up of multiple photographs. The photographs were taken at different times of the year, two during the winter – one with the trees covered with snow while the other is a cold, grey winter’s day at the end of February – and the third at the height of summer.

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From a distance the joins between the individual photographs making up the panoramas weren’t noticeable, but could be seen if you looked at them very carefully close up. Hockney has manipulated the images to some extent on the computer. This was evident on the sky on two of the pictures and also on the grass where he’s scribbled in some lines. Again, these are manipulations are only really noticeable if you look at the work at close range.

At first the three views appeared to be identical, but after looking at them for a little while, differences became apparent. The viewpoints were different and some of the trees were shifted slightly – they were not in exactly the same positions in all three pictures. The snowy scene also seemed to have been photographed a little further forward as the grass verge in the foreground was missing.

I thought that 25 Trees was an impressive, well composed work  making something interesting out of what could appear to be a mundane subject. It also demonstrates Hockney’s skill at using photography and in manipulating the images to produce a coherent work. Of course, he has played with photography before and examples of these works, including some landscapes,  are displayed on the ground floor in the “1853 Gallery”. The earlier pieces are really photomontages made up of individual photographs and the joins are not only visible, he hasn’t tried to stitch them together. Rather he has created a cubist type effect with multiple viewpoints. This is particularly true of his picture of Theresa Russell which is not unlike the cubist works by Picasso et al. In 25 Trees the view isn’t that which would have been seen by an observer at a fixed position – he has also used multiple viewpoints which which are consistent with the an observer moving along the road.

I also liked another picture of trees featured in the exhibition – “Tall Black Trees” (2008). This was a photographic silhouette of a tall tree that had been digitally manipulated. Again, I thought that the composition was effective and the digital manipulation was relatively minor. At first it was difficult to decide whether it was a painting, a photograph or a digitally created image. In reality it had elements of all three.

There were a large number of portraits of family and friends created by computer and printed using a colour laser jet printer. Over the years Hockney has produced many portraits of his family and circle of friends using more traditional techniques – painting, etching  and lithography. So here he was simply continuing with that tradition, taking advantage of more recent innovations. His style transfer well to the new medium as he tends to use large areas of flat colour in his images. It was interesting to compare the computer generated pictures with some earlier portraits displayed in the permanent exhibition on the ground floor of the mill in the “1853 Gallery”.

I particularly liked the portrait of his brother, looking somewhat bemused as he plays with what I expect is an iPhone that Hockney must have given him. He has a somewhat bemused expression which has been captured very effectively. His brother looks very similar to the renowned artist – but conservatively dressed in a business suit. I also liked the picture of Margaret, his sister. I was struck with the family resemblance. All three siblings have the same mouth!

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Copies of these prints were also displayed on the walls of Salt’s Diner on the second floor we we had an excellent dinner, and also afternoon coffee and cakes later in the day.

The exhibition also showed a large number of images that Hockney had created on his iPhone and iPad. These were projected in turn on to the wall in a darkened, partitioned off section of the gallery, by three computer projectors, each image being displayed for a few seconds. It was unfortunate that middle projector was slightly out of focus – this was also the case during our visit in October.

There has been a lot of publicity around Hockney’s adoption of the Brushes application to create images, first on an iPhone and more lately with the iPad. He has been noted as saying that he uses it like a sketchbook. Hockney likes to try out new ideas – in the past he’s created works with a fax machine and also some of the early colour printers, and examples are shown elsewhere in the Mill. He’s very much an “early adopter”, being prepared to experiment and try out new ideas.  Again I think that his work adapts very well to the new medium. A number of works displayed in the “1853 Gallery” are simple, quick sketches of flowers and other objects which are very similar to the images he produces with his phone and tablet.

After our earlier visit to the Mill I spent some time reading up on Hockney’s, looking at reproductions in books and on the web, and have become quite interested in his work. So I have been disappointed that I haven’t been able to go down to London to see his exhibition at the Royal Academy. However, I do find these “blockbuster” shows overwhelming. The vast number of paintings can be too much and the crowds make it hard to spend time looking at the works for more than a few seconds (if you can see them at all through the throng) and there is little opportunity to go back and look at the work as you are herded through the gallery.

To be honest, I prefer smaller, more focused, exhibitions with a representative number of works that maybe only cover a few aspects of the artist’s oeuvre, but which you can study properly at your leisure. So I very much enjoyed the exhibition at Salts Mill. It was a good opportunity to look at an important development in Hockney’s work and the presence of a large number of examples of earlier work on the ground floor meant it was possible to put the new pictures into context, seeing how his approach has developed. But we were able to spend time looking at them – and then revisit for another look after we’d taken a break for something to eat.  Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to see examples of his landscape paintings, which featured in the London exhibition, over the next year or so in other locations.