HOCKNEY: SPRING CANNOT BE CANCELLED (2021) & A CHRONOLOGY (2020)

I have to confess David Hockney always remained a bit under my radar – when I was younger and wilder, I probably thought him too conventional or so, and more importantly, it seems as if the museums I’ve visited the last 20 years in the various cities around the world didn’t have many of his paintings on display. I really cannot recall seeing a Hockney in real life – although I must have, I’m sure. But when I learned of the Van Gogh & Hockney exhibition in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2019 it was as if I was struck by lightning. Hockney’s landscape paintings of the last 15 years are among the best landscapes I know in the history of painting.

I’ve tried to remedy my ignorance by reading about him, and I have to say, I’m very much looking forward to the double exhibition in Bozar, Brussels, later this year.


DAVID HOCKNEY. A CHRONOLOGY. – Hans Werner Holzwarth, David Hockney, Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima & Lutz Eitel (2020)

This budget Taschen book – 20 euros, like the stellar Basquiat in the same 40th Anniversary Edition series – is a marvel. 511 pages, excellent reproductions and an authoritative, clear text by Lutz Eitel.

IT is a newly assembled edition from the SUMO size David Hockney: A Bigger Book and the chronology volume that accompanied that expensive limited edition mammoth. It is the only career spanning monograph in existence I know of. There’s 2007’s Hockney’s pictures by Thames & Hudson, but that is very, very low on text.

Effectively organized as a chronology, it starts at the end of the 50ies up onto 2016, and has about 1.5 page text for each year, followed by about 8 to 10 pages of art. Hockney’s full oeuvre is on display: paintings, water colors, drawings, photographic assemblages, stage designs, iPad drawings, etc.

The text is filled with interesting stuff. For instance, I was unaware that Hockney was the one who discovered the use of lenses by Vermeer, Ingres and Caravaggio in the early 2000s, an important discovery that changed the perception of that part of art history.

The only issue I have – as with the Basquiat  – is that the book doesn’t include the artworks’ whereabouts, although you can guess for some via the credits of the photos at the end. It does include a list of publications and shows for each year, and each time a full page photograph of Hockney himself too.

The book has me eager for more, especially for his work of the last 15 years, although his entire career is humbling indeed.

Simply put: a no brainer for any Hockney fan, even if it would cost double or thrice the price. Taschen has delivered yet again, but I’m not sure if it is still in print, even though it is a very recent title. It’s not listed on the Taschen website anymore, so if you can still find it, don’t dither.


SPRING CANNOT BE CANCELLED: DAVID HOCKNEY IN NORMANDY – Martin Gayford & David Hockney (2021)

When I saw this being published, I was instantly sold. Hockney, in his early 80ies, decided to let LA and London be, and moved to an old farm in Normandy to paint the arrival of spring on its four acres. That same spring coincided with the start of the 2020 pandemic.

For me, something hopeful radiates from this book: the uplifting colors of the cover, the magic of the title: nature as a living force irrespective of what humans do, the appeal of an artistic hermit’s life surrounded by nature, and the inspiring example of an independent, vigorous, happy octogenarian.

The book is somewhat falsely advertised though: “It is based on a wealth of new conversations and correspondence between Hockney and art critic Martin Gayford, his long-time friend and collaborator. Their exchanges are illustrated by a selection of Hockney’s new, unpublished Normandy iPad drawings and paintings alongside works by van Gogh, Monet, Bruegel, and others.”

This gives the impression that the book consists mainly of “their exchanges”, but that’s not true at all. The book is mainly Martin Gayford’s musings and anecdotes about Hockney and art in general, indeed based on their Facetime talks and emails. I’d say the bulk of the text, about 80%, is Gayford’s prose, intersected with fragments of what Hockney said or wrote.

As for the images: the book has 280 pages, with 114 illustrations. About 30 of those are new iPad paintings. It also has a few new paintings. The rest consists of older Hockney works, and works by other artists illustrating a particular point about art Gayford wants to make, or paintings Hockney brings up during their conversation.

So if you are first and foremost interested in the visuals of the arrival of spring in Normandy, it’s better to buy the Royal Academy’s publication accompanying their exhibition of Hockney’s new works, as that includes 116 of the iPad paintings, reproduced in a much bigger format. Both books are in a similar price range.

This book has a cozy, friendly atmosphere, and as such it was a delight to read – balm for the soul, so you wish. I wouldn’t call it a “manifesto” as the dust jacket has it, but it was “uplifting” indeed.

Not that it is fully without problems: the main issue being that Gayford isn’t critical at all, and I think the book would have benefited if he would have given a different viewpoint to some of Hockney’s statements – most notably about Duchamp and about photography. Another issue is its overall lightness: some parts border on the clichéd – panta rhei, true, but that isn’t very insightful. Gayford is at his best when he simply tries to describe Hockney’s work: “a seamless blend of the sophisticated and the straightforward.”

All in all, Spring Cannot Be Cancelled manages to convey Hockney’s “gusts of enthusiasm” wonderfully, and while I didn’t think I needed a reminder that the physical world is beautiful indeed, this book nonetheless did so, and I am thankful for that.


Click here for an index of my non-fiction or art book reviews only, and here for an index of my longer fiction reviews of a more scholarly & philosophical nature.

Consult the author index for my other reviews, or my favorite lists.

9 responses to “HOCKNEY: SPRING CANNOT BE CANCELLED (2021) & A CHRONOLOGY (2020)

  1. I went to Hockney’s RA exhibition in 2012, and was taken aback to see 50+ people sat watching a video of a view taken through the windscreen of a car as it travelled along an unremarkable country lane edged with flowering hawthorn. I thought then that art had eaten itself…and that those present and sitting rapt had perhaps lost their relationship with nature – how else to explain this phenomenon? The pictures were more impressive…

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I’m not mistaken that work deals with multi-perspective perception. I like the idea in principle, but I haven’t seen it in real life, so I can’t really comment on in – maybe it’s the Emperor’s new clothes indeed. I do think some of his photo collages I’ve seen in these 2 books are very strong, and they are kind of grounded in the same idea, but it might not translate to moving images.

      But what you describe in a sense is indeed true for all representative art: why not look at the real thing? Hockney would say, and I tend to agree, that great artists represent the real thing in a way that makes you see the real anew.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll definitely need to see more Hockney, my knowledge of him is limited.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I admire Hockney’s work, though I can’t say that I love it. It’s a cerebral appreciation I have, not an emotional one, and it slightly irritates me why I can’t put my finger on quite why.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Aonghus Fallon

    I’ve never stood in front of a Hockney either, so it’s interesting to hear his landscapes made such a big impression on you. The reality is very different from the reproduction. I used to think Monet’s stuff looked like it ought to be on a chocolate box until I went to the National Gallery in London. His work was way better than I expected. The size of a work – how it’s bigger or smaller than you might expect – is a factor, I reckon. Maybe the same is true of Hockney? (somebody sent me a book of those landscapes for Xmas and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them).

    Re his versatility. I saw a documentary about him years ago. He’d put up a series of speakers along a winding mountain road – I don’t think you could call it an installation per se, as it was outdoors, but it was certainly very different from what I’d normally associate with him.

    I was is the Van Gogh Museum years ago. It’s an amazing piece of architecture.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Somehow most Hockney’s do translate rather well to print, but I agree, there is no substitute for the real thing.

      No sure about that ‘installation’, doesn’t sound very appealing to me, but again, I’d have to experience it. But I like the fact that he wants to explore different ideas rather than just paint or draw, even though that’s obviously his biggest love.

      As for the Van Gogh: next time I’ll visit it, I’ll pay attention to the building itself, I have to admit I haven’t done that in the past.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Aonghus Fallon

    Re the installation. This was pretty much my reaction. I’m not sure it worked, but I was impressed by how Hockney was willing to go outside his comfort zone.

    I’m still curious about the paintings – I hope I didn’t come across as dismissive – and actually feel I need to see them before making any sort of judgement call.

    Liked by 2 people

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