David Hockney and the Grand Canyon

Happy 80th birthday, today, to David Hockney!

In honour of his day, Louisiana Channel have posted an excellent 15 minute video interview with the artist, talking about his painting “A Closer Grand Canyon”


In the interview, David talks about:

  • how photography tends to push things further away, so although he photographed Grand Canyon, he felt he had to go back to paint it

  • “I tend to think the whole of landscape experience is really spatial – it’s a spatial experience.” 


  • how large projects bring their own technical problems (whether a huge novel, a large drama production, a huge film epic)


  • how he took a very long time to make this picture, living for a week right on the edge of the Canyon, just looking for 3 days, then beginning drawings, then home to studio to paint


  • *”I’m rather fascinated by flatness, in a way” – he considers how flatness is perceived in relation to size – if humans were tiny, a ‘flat’ canvas would seem like a mountain


  • “Here’s my criticism of ‘Avatar’…. I got a bit tired of it quickly – you never saw a really big space”  He wanted to see the texture of a leaf or tree bark but didn’t.  In real life, real 3D you get to look up, down, all around, but you didn’t get that in the film because they were always moving the cameras too quickly and making you look at what they wanted the viewer to see


  • He’s visually bored by modern film style like Avatar: “I can’t stand it anymore – I think it’s a visual bore now – this is MTV actually – constant, constant moving – they’re always telling you where to look”


  • There is an IMAX cinema close by the Grand Canyon, showing the Grand Canyon on film – but he points out it is from a single camera, so only has the perspective of one point of view


  • the viewing experience in gallery.  He planned for it to be shown first in the Pompidou Centre, in a large room, with an earlier version at one end, and this at the other.  However, he had not foreseen that with the number of people viewing, in the middle of the room, you couldn’t see uninterrupted views of both canvases.


A couple of months ago, I went to the huge retrospective of David’s works, in Tate Britain, London – including the work he is making at the time of this video recording – a slow progress along a lane, using 9 cameras, done in 4 different seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn winter).  It was stunning.  An immersive experience as each progress along the lane was projected on a different wall, at the same pace, with seats in the centre for viewing.  So, at the same time, wherever you turned, you were progressing along the same lane, but in different seasons.

The winter snow scene version especially repaid viewing.  Totally silent (except for the comments overheard from other visitors), it needed no added music.  It was a feast for the eyes.  At the very end of his interview he quips “9 cameras, 9D – isn’t that 3 times better than 3D”?!


Because the interview takes place in front of the Grand Canyon picture itself, you can see its comparative size to its painter:

Screen shot 2017-07-09 at 15.36.56.png


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