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“I can find excitement in raindrops falling on a puddle”: lessons for creatives from David Hockney.

by Nextness published February 7, 2012 posted in Inspiration

David Hockney’s 75, and with the passing of Lucien Freud he’s been hailed as Britain’s greatest living artist. (Though how he feels about that quick and tasteless passing of the baton is unknown.) During his lifetime he’s made the journey from making ads to art school, from LA to the Grand Canyon, around the world and back to Bridlington, his Yorkshire home. After learning to draw and paint with “the hand, the eye and the heart,” he’s adopted new technologies and pushed them to the limits. His most recent exhibition is on at the Royal Academy in London showcasing his love for landscape. If you can see it, you must. If you can’t, Martin Gayford‘s book A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney is a wonderful introduction to a man with lessons for creatives in all disciplines.

Pictures make us see the world.

Detail from Self Portrait, 1954 | David Hockney

I’ve always believed that pictures make us see the world. Without them, I’m not sure what anybody would see. A lot of people think they know what the world looks like because they’ve seen it on television. But if you are deeply fascinated by what the world really looks like, you are forced to be interested in any way of making a picture that you come across.

David Hockney 'A Bigger Grand Canyon' 1998 oil on 60 canvases 207.0 x 744.2 cm

One of my interests in the Grand Canyon was that when you go to the edge there you just look. There are not many places in nature where you do that; you just stand in one place and start looking.

The hand, the eye and the heart.

East Yorkshire. Spring Landscape, 2004 watercolor on paper (2 sheets) | David Hockney

I used watercolour because I wanted a flow from my hand, partly because of what I had learned of the Chinese attitude to painting. They say you need three things for paintings: the hand, the eye, and the heart. To won’t do. A good eye and heart is not enough; neither is a good hand and eye. I thought that was very, very good. So I took up watercolour, which I had not used much before.

The value of limitations.

Detail from Lawn Sprinkled | David Hockney

Limitations are really good for you. They are a stimulant. If you were told to make a drawing of a tulip using five lines, or one using a hundred, you’d be more inventive with the five. After all, drawing in itself is always a limitation. It’s black and white, or line or not line, charcoal, pencil, pen. You might have a bit of colour – but if you can use only three colours, you’ve got to make them look whatever colour you want. What did Picasso say? “If you haven’t got any red, use blue.” Make blue look like red.

But Hockney never met Picasso.

Too in awe of him. Why would I waste his time? - The Guardian.

On seeing.

Most people feel that the world looks like the photograph. I’ve always assumed that the photograph is nearly right, but that little bit by which it misses makes it miss by a mile. This is what I grope at.

Detail from A Bigger Splash, 1967 | David Hockney

I think you can train visual memory a bit if you are painting. You decide: I shall go and look at this aspect this morning… After painting [Giverny] for all those years, [Monet] would have systems in his head. I assume he went with a question, and found the answer. If you don’t have a question in mind, there’s far too much to look at.

Peter Getting Out of Nick's Pool, 1966 | David Hockney

We see with memory. My memory is different from yours, so if we are both standing in the same place we’re not quite seeing the same thing. Different individuals have different memories, therefore other elements are playing a part. Whether you have been in a place before will affect you, and how well you know it. There’s no objective vision ever – ever.

On drawing.

Being able to draw means being able to put things in believable space; people who don’t draw very well can’t do that.

Detail from Ossie Wearing a Fairisle Sweater, 1970 | David Hockney

I thought one of the saddest things ever was the abandonment of drawing in art schools. Even if everyone in the end is self-taught, you can still teach quite a bit in drawing. 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.

On his need for space.

I watched the reactions to my show on Twitter – I read the reviews on Twitter. I follow it, I’m an observer on it, but I don’t want to tweet because it’s too time-consuming, but it’s a very fascinating new space…I’m fascinated following it all and you can follow it in Bridlington. It’s isolated physically, which we like, but it’s not isolated in any other way now, and it’s a more interesting place to follow things, I think. Often stepping back you see more, don’t you? - The Guardian.

Detail from Celia in a Black Slip Reclining, Paris Dec, 1973 | aDavid Hockney

I lived in Paris for two years from 1973 to 1975. The Left Bank was still cheap. I worked in one big room, with two little bedrooms off it. I liked it because I could walk into a cafe and there were always people you knew, and the great thing was that if you got fed up with it you could just get up and go. I like people, but because I lived in the centre, people started coming round to see me; and when they arrived at 3.30 in the afternoon and were still there at midnight, I realised I couldn’t work there. I decided to leave one day, packed up the next.

Bigger Trees Near Warter or/ou Peinture Sur Le Motif Pour Le Nouvel Age Post-Photographique, 2007 | David Hockney

Here [at Bridlington, Yorkshire] I can paint 24 hours a day. Nothing else occupies your mind, other than at your choice… I’m not anti-social, I’m just unsocial.

Hockney’s incredible energy.

I can go in [to a show] on my knees and come away dancing. But if I’m honest, the work itself keeps me going as much as that does. My theatre colleagues would always slump after a show opened. But I am always on to something else. - The Guardian.

David Hockney poses with his painting "The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty-eleven)" at the Royal Academy of Arts in London January 16, 2012

I think I’m greedy, but I’m not greedy for money – I think that can be a burden – I’m greedy for an exciting life. I want it to be exciting all the time, and I get it, actually. On the other hand, I can find excitement, I admit, in raindrops falling on a puddle and a lot of people wouldn’t. I intend to have it exciting until the day I fall over.

Unless otherwise stated, all quotes come from Martin Gayford‘s wonderful book A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney. This is just a small extract; we recommend you buy it and read it in full. For more inspiration, we also like the doco David Hockney: A Bigger Picture (2009) by Bruno Wollheim. Tomorrow we’ll be focusing on David Hockney’s love of the iPod/iPad and how he uses it in his practice. Don’t miss it!

Suggestions: If you like this post, you might enjoy “What matters is the work”: 25 lessons for creatives in Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids.’ | “I’m here to say something and to touch other people”: lessons for creatives from Keith Richards’ ‘Life.’ | Don’t give up: lessons for creatives from Miranda July.| How to get out of a creative rut.




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