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Hockney
And Nature

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Critical Review

An artist known for his love of Nature, the Hockney and Nature print series captures the longstanding link between his work and the natural world. His oeuvre is inextricably linked with the natural world, not just through subject but also in terms of his lifelong study of light and optics that pervades even his sparestportraits, his quietest interiors.

Never one to let a style define him, Hockney plays with the theme of nature to allow abstraction, fantasia and even allegory to enter his work. With works such as The Wave we are presented with an inky scene that recalls his fascination with water that we are familiar with through his pools series, at the same time nodding to masters such as Hokusai who famously depicted The Great Wave off Kanagawa as a woodblock print. Here the wave is reduced to a wash of colour, devoid of Hokusai’s detail and freed from the containment of a swimming pool, resulting in an expressive work that perhaps can be said to examine the ties between nature and our emotional states.

In works such as Tree, Hockney reduces the intricacies of nature to lines and curves, evoking an almost Futurist representation of the natural world. The tree’s branches appear to be made of curls of paper or sculpted blocks of stones, the trunk becoming stripes of colour, and yet the essential platonic form of the tree can still be felt. An Imaginary Landscape takes this a step further as Hockney presents a series of shapes on a plane, each independent mound somehow recalling natural wonders such as Mount Fuji or Monument Valley and yet these strange, almost volcanic, almost nuclear forms, remain resolutely against nature, their surfaces smooth and artificial, their extraction from any kind of context or background only serving to enhance their disconnect with nature.

Why is the Nature collection important?

Nature’s true essence is perhaps most closely felt in a work Hockney made in aid of charity in 1977, entitled The Prisoner For Amnesty International. Here we encounter a bleak figure sitting fully clothed under a shower enclosed on both sides by grey walls. Behind his cell, or shower cubicle, is a verdant natural landscape of trees against a line of hills and a blue sky. Here nature can be read as the embodiment of freedom, and its denial becomes tantamount to torture.

Whether imaginary or real, Hockney’s depictions of nature are always innovative and affecting. While he is perhaps best known for his portraits in interiors or his stylised swimming pools, these works, along with those in the Weather series, the Yosemite Suite and The Arrival of Spring in 2011 show the artist’s ongoing fascination with the untamed aspects of the natural world as well as his ability to dream up unchartered territory from his long career of perceiving and depicting the complications of light and space.

This collection of depictions of natural features or landscapes showcases Hockney’s ability to move effortlessly between styles as well as subjects. Ranging from geometric abstractions to detailed depictions here nature ranges from an element of everyday life in the city to a symbol of our fundamental human right to freedom.

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