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Critical Review

Always one to experiment with the boundaries of a medium, Hockney’s almost-cubist Photo Collages play with perspective and fragmentation.

Always one to experiment with the boundaries of a medium, Hockney’s almost-cubist Photo Collages play with perspective and fragmentation. He had long been interested in photography and its potential to fragment a scene into its disparate parts but while earlier collages saw him arranging photographs in a grid, in these later works he overlays the images to create a Cubist effect. He called these works ‘joiners’. Allowing for movement and fluidity in perspective Hockney believed these pieces were closer to how the eye actually sees, whereas one image, taken by a lens from just one angle, cannot come anywhere near the physical perception of a person, object or scene.

The works in this collection reflect Hockney’s long running interest in optics and perspective and sees him extend it onto family members and friends as well as landscapes and interiors. We are presented with familiar figures from his prints such as Ann Upton, Celia Birtwell and Gregory Evans as well as familiar settings such as the Grand Canyon and the pool of his home in Los Angeles. Whereas before Hockney had dismissed photography as ‘All right if you don’t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralysed cyclops-for a split second,’ here we see him engaged in a new fascination with the medium. After so long challenging himself across the mediums of paint and print it is unsurprising that he would finally come round to the medium that descends is often described as ‘drawing with light’. What he saw as a fixed viewpoint became something fluid and dynamic when doubled endlessly to create a composite image.

With works such as Freda Bringing Ann & Me A Cup Of Tea he pushes the medium even further, allowing the coloured background to add another element to the composition, while details of the scene spiral out from the middle. Meanwhile in George, Blanche, Celia, Albert And Percy, London, January the traditional family portrait is subverted, the many photographs adding layers of time and movement, documenting changes in expression and light, to become a tableau vivant.

One of Hockney’s most famous works in this collection is Walking In The Zen Garden At The Ryoanji Temple, which shows the famous Japanese garden only lightly fragmented, its quiet seriousness lifted by the repetition of the mismatched red and black socks at the bottom of the frame. This way of making prints became a crucial part of Hockney’s work while travelling and there are a number of photo collages from Japan as well as numerous road trips in America, including a composite image of the view from the south rim of the Grand Canyon which adds another layer of complexity to this already unfathomable landscape.