See The World

“I’m really only interested in technology that is about pictures. I’m interested in anything that makes a picture. I was always interested in photography because it makes a picture. And even fax machines, when I found out you could make a picture if you did them right. There’s no such thing as a bad printing machine. So long as it prints, it’s doing something. If you feed the right things into it, the right things will come out of it. I’ve always gone into anything technological. I’m convinced that technology and art go together—and always have, for centuries. I pointed that out in Secret Knowledge [Hockney’s 2001 book positing that artists like Caravaggio and Da Vinci used lenses and optics to create their paintings]. I think it began in about 1420. What the art historians had forgotten is that in Chinese, Japanese, Persian, and Indian art, they never painted shadows. Why did they paint shadows in European art? Shadows are because of optics. Optics need shadows and strong light. Strong light makes the deepest shadows. It took me a few years to realize fully that the art historians didn’t grasp that. There are a lot of interesting new things, ideas, pictures.” David Hockney in conversation with Michael Govan, November 5, 2013.

In the early 2000s David Hockney turned the history of art upside down. It was an exciting and energizing moment. And these ideas came into view just as the internet began to manipulate and change our culture, our economics and our societies. One thing fed into the other. For many of us Hockney’s Secret Knowledge opened up new questions concerning representation, understanding and the reality of vision. It also changed our ideas about technology and art and the shared histories of those things. Fascinating. 

David Hockney Barry Humphries 2015

“A two-dimensional surface can easily be copied in two dimensions. It’s three dimensions that are hard to get onto two. That involves making a lot of decisions. You have to stylize it or something, interpret it. You’ve got to accept the flat surface. Not try and pretend it’s not there. Doesn’t that mean that we learn how to get used to pictures and interpret them? And isn’t that one reason why we are fascinated by pictures? I certainly am. 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 very interested in any way of making a picture that you come across….” David Hockney in conversation with Martin Gayford.

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.”  David Hockney in conversation with Martin Gayford, August 16, 2016.

One Comment

  • anon

    Neuroscience now tells us new things about memory.

    One is that ‘memory’ isn’t exactly that of an event, but of the most recent memory of it . . . and the most recent, the most recent, the most recent, and so on, as called forth. this suggests a recursive sequence of degraded copies, and is notable in terms of contemporary picture-making.

    Also of interest is that brains may make two copies of each memory at any instant. One copy is ‘stored’ in the hippocampus, and another in the cortex; they correlate to short-term and long-term memories as filed, retrieved, reviewed, etc.

    It’s not clear if this was what Hockney intuits as he works . . . But it certainly looked as such in his most recent show at Pace in NYC. Foremost among those paintings were bizarre renderings of Fra Angelico’s ‘Annunciation’ as models of perception, presented as canvases with saturated color, optical patterning, and shaped edges.

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