Kunsthalle Helsinki is hosting an intriguing exhibition on the works by English modern art super star David Hockney. The exhibition covers five decades of the octogenarian’s career, from portraits from the 60s to present day candy coloured ipad art.
I really like how Kunsthalle has managed in the limited space also bring in examples of Hockney’s photo collages and even poster art. I visited Hockney exhibition in China a few years back. At that time, I was impressed by his melancholy depictions of English countryside, all in huge dream like paintings created with an ipad. Lately his style in ipad art is getting closer to his actual painting and drawing style, which is detailed and precise. It is interesting to look at his newest works, like those which were presented by Pace Gallery in London earlier this year. Walk Around the Alcazar (2017) and Grand Canyon works from the same year also break the usual form and shape of a painting of a view.
By the pool
It is well covered that US is one of the places that inspired Hockney, who has painted in all parts of the world. Personally, I am most moved by the paintings he has done by the pool in California. The artist, as a silent witness, portrays visions of longing and lust with seemingly simple, even naïve portrays and candy colours. I am always touched how he positions himself as a passive observer, a bystander taking an almost voyeuristic stance of unobtainability to his subjects. (On the other hand, in many of his portrays he makes his objects, especially lovers, strongly engaged, with openly sexual poses and gazes.)
One of my favourite examples is Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, from 1966. The object of erotic admiration, sun reflecting from the window and flickering on the pool are all painted with similar one-dimensional technique. Hockney has toyed with perspective throughout his career. Few examples of this style are present in the Kunsthalle exhibition, a set of lithography flowers. Forever curious and never stale Hockney has lately been moving towards video art.
Just us soldiers
The most well known and celebrated work in the exhibition is undoubtedly We Two Boys Clinging from 1961, a time when homosexuality was still illegal in England. Hockney was then studying his second semester at the Royal College of Art. The work is inspired by a poem by an American poet Walt Whitman (1819-92).
“We two boys together clinging/
One the other never leaving/
Up and down the roads going/ North and South excursions making/
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching/
Arm’d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving/
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening/
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing/
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing/
Fulfilling our foray.”
The poem is written to glorify comradery and masculine friendship between soldiers. Hockney among others has chosen a different reading. He has cited the poem in his work, where two childlike male characters are kissing and holding hands in front of a blue coloured, graffiti adorned background.
Walking out of the Kusthalle Helsinki exhibition I was left waiting for a whole exhibition of Hockney’s portrait work to arrive in Finland soon. But the exhibition is not to be missed, if you have interest in modern art – past and present.
Kunsthalle is closed on Mondays and opens on other days at 11 am. It closes Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 6 pm and 8pm on Wednesdays. Weekends open until 5 pm. Take your date to restaurant Farang in the same building for further talks on Hockney aesthetics. Nervaderinkatu 3.