Because I grew up on the East Coast, I still get a kick out of towns, hills, creeks, rivers, and roads with Western names. Raised on enough Westerns for it to be a part of my television DNA, I don’t think a born Westerner would derive the same pleasure, as I made note on an impossibly long drive the names: Sweet Briar, Tom Cat Hill, Lost Man Creek, Rogue River, Wonder Stump Road, and dozens more. As a writer, I may use them someday.
“It sometimes takes a foreigner to come and see a place and paint it,” David Hockney once explained. We did not know then, on our drive to San Francisco, that we would be attending Hockney’s “A Bigger Exhibition” at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. But that’s just what we did. And it made sense. It made sense of everything.
Having studied at the Royal Academy of Art in London, Hockney moved to Los Angeles in the 1960’s. There, the extraordinarily talented British artist immersed himself in swimming pools, mid-century architecture, palm trees, portraiture, and the Southern Californian sun-drenched light for twenty-five years. Returning to his native Yorkshire, England in 1996, “A Bigger Exhibition” covers the years since his return to England. Hockney’s 21st century art, one might say. More than ever now his subject is light, from the bleakness of winter to the excitement of its return in spring and summer, and throughout the hours in a day.
“People don’t look very hard,” notes Hockey. “I do, and I do something with it.” 300+ works make up this monumental and expansive exhibition in oil, watercolor, charcoal drawings, digital films, and iPad paintings. A seventy-six year old man today, Hockney is running circles around us and calling our attention to the world.
Stepping out into the park, every which way I turned was a “Hockney.” The sunlight through trees, the trees bereft of leaves, and this sensation continued all the ride up the coast toward home. The Tuscan hillsides of Napa and Sonoma, the cathedral-like presence of redwood forests, the Big Sur experience with rocks, the Pacific as a sheet of mica, and gleaming white towns along its edge. We took the long coastal route back, following the contours of hills and river beds on roads that switched and turned south, then north again. The Old Coast Highway. And I saw it all through David Hockney’s eyes.
This is why we need artists in this world.