The impressive David Hockney Show which closed recently at the NGV, having attracted big crowds, will have left no one in any doubt that there is much more to Hockney than Los Angeles swimming pools. Late last year Hockney published a fascinating new book – A History of Pictures – with co-author Martin Gayford, a biographer of artists whose writing on art is well known to readers of this magazine. They use the word ‘pictures’ in the broadest sense; representations of the three-dimensional world on flat surfaces whether rock walls, canvas, paper, cinema screens or smartphones. The relationships between those varieties of depictions are the subject of this important book.
Important it may be, but stuffy it is not. It is written as a dialogue between Hockney and Gayford, laid out like a script. It’s a highly individual view of the history of pictures from the standpoints of its two authors. It is lavishly illustrated, wittily and insightfully. One example: a ravishing still of Ingrid Bergman from Casablanca is used by Hockney to show Hollywood ‘at its slickest… lighting men always studied painting’. Their writing about painting techniques is riveting; Las Meninas, a palace painting by Velazquez seems even more miraculous when analysed by them. The chapter headings capture attention; e.g., ‘Van Eyck’s studio would have been like MGM’, making a point about the complex techniques he used. Later, channeling our PM, Hockney says: ‘Now is an exciting moment in the history of pictures’. You’ll love it.
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