On the way to Sligo, I lost a contact lens in the car. Negotiating a world a-swirl with umbrellas and cars and flickering lights, I was reminded of how much my sense of self depends on my sight. After I received a replacement lens, I retreated into a bookshop, to find some solace among the books and empty notebooks, thus dispelling anxiety with desire.
Among the piles of books, Ali Smith’s Autumn appealed, but purely for the cover art: Early November Tunnel by David Hockney, oil on two canvases, painted in the early days of his series on the English landscape of his youth. A luminous road, flanked by sinuous trees of flame and shade. Hockney’s canvases are large; sometimes a work is composed of several canvases. The seam between the two canvases is a reminder of the artist working not on a huge canvas unspooled in the cocooning space of a studio, but on the side of a road, perhaps alone, vulnerable to the elements.
According to Art in America, “[Hockney’s] vast depictions of the wooded Yorkshire Wolds, ... for all their fizzy hues and gargantuan, room-size scale, seem facile and uninspired.” This dismissal is based on the perception that “[t]here’s no attempt at social commentary anymore, no sense that art should be anything other than a visual exercise."
It’s a take I don’t agree with. Hockney records a disappearing world, a world painted from observation and memory. For him, "Every tree is different. Every single one. The branches, the forces in it; they are marvellously different. You are thrilled. This is the infinity of nature.” I feel we need this slow, quietly ecstatic attention to nature, more than ever.