Helena Tarn Art

Purple Fields and Pink Skies

As I’ve written previously, I wanted to write about some of the paintings and painters that inspire me. I am not an art historian, just an art lover. The views here are my own and I’m simply relating why I love a painting and how it relates to my own work and experiences. Hopefully it will help you get to know me a bit better and see how these artworks have impacted me over the years.

I always knew about David Hockney, but apart from the fact he was from Yorkshire and lived in LA in the 70’s I didn’t know much about his work. When I was living in London a few years back you couldn’t miss billboards advertising a new show of his at the Royal Academy. The posters were so alluring, the bright colourful fields bellowing out across the beige tube platform. The papers were raving about this new Hockney collection, mostly done on an iPad, inspired by the winding Yorkshire villages and countryside. Living in the grey of urban London, I was always looking for an injection of colour – and one reminiscent of my Yorkshire home? Well, it couldn’t be missed!

Although the exhibition spanned several months, I did of course leave it to the last day. The advance tickets had all sold out, but there were still some available if you queued. So, traipsing to Piccadilly on a wet dreary morning I joined the huge line snaking around the grand courtyard of the Academy. Was it worth standing in a queue in the pouring rain to see the exhibition?? Was it?? You bet it was! And it changed my view of paintings and colour forever.

The exhibition was titled ‘The Bigger Picture’ and showed a series of paintings of the East Yorkshire landscape chronicling the change from winter to summer. The show consisted of over 100 iPad drawings, several of which were big (I mean enormous at 12ft x 32ft… mammoth!) Standing in the gallery, surrounded by these huge, vivid and brightly colourful landscapes was breathtaking. The fields and valleys that I know so well from my childhood, painted in bright blues, pinks and purples, so well known and yet so fresh and exotic! Like looking at fields through a kaleidoscope! It made me think how Hockney really pushed the boundaries of colour – just because we see a brown tree, why not paint it purple? It is something that has stayed with me as I paint landscapes now. I want to stay true to the essence of a landscape painting, but at the same time, by playing with the colour and choosing the unexpected, it gives a fresh, almost childlike wonder to an otherwise ordinary scene. I like to think that when I paint a coastline neon pink, Hockney would approve!

On a recent trip to Yorkshire, England to visit my family, I knew I had to visit some of Hockney’s works which are housed at Salts Mill in Bradford. Not only were several of his works from the same ‘A Bigger Picture: The Arrival Of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire’ exhibition being shown, but his most recent work ‘A Year In Normandie’ is also on display until September 2022. At 90.75 metres wide, this is Hockney’s largest work to date; a vibrant and joyful frieze, recording the changing seasons in and around his French garden. Viewing the work – walking, turning and returning to particular details – we join the artist in contemplation of the ever changing natural world. The piece joins together 220 iPad paintings created in 2020, each little section full to the brim of detail and bright colour. The bright colourful paintings were housed in the roof space of the old Salts Mill, a former textile mill, which is now an art gallery and World Heritage site. Taking inspiration from the Bayeux Tapestry, Hockney’s hope is that the viewer will walk past it and experience in one picture the year in Normandie. It was really spectacular and a clever documentation of a beautiful garden scene.

On another level of the mill, was a selection of paintings from the ‘A Bigger Picture’ collection. Not all the paintings from the original exhibition at the Royal Academy were on show, including the huge 32ft pieces (and admittedly, my favourites weren’t there), but it was still a worthwhile trip nonetheless. The pictures, on display for the first time in the North of England, celebrate fleeting moments of intense beauty, and remind us of the importance of – and the joy we can get from looking very closely. The riot of colour in the Yorkshire countryside was as vibrant and joyous as I remembered.

This series of paintings is a detailed study of the changing seasons on Woldgate, near Bridlington in East Yorkshire. Each separate image depicts a specific day between January 1st and May 31st 2011. Hockney drew the arresting and intimate series on his iPad. Hockney loved the speed of drawing on the iPad. He says:

Turner would have loved it. You can be very subtle with transparent layers. The light changes so quickly here, so you have to choose how you want to depict it. I realised how fast I can capture it with the iPad, a lot faster than watercolour for example. Simply faster. You can choose a new colour or brush more rapidly. You don’t have to wait for anything to dry‘.

As a painter myself who loves to depict the wild landscape, this exhibition from early 2012 has stayed with me. Hockney’s use of bright, vibrant colours create a playful, cheeky mood; work that is aesthetically and technically pleasing, yet not taking itself too seriously. I also admire Hockney’s emphasis on change, whether that is the changing seasons, each with it’s own beauty and story, but also his openness to experimenting with new technology. Painting on the iPad, despite being in his eighties, he doesn’t hold on to the past, sticking to the traditional ways of doing things. Instead of seeing technology as a hindrance, he embraces it as an opportunity. He is the true, original, rebel Yorkshire artist! And he is only getting started!

The man himself
One of my absolute favourites from the ‘A Bigger Picture Exhibition’
Going Up Garrowby Hill’ – 2011

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on this exhibition and please do let me know what you think below. I’d love to know what you think of it or if you in fact visited the Royal Academy or Salts Mill!

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