From the rainbows we’ve made to brighten up our windows and life drawing classes streamed online to the 500 artists painting portraits of our NHS heroes, the lockdown is encouraging many of us to be a lot more creative. And what better inspiration for our artworks could there be than the sun-filled springtime happening all around us. We only need to look out of our windows, get out into our gardens, or do some exploring during our daily exercise to see nature reawakening in all its glory.
One Yorkshire artist who is doing just that is David Hockney, although he’s not holed up here in God’s Own County, but over in Normandy, where he’d recently bought and renovated a country house.
Born in Bradford in 1937 and often given the moniker the godfather of British art, Hockney was an important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s and is widely considered to be one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.
He was synonymous for many years with the vivid colours of the west coast of America where he moved to; a life of Californian sunshine, palm trees and technicolour swimming pools.
But in the early 2000s he brought some of that energy back to a very different environment here in Yorkshire with a highly regarded body of work based on the quiet drama of the Yorkshire Wolds, an area he experienced often as a child.
The East Yorkshire landscape he knew so well was the inspiration for a bold collection of paintings, sketches, iPad and film work displayed at the Royal Academy in London in 2012. The exhibition “A Bigger Picture”, included images of trees hills and byways in his unique style with vivid colours and names like The Road Across the Wolds. A standout piece was the huge and instantly iconic Bigger Trees Near Warter.
Now around a decade since he explored the arrival of Spring in Yorkshire, he’s been doing something similar while on lockdown in France where he’s been holed up since last month. Hockney was drawn to the Normandy region because of the rich variety of trees in the area that bring a diverse range of blossoms at this time of year; apple, cherry, pear and plum.
He’d started drawing the winter trees and then simply continued when travel was halted and the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak became apparent, telling the BBC “this virus started...I went on drawing the winter trees that eventually burst into blossom. This is the stage we are right now. Meanwhile the virus is going mad, and many people said my drawings were a great respite from what was going on.”
He initially sent some works out to his to friends, one with the title: “Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring” and then decided to share them with the wider public too. Writing to a BBC journalist Hockney continued “Why are my iPad drawings seen as a respite from the news? Well, they are obviously made by the hand depicting the renewal that is the spring in this part of the world.”
Now nine images and one animation produced during the lockdown have been released online to help bring some light during these dark and difficult days. The artworks include images of Hockney’s Normandy home, some of daffodils and other spring flowers, and some of trees just starting to blossom.
For anyone moved to explore more of his work once the lockdown is over a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saltaire near Bradford is a must. The village, built by mill owner Sir Titus Salt as a utopian vision to house his workers, is now a fashionable place to live and work with thriving bars, boutiques and restaurants.
Once the centre piece of the village, Salts Mill, which opened in 1853 and still produced cloth until 1986, is now a place where culture and commerce thrive together.
It’s home to the 1853 Gallery – which displays many of Hockney’s paintings, etchings, and drawings. In the 3rd Floor Gallery, you’ll find his ‘The Arrival of Spring’ collection. This set of original works was drawn on an iPad in 2011 just the year before his London exhibition and, like those works, printed at an incredible scale.
The mill also now houses many independent shops including everything from bikes and outdoor gear, to antiques and jewellery, luxury homeware, a brilliant book and poster shop, and both a café and a diner.
The Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in the magnificent Green Flag-awarded Lister Park is another essential visit for Hockney fans. The site of the more recently opened Hockney Gallery, it contains Bradford’s unrivalled collection of Hockney’s early work from his time at Bradford School of Art. Visitors can see an introduction to the artist and his techniques, early works showing how it all began in Bradford and watch previously unseen footage of the artist in his Bridlington studio.
The gallery also houses Bradford’s public art collection which inspired Hockney as a child and student and welcomes both contemporary and historical exhibitions. Hockney himself remarking: “I used to love going to Cartwright Hall as a kid, it was the only place in Bradford I could see real paintings.”
If you’re itching for some fresh air after the COVID-19 crisis Hockney’s beloved East Yorkshire is a perfect destination. The Yorkshire Wolds is a broad crescent of rolling chalk hills and valleys just south of the North York Moors, arching from the coast at Flamborough towards Malton and then down to the Humber Bridge. Peaceful, charming and full of character the Wolds is full of glorious, gently undulating hills, perfect for picnics, and picture-postcard villages with landscaped gardens and ponds aplenty. Beautiful market towns sit in magnificent, unspoiled scenery, with fine churches, some outstanding country houses and a sweeping coastline too.
And until we’re allowed to experience these things first hand for ourselves, immersing ourselves in Hockney’s latest works online might just help put a spring in our step while we stay home to stay safe.
This article was originally written for This Is Y magazine digital edition – May 2020. To view the full magazine, click here