This visually exquisite production takes the form of a series of conversations between Britain’s most popular living artist and the respected critic and biographer Martin Gayford. Following on from the ﬁrst Hockney/Gayford collaboration, A Bigger Message, which was both critically acclaimed and hugely popular, A History of Pictures contains an astonishing range of images where cave paintings, Van Eyck and Rembrandt sit easily with Walt Disney, Martin Scorsese and the latest digital technology.
DH: ‘What makes a work of art? I’d prefer to say I’m making pictures – depictions. We’ve had a great many histories of art, what we need now is a history of pictures.’
MG: ‘The history of pictures overlaps with the history of art, but it is not the same. Art contains much that does not count as a depiction – decoration and abstraction, for example, but also excludes other types of image.’
Informed and energized by a lifetime of painting, drawing and making images with cameras, Hockney, in collaboration with Gayford, explores how and why pictures have been made across the millennia. From the bull painted in a cave in south-western France 17,000 years ago to the works of art that exist in the online virtual world Second Life, they debate the fact that every picture made has its own set of rules and that someone had to choose it’s point of view. In other words, every picture presents a personal angle on reality. The book provides an opportunity for us to look over their shoulder as they debate how artists, from the cave to the computer screen, have represented the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface.
A discussion on the current advances in technology determines that we are living through a revolution as profound as that brought about by printing in the 15th century, photography in the 19th and moving pictures in the 20th century. Once, Hollywood alone had the money to use film technology. But the 21st-century mobile phone has moved us into a new era where everyone can become a film maker and can almost immediately publish it to the world, or at least to their followers and contacts on Twitter and Instagram. Interestingly, Hockney continues to print out everything he does on the iPhone and iPad, to make sure that there’s at least one copy and if new machines were to come along he would readily adopt the technology and print the work again.
Not necessarily an art-history publication, A History of Pictures offers a wonderfully intimate insight into a charismatic and candid conversation with one of the art world’s greatest living artists to be enjoyed by art lovers, cultural enthusiasts and David Hockney devotees in equal measure.
James Greenslade is Head of School at Limerick School of Art and Design.