Hockney and painting the passage of time

Last year I bought and read the book “Spring Cannot be Cancelled” by David Hockney and Martin Gayford. It is a wonderful and easy read and is largely conversations and thoughts about painting and art in general. David Hockney was locked down in his farmhouse in France during the Covid outbreak and spent his time drawing and painting there (much of it on an iPad). The book is gentle, humorous, and full of insights and thought-provoking ideas about what art is and how to do it. I kept thinking – “Wow, I never saw it that way before!”

One thing that I had never thought about was the way that you can use a painting to tell a story through time. You can use it to lead the viewer on a journey, either through a landscape or through time.
This is exactly what happens in the Bayeux Tapestry that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England.

Martin Gayford writes, ‘It is a picture that is almost seventy metres long and half a metre high (and more than nine hundred years old) that lacks what he (Hockney) has long yearned to escape: those neat edges that confine the conventional rectangular picture frame. He points out that at the bottom is the ground, the top is the sky, and, as you walk along from one end to the other, two years of time pass.

He also says that ‘it has a different relationship to space and time. There is no fixed point for a single linear perspective to recede towards, no frozen moment. Instead, it flows backwards and forwards from England to Normandy, across the sea and through the unfolding events from 1064 to 1066.’
Now that to me is a great piece of art!

David Hockney created a similar, but much smaller, time travelling drawing of his gardens in France. He used just a few colours and plenty of dots and stripes to convey his message in a sketchbook consisting of a single sheet of paper that opens out like a concertina.

‘Hockney’s panoramic concertina drawings of his garden are smaller in scope, both in territory and time, but they include several acres of ground spreading to all points of the compass, and the length in seconds, minutes, or hours that it takes to look hard at all that.’

A journey through time

When I read this my artistic world suddenly opened up. I had always thought of paintings being a moment frozen in time – a bit like the creative version of a photograph. Here is the landscape as I saw it, here is a still life as it was. There is no sense of time, apart from the one moment captured in paint. But now here was the possibility of creating art that took you on a journey through time.

I thought I would have a go. So I made myself a little concertina book and took a small selection of coloured brush pens, and went outside to take a trek down the garden path.
Here’s a short video showing you how it worked out.

If you’re inspired, then why not give it a go!


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