Two years ago—at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—the ever-versatile and inventive artist David Hockney traveled to France with the express intention of capturing the emergence of spring.
One of England’s most versatile and inventive artists of the postwar era, Hockney became widely known in the 1960s for his vivid landscapes, domestic scenes, and intimate portraits born in California. The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 marks his third series documenting the blossoming of spring, having done his first in 2011 and the second in 2013. For this latest project, he observed the richness of the season from the bucolic surroundings of rural Normandy. Working en plein air (in the open air), he spent his days scrutinizing and recording the subtle, daily changes in the plants and light as spring emerged and took hold with all its drama and glory. The plein air approach was particularly fitting for his endeavor due to Normandy’s associations with the origin of French Impressionism. As Hockney noted, Monet witnessed and recorded 40 springs in nearby Giverny.
However, unlike his Impressionist predecessors and in keeping with his long-held embrace of contemporary technology (he has used fax machines, laser photocopiers, and other 20th- and 21st-century digital instruments throughout his six-decade career), Hockney used the medium of the iPad for The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020.
He had first explored the technology in 2011, but this time developed an app which was adapted and developed to his specific requirements with new brushes and shapes. As with every medium the artist uses, Hockney mastered the wealth of possibilities the app offers and values the freedom and mobility the technology allows. “I feel like I’m painting,” he has remarked. Indeed, his iPad works possess all the qualities of his paintings on canvas, with his gesture and hand clearly evident in each of the 116 works, including two animated videos and a selection of works that have an augmented reality component.
Executed from February until the beginning of July 2020, this series of work coincided with the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when much of the world went into a state of lockdown. In contrast to the withdrawal, isolation, and sobering events the pandemic imposed, Hockney’s paintings are a celebration of the joy of the natural world, which reminds us, as he does himself in one of his often-repeated phrases, to “love life.”
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David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 is organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition is curated by Edith Devaney. It is accompanied by a publication that includes images of each of the 116 works in the series as well as an interview with the artist and an introduction by writer William Boyd. The Art Institute presentation is coordinated by Robyn Farrell, associate curator, Modern and Contemporary Art.