Issue Number: 117
From the action painters of the 1950s to artists today, a new show exlplores the relationship between painting and performance. By Martin Gayford
David Hockney RA, 'A Bigger Splash', 1967. Tate. Purchased 1981/© David Hockney. It might seem paradoxical that a work by David Hockney RA should give its name to ‘A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance’. This exhibition at Tate Modern examines how in post-war art some painters abandoned traditional methods of picture-making in favour of ‘slashed, dripped upon, shot-at or cut-up canvases’. In contrast, Hockney’s art is based on that most traditional of disciplines: drawing.
This is the scaffolding on which Hockney’s A Bigger Splash was built. Even the jagged white lines and fuzzy patches that look so abstract are an attempt to represent the frozen moment of a splash in lines and paint.
In terms of performance, from early on Hockney has been fascinated by the theatricality of painting. From the mid 1970s to the 90s, he designed a succession of operatic productions. No major artist has been so involved with stage sets since the era of Diaghilev.
In another way, Hockney’s work has engaged with the physicality of the painting process – especially in recent years. Indeed it has often been on a scale larger than that of Pollock, beyond the dimension of easel-painting. ‘Scale’ Hockney has said to me, ‘alters a lot of things’.
‘Colour’ he continued, ‘is more powerful. There’s a great remark attributed to Cézanne: two kilos of blue are a lot bluer than one kilo’. And brush-marks may be bolder. In Hockney’s studio are some of the biggest brushes I have seen. So if he does not drip or slash his canvases, he sometimes approaches them with brushes a yard long, which is not so very far from the action painters.