We've had Hockney the pool boy, David the camera buff and the operatic Dave, so why not the bucolic Hockney? Indeed the artist's preternatural playfulness inspires some of the finest painting of his long career, especially in his largest work, in a new dual show at PaceWildenstein's 25th and 57th Street spaces.
Hockney returned to East Yorkshire to spend weeks tramping through the forests of his childhood, where memory and serendipity produced waves of bright pastel color and curling waves of space. Putting aside Hockney's irritating use of the grid, borrowed from Gilbert and George, one marvels at, for example, Woldgate Woods, in which three divergent lavender paths anticipate a brilliant leap of perspective into the outer edge of the forest. I was reminded of the scene in Tim Burton's wonderful film Big Fish, in which a boy gets lost on a gladed path right before encountering an especially dysfunctional giant.
How refreshing to express the spirit of play in art while avoiding tired Duchampian gestures, as Hockney does in Bigger Trees Nearer Warter, a spiraling crescendo of purple leaves falling into pumpkin-shaped bushes, with the promise of an exquisitely painted sky blue cottage added as an afterthought in the left corner. A perfect, thrilling painting. Winter Timber yucks it up with a pile of spastic snakes, really slim yellow logs, contrasted in luminous chromasis with a bright blue forest.
Smaller works continue to sing from the bliss of Hockney's glowing palette, especially the colored fungi of Hawthorne Blossom and May Blossoms on the Roman Road, which could function as a set for The Wizard of Oz. Hockney's triumph falls off a bit with a series of dull tree stumps and fallen trunks, a feeble, redundant joke on a dinosaur sized dick and balls, but sometimes collector demand dictates volume against quality.
Those destined to own the large symphonies of form and color in one of David Hockney's best ever exhibitions will be happy campers indeed.
"David Hockney: Paintings 2006-2009," at PaceWildenstein, 32 East 57th Street and 534 West 25th Street, New York, N.Y.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).