A few days ago I was at Tate Britain, occasional trip to London is something I do as a treat and a chance to see up close how some of the great artists work(ed). I was there to see the recent Paul Nash exhibition but when I booked the ticket I realised I could also see the Hockney retrospective on the same day for very little extra cost. No brainer? I had not intended doing both as I’d already seen a lot of Hockney stuff lately and felt I’d seen enough but I thought what the heck?
I was glad I did though. For more than the obvious financial reason. I really, really enjoyed the Nash work, never having seen much more than his war work. But Hockney was a revelation. If like me you think you’ve seen Hockney think again. The scale variety and sheer vibrance & audacity of the work there was quite overwhelming. Not very often that I’m blown away by such things but I was close to it I have to say.
But what I didn’t see until a while after was the contrast between the two. Nash looked and felt like an artist working very darkly with careful experimentation. Hockney on the other hand was a joyous helter-skelter of a journey through his work. The word that kept coming back to me again and again was “playfulness”. His whole approach to his art seemed to revolve around pleasure seeking and a kind of “bugger it” attitude. Made me think again about this whole question of whether artists should suffer for their art, or at least have suffered before they can produce their best. Not true in the case of Hockney, as far as I could see. But overwhelmingly so for Nash whose whole life, let alone his artistic output, seemed bounded in and dominated by his wartime experiences. Questionable though even in his case whether it brought out the best in him – or prevented it from ever surfacing?