Hockney's Eye

Published: 03/05/2022

Hockney's Eye, the Art and Technology of Depiction, is a free exhibition taking place at The Fitzwilliam Museum and Heong Gallery in Cambridge until August 29th 2022.

In the words of the  museum website, " through both traditional and cutting-edge ways of making art, the exhibition explores Hockney’s obsession with how we see the world, and how our world of time and space can be captured on the surface of a flat picture." The exhibition demonstrates Hockney's reaction to previous painters' work and his fascination with technology, old and new. It illustrates Hockney's view that devices such as the camera obscura and camera lucida have had a big impact on art and were used by a number of past artists such as Ingres and Canaletto. We see how he himself experimented with these devices, identifying their limitations, and also how he went on to make creative and joyful use of the Iphone and Ipad. 

At The Fitzwilliam, Hockney's work and comments are seen in the museum's main galleries in dialogue with works they relate to. For example, portraits drawn by Ingres sit alongside Hockney's  Portraits after Ingres in a Uniform Style showing room attendants at the National Gallery. In another gallery, where the focus is on perspective, Hockney's Annunciation II, after Fra Angelico, which turns the use of perspective on its headis seen alongside Early Renaissance paintings that take a more conventional approach to perspective. At the Heong Gallery, we are presented with varied examples of Hockney's work from across his long and innovative career. We see here how Hockney made creative use of photography and computer software to create images such as Grand Canyon I and Viewers Looking at a Readymade with Skull and Mirrors. Rather than showing a scene from a fixed point as in a single photograph, such works capture how our eye roves around and takes in multiple views.

In the end, it is possible to view this exhibition in different ways. It is possible to screen out the theory and simply enjoy Hockney's work for itself, admiring his versatility and technical ability and engaging emotionally with what is presented. It is also possible to engage with Hockney's ideas on perception and consider the interplay between technology and art. In the end, the quotation from Hockney that sticks in my mind is that you need three things to paint, the hand, the eye and the heart.