A Sense of Place
When there is any threat to our landscape, we should all stop being so polite; stand up and speak out more, says David Hockney.
Bridlington in East Yorkshire, they say, is technically a depressed area. But the people who live here, like me, know it’s not. The landscape is the one I have known since my childhood; it’s the one I’ve always come back to and it’s beautiful. It has meaning. I first realised it was special when I was young, 15 or 16, a schoolboy, working in the holidays on a farm here harvesting corn – but it wasn’t until a long time later, just ten years ago, that I realised this landscape made a terrific subject for painting. Since then, I’ve been on an adventure, painting and filming it, using brushes and canvas, camera and iPad. Everyone says West Yorkshire is the best, but for me, this part of Yorkshire is subtler.
What is it about this place? Well, there aren’t many people for a start. It’s too far for day-trippers. You can drive through the little valleys for hours and you’ll be the only car. You’ll not see anyone. Every time I turn off onto a particular one-track lane I love, I think: “Here I am, in my own private park.” Those valleys are hidden, too, tucked away, secret, unspoiled and very lovely. I can get my chair out of the back of the car, set myself up, have a cigarette and sit and look at the scenery for a long time, just taking it all in, planning a picture. And it’s so quiet I won’t be disturbed.
When you know your local place, you know when the optimum time is to go and look, especially if you’re looking at Nature. When the sun is low here, everything is clearly defined. In summer it can get light as early as three o’clock, and as the sun comes up the colours can be incredibly rich. In Los Angeles, where I’ve also lived for years, that phase can last two minutes. But here in East Yorkshire, it’ll take much, much longer. People always think that there is more colour in summer, but they can be wrong. Look, don’t scan, and the colours will emerge, even in winter. With those colours comes excitement. I get intense pleasure from my eyes: they give me my enjoyment of this landscape, a spatial thrill, if you like.
I also feel a connection with my ancestors. They were in charge of nothing – generations of past Hockneys working as labourers on the land. I’ve done a huge painting of a hawthorn bush here. There’s great excitement in spring when it starts to blossom, when the light changes. I call that “action week”. And I think about the fact that hawthorn has been there for so long that my ancestors would have looked at it and enjoyed it too.
I love the seasons here: in California you don’t get changes like we do in East Yorkshire. Painting them and filming them has been fantastic. Recently, some of my work showing this landscape was displayed in York and so many local people came to see it. I heard it said that the works had made them look at their own place again, with fresh eyes. That affected me deeply; I was really touched. When it comes to things like the threat of development to our landscapes, we should speak out a bit more, stand up more. We’re a bit too polite at times. We should shout: “Hold it!”
It’s a lovely country, ours. It’s green, not mean.
David Hockney was talking to Sue Herdman. This article is reprinted with her kind permission. www.nationaltrust.org.uk