hockney, gossage, walden and marsh lane

26 January 2012 § Leave a comment

The new David Hockney exhibition A Bigger Picture, that has just opened at the RA revisits the countryside of his childhood – the Yorkshire Wolds. It celebrates his engagement with nature, and here, more than ever before he employs his acute powers of observation to observe the attractive, but to most, unremarkable local countryside. It is the minute detail of his observation – the colours, the change of the seasons that is remarkable.

It brought immediately to mind the classic novel Walden – or a life in the woods by David Thoreau. Back in the 1840’s, leaving civilisation behind – but not too far away – he experienced a life of subsistence whilst observing in minute detail the natural life around him. He inspired, so it is said, the conservation movement and National Park system of the United States as well as one of the most revered photo-books of all time – The Pond by John Gossage.

Like Hockney’s Wolds and Thoreau’s Walden this book is, at first, unremarkable. Simple black and white images record a vague path and some scruffy landscapes, casually photographed. It is only after a few pages that you realise that you are taking a walk with the author – one that ends at an unremarkable latter-day Walden. The tactic is also incidentally one that Hockney uses – many of his paintings place the spectator on a path/track/road in to the landscape and invite you to take an imaginary stroll. It may disappoint some, but it is a subtle and philosophical book, one that emphasises the importance of the observation of what is around you rather than the creation of beautiful images.

It struck me that the above artist, writer/philosopher and photographer all have in common a deep involvement with nature and its observation. Each record it in at least one different way, including Hockney’s embracing of one the latest technologies, the i-pad. 

So where does Marsh Lane come in? This is the lane beside my house where I walk my dog every day. It is unremarkable, muddy and flat with some scruffy hedges and farmland. Sometimes an unnamed local builder uses it to tip waste when he can’t be bothered to go to the council dump (we’ll get him one day). Inspired, I thought it was time to take a couple of photos – just using a blackberry this is from one morning a week ago. Here are my modest results – anyone can do it using perhaps an i-pad, i-phone or blackberry. No excuses, it’s your turn now!

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