David Hockney is in lockdown at his house in Normandy with his dog Ruby and two of his long-standing assistants, JP and Jonathan.
He is in the garden most days, drawing the spring awakening on his iPad. In a BBC exclusive, he is sharing 10 of his most recent images (including one animation), nine of which have never been published before, for us all to enjoy at this difficult time, along with his thoughts on the role of art in life.
The artist previously visited Normandy in the autumn of 2018 following the installation of his stained-glass window in Westminster Abbey. He thought it would be a good place to draw and paint the arrival of spring, something he’d done around a decade earlier in East Yorkshire. Those pictures, paintings, and films were the basis for a successful exhibition in 2012 at the Royal Academy in London.
He was attracted to Normandy because it offered a broader range of blossoms, with apple, cherry, pear and plum trees, as well as the hawthorn and blackthorn he had painted before.
“We found this house with a large garden that was cheaper than anything in Sussex”, he wrote in a letter to me. They bought it, renovated it and built a small studio; and have been living there since early March.
“I began drawing the winter trees on a new iPad,” he said. “Then this virus started…
“I went on drawing the winter trees that eventually burst into blossom. This is the stage we are right now. Meanwhile the virus is going mad, and many people said my drawings were a great respite from what was going on.”
He sent some of his work in progress to friends, which led to him releasing one image of daffodils for publication, which he titled: Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring. He is now sharing nine more, all painted in the last few days.
“Why are my iPad drawings seen as a respite from the news? Well, they are obviously made by the hand depicting the renewal that is the spring in this part of the world.”
The point being that his images are the product of him looking directly at nature and depicting or representing what he sees by transmitting his sensory reaction through his fingers onto paper via a pencil, rather than mediating the process through a photograph.
His pictures are a record of how he, uniquely, is experiencing reality of his subject and the space in which it exists. The one-eyed mechanical camera flattens out all this individual nuance.
“I intend to carry on with my work, which I now see as very important,” he wrote to me.
“We have lost touch with nature rather foolishly as we are a part of it, not outside it. This will in time be over and then what? What have we learned? I am 83 years old, I will die. The cause of death is birth.
“The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like our little dog Ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love.
“I love life.”
By Will Gompertz, Arts editor, BBC
Paul Motian: drums
Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone
Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone
Jakob Bro, Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder: guitar
Jerome Harris: bass
All compositions by Paul Motian except as indicated
1. Pithecanthropus Erectus (Charles Mingus) (7:06)
2. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (Mingus) (4:56)
3. Etude (5:21)
4. Mesmer (4:39)
5. Mumbo Jumbo (3:34)
6. Desert Dream (Chris Cheek) (3:18)
7. Balata (Steve Cardenas) (3:39)
8. Bill (Jerome Kern) (3:04)
9. Endless (3:30)
10. Prelude 2 Narcissus (3:05)
11. Garden of Eden (4:09)
12. Manhattan Melodrama (4:43)
13. Evidence (Thelonious Monk) (3:31)
14. Cheryl (Charlie Parker) (2:00)
Natalia Kawałek: mezzo-soprano
Jakub Józef Orliński: countertenor
Choral master Paul Hillier knows the music of Arvo Pärt as well as anyone, having been there for the composer’s early ECM recordings, written one of the few books on him and, lately, led a series of excellent Pärt surveys for Harmonia Mundi. Here, Hillier offers an intimate collection of vocal and instrumental chamber pieces that range across the Estonian’s career, anchored by the Stabat Mater of 1985 — a contemporary classic that stands with the greatest works devoted to the “grieving mother” from Josquin to Poulenc. This performance of the Stabat Mater is beautiful sung and ideally recorded. “My Heart Is in the Highlands” — a setting of the Robert Burns ballad for solo high voice and organ — is one of Pärt’s most perfect creations; sung here by soprano Else Torp (Hillier’s wife), it will crush a sensitive soul. Another standout is “Ein Wallfahrtslied” (A Pilgrim’s Song), which has a dark edge rare for latter-day Pärt; as a string quartet lays down a snaking, chromatic path, tenor and baritone intone the psalm like specters, lonely but ever-determined.
–- Bradley Bambarger, Listen Magazine
…Until very recently, scholars have been unable to decide whether Pergolesi’s cycle of Good Friday cantatas, based upon Christ’s words on the cross, really was by Pergolesi at all. On the basis of the latest research, René Jacobs has no doubts about its authenticity, and considers the oratorio was probably written between 1730 and the composer’s death six years later at the age of just 26. Each of its seven cantatas contains two arias, one (usually for the bass, but in one case for the tenor) sung by Christ himself, the other (for soprano, counter-tenor or tenor) by Anima, the faithful soul who listens to his words. Structurally and tonally, they create an arch form, but what’s most striking about the whole work is the boldness of the scoring. With the strings and continuo reinforced by two trumpets, a solo horn that shadows Christ’s words and a harp, as well as an obbligato viola in the central fourth cantata, the music is both constantly surprising and often profoundly eloquent; Jacobs’s soloists, as well as the instrumentalists of the Berlin orchestra, project that sense of devotional wonder without a trace of self-conscious piety…