New York

David Hockney

Andre Emmerich Gallery

David Hockney’s new paintings are entirely of a piece. Uniformly small in size (“My gazebo studio overlooking the sea is not very large,” he explains) and similar in texture, pattern, and bright, highly keyed palette, they seem less like individual works than components of a suite. Their uniformity, set against the artist’s coy diffidence and seemingly arbitrary methodology, leads to the conclusion that Hockney is satisfied to let his new vision speak for itself. That he is, in fact, merely acting as a scribe.

Rich in eye-grabbing color, these jewellike paintings suggest an imaginary world in which nature, pattern, and opera sets intermingle. Surrealist in their recurrent summoning of impossible and dreamlike landscapes, they also recall the Cubist obsession with geometric forms, which in this case become billowing curves, often given a three-dimensional cast through the use of grids and shading.

But between the first glance and the lingering memory, their effect is entirely puzzling. Yes, Hockney has applied his signature decorative style to abstract imagery in a way that is viscerally thrilling. The details are lovely, and one passage moves quite beautifully into another. The imagery moves into and out of three dimensions with various almost Escher-like spatial devices, and the eye is certainly engaged throughout. There is a wonderful energy in the variety of painterly effects: the counterpoint of various textures and patterns laid down or etched into the paint are clever, subtle, droll.

Like opera sets, these works create virtuosic but empty worlds, all atmosphere and no plot, a dream in which nothing has yet really happened. They are full of ticklish sensations. And perhaps, in the end, that is enough: just as, in dreams, it is the uneventful moment—the pause between acts—that is sometimes the most satisfying.

Justin Spring