David Hockney’s ‘Grimm’ visions

For a museum to land an exhibition of works by David Hockney is a great story. When the subject is fairy tales, as with the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art’s upcoming “Six Tales from the Brothers Grimm: Original Etchings by David Hockney,” it becomes almost magical.

“Fairy tales do come true,” said Kate Eilertsen, the Museum’s executive director. “To have such a highly regarded modern artist in our museum is a great privilege.”

The Hockney exhibition features 39 black-and-white etchings, works that take a contemporary, quirky approach to the Brothers’ often-grim stories. The show opens with a special members’ preview on Friday evening, June 3.

“I’ve always been fascinated by him,” Eilertsen said. “He does so many different things. I love that.”

Hockney, an Englishman, is perhaps best known for his Los Angeles look of the Pop Art era – the vividly realized swimming pools and buildings exposed by harsh sunlight.

As his subjects and interests evolve, Hockney continues to be relevant as a painter, draftsman and master printmaker. He has worked in photography, and designed sets for major opera productions; of late, he’s even used his iPhone to create digital drawings.

According to Robert Flynn Johnson, curator emeritus, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Hockney had always loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales and had read all 220 of them.

“The stories really are quite mad, when you think of it,” Hockney said.

“They’re fascinating little stories, told in a very simple, direct and straightforward
language and style,” he said. “It was their simplicity that attracted me. They cover quite a strange range of experience from the magical to the moral.”

In 1969 he decided to make his own images to accompany the tales. Rather than illustrating the stories literally, he chose vivid images to express a mood or detail.

Hockney especially enjoyed the elements of magic in the tales, Johnson said, and his images focus on his imaginative response to the descriptions in the text. They are more than simply illustrations, said Johnson, who curated the show for Landau Traveling Exhibitions, they stand on their own as images, independent of the stories.

“These etchings turned out to be some of my most well-known works,” Hockney said of the collection.

The etching and printmaking skills were honed early in his career while studying art in London. “I started doing graphic work in 1961 because I’d run out of money and I couldn’t buy paint, and in the graphic department they gave you materials for free.”

By the early 1960s, Johnson said, Hockney’s style had progressed into a form of representational art that was very much his own, emphasizing strong draftsmanship and often bold use of color.

Hockney again lives in England but maintains a house and studio in Los Angeles, where he relocated to in 1964. The setting was an inspiration. “Everything everyone else took for granted, Hockney saw as new, fresh, and exotic,” Johnson said.

That kind of curiosity has fueled a prodigious career. As Johsnon said, “David Hockney is truly a Renaissance man in an increasingly anti-intellectual era.”

The exhibitions “Six Tales from the Brothers Grimm: Original Etchings by David Hockney” and “Rebound – a Survey of Contemporary California Artists’ Books” will be at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, 551 Broadway, from June 4 to August 28. There will be a Members’ Opening Reception on Friday, June 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. Regular gallery hours are Wed. through Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 939.7862. Svma.org.

The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art exhibition includes “The Boy Hidden In A Fish” c. David Hockney.

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