When visiting these two exhibitions at Tate Britain, it is best to see the Paul Nash first and then the David Hockney. Not only is it the best way chronologically, but also emotionally: Nash’s work is sombre and the colours muted; Hockney’s is vibrant and alive, pushing at the boundaries of artistic technology, finishing on a high note.
Paul Nash was born in the Victorian era, in 1889, and David Hockney was only 9 years old when he died in 1946. As a leading artist and writer of British surrealism, Nash’s work was exhibited alongside artists such as Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso and Man Ray at the International Surrealism Exhibition of 1936.
His most famous paintings are from the First World War, such as “The Menin Road” (1918-19) and then again in the Second World War, which perhaps established the sombre tones used throughout his career. There are hints of common themes to Hockney: an artistic abuse of perspective, a simplification of forms, an exploration of spaces connecting inside to out in “Harbour and Room” (1932-6), a flash of colour in his “Blue House on the Shore” (1929-31), a pool and diving board in “The Diving Stage” (1928) and a passionate enjoyment of the English countryside and the shape and silhouette of trees, in many paintings including “Wittenham Clumps” (1913).
Tate Britain’s retrospective of David Hockney covers the last 60 years from his early work at the Royal College of Art, moving to the blue skies, brilliant sunshine, swimming pools and vivid colours of California where even the architecture of the modernist Savings and Loan Building is bathed in blue sunlight and to the Grand Canyon with its dramatic rich red and brown landscape with flashes of green in the foreground. The exhibition includes sketches as he travelled around the world staying in places such as the Luxor Hotel and his vast series of works as he moved between Los Angeles and his native Yorkshire, in which, with a different palette he still finds colour and vibrancy in the natural landscape, as in “Going Up Garrowby Hill” (2000).
Unlike Nash, who seems to have avoided human presence in his paintings (apart from the swimmers in “The Diving Stage”), Hockney has painted friends and family, often exploring the tension created by the turn of a head or a subtle glance in double portraits such as “Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy” (1968) and “Collectors” (1968), culminating in the exhibition “82 Portraits and 1 Still Life” at the Royal Academy in 2016.
Paul Nash explored multiple images in his “Voyages of the Moon” (1934-7). Hockney goes much further, creating multiple and animated images with Polaroid and 35mm film, iphones and ipads and his multi-screen video work “The Four Seasons” (2010) showing different views of the same scene as the camera travelled along the road at Woldgate in Yorkshire.
A selection of Paul Nash’s three dimensional works is included in his exhibition, but there are none of Hockney’s, which is rather a pity.