As a footnote to my post about David Hockney’s “A Bigger Picture” I have been inspired to write this spin-off post about the very great importance of our natural environment to all of us, even those of us who regard it with utter disdain – no one can afford to be blasé about the precarious balance that we find ourselves in at the start of 2012 and so, as I have said already, I feel that “A Bigger Picture” could have come at no better time.
One of the criticisms that I have seen leveled at Hockney’s paintings is that they bear no resemblance to the real Yorkshire which is, by comparison (I’ve read), far more drab and litter-ridden. The internet is bestrewn with articles such as the one entitled David Hockney landscapes in reality more like rubbish tips (The Telegraph, 1 Feb 2012) which suggests that people heading to see the now renowned Woldgate Woods that have served as the inspiration for much of his recent work have been disappointed to find that it does not live up to their expectations.
I have already aired some thoughts about the use of colour in Hockney’s paintings and it is my view that it is an artist’s perogative to decide when to turn up the volume of those aspects of whatever they seek to “capture” in their work. As a painter, I also like to turn up the colours in my paintings and maintain that there is no artificiality in that; I merely concentrate on the more intense moments in nature, the ones where the colour becomes most vibrant, dramatic, colourful because these are the ones that most effectively evoke that very essence of Nature that I am trying to get across to an audience whose attention needs grabbing, engaging and holding. If I need to walk a dozen walks to come across the very light that will enable me to do that, so be it and, perhaps, some of those people visiting Woldgate Woods are not doing so when the light or the seasons are at their zenith! Like Hockney, my art is all about a celebration of nature – so why not celebrate the very best moments that it can conjure up.
Onwards to the subject of fly-tipping – a criticism levelled at poor-old Woldgate Woods being that it is, apparently, a target for such behaviour – to which my reaction is, isn’t everywhere these days? Only this morning, I passed half a van (minus its wheels) dumped along one of my favourite woodland paths which, only a week or so ago, was the target of an unscrupulous bathroom fitter who had abandoned a complete bathroom suite with loo, shower cubicle, floor tiles, tile adhesive and all the wrappers from what looked like a very unhealthy lunch in the same woodland spot. Another walk nearer home – a gorgeous spot next to the river ford and favourite spot of dog walkers and summer bathers – is the target for fly-tippers on an almost weekly basis now, much to my dismay, so that I recently had to coerce my dog out of what looked like an entire 1930s kitchen, complete with food tins, old-fashioned spice racks and a window with the curtain still attached that had been unceremoniously dumped next to the lane. My own experiences aside, a very quick look around the internet will tell you that the problem of fly-tipping seems to have reached epidemic proportions.
I can’t help feeling that this behaviour is an extreme symptom of a malaise afflicting what is an ever more significant portion of the populace because if people in general had a more appropriate relationship with Nature than the one that they evidently have (which is often – at best – to ignore it as an irrelevancy and – at worst – to resent it as the playground of the, as they see it, well-to-do people that live there) then there would be far more outcry at the very fact of our (and I stress our) countryside being defiled in this way. However, can we really be surprised at the lack of importance given to the natural environment in a culture that – leading from the top – has sidelined the beauty of our countryside as something very much out of vogue as compared with the hard-nosed urbanity that reigns supreme.
While the bulk of our focus continues to remain on the material world, on what the individual wants, on the man-made environment that has become our all, on celebrity and me-me-me – preoccupations held up in the media and by the arts and so fed as a diet to our youngsters from their earliest years – the natural environment will remain, yes, an irrelevancy to most people and a convenient dumping ground for unwanted furniture and broken fridges to others. Our hills, trees and lanes have – quite simply – been written out of the plot of modern life as something oldfangled and tired.
If these people but knew it, our survival as a species relies on the reinstatement of a quite different relationship with our natural environment or they will be every bit as doomed as the rest of us. A nature-consciousness is missing from the psyche of a generation and needs to be reintroduced – urgently – or we will have lost everything. Our televisions do precious little to get this across to the masses, our schools struggle to do the same and so – surely – our art (something visual, youth-engaging and oh-so-effective at conveying what nature is all about) needs to be allowed to do its bit. I really, honestly believe that this is the unexaggerated importance of the visual arts as a means of permeating and guiding the cultural consciousness of our youngsters as we step beyond the juncture that is 2012 and decide what it is that we want to become of us all in the next half century.
The woods that Hockney paints may very well be full to bursting with abandoned sofas, pushchairs and building refuse (and aren’t they all these days). So, those that would criticise, what should he do – paint those things into his landscapes? Re-style himself as the visual chronicler of our cultural doom in the style of a war artist in the trenches? Do we really want that? He’s already doing his bit by getting those stunning woodland scenes up onto the walls and into the minds of our children. The best hope that we have is that, if a passion for landscape art and – through it – a passion for our natural environment can be reignited then the next generation will be rid of the malaise that seems to have befallen the last and there will be no more chairs dumped in Woldgate (or anywhere else in our countryside for that matter).