Of the ten recent paintings included in “Looking at Woldgate Woods,” nine are large (72” x 144”) composite landscapes each made up of six smaller canvases. This method, in which the paintings can be assembled and disassembled easily, enabled Hockney to paint an entire picture en plein air. For “Looking at Woldgate Woods,” Hockney chose to paint the same location, the convergence of three paths in the woods, throughout a year, at different times of day and during every season. Cyclical time, therefore, factors heavily in the paintings, dictating the palette, composition and effect. In a picture from November, the ground and shadows are saturated with the brilliant oranges, purples and reds of late-afternoon sun, while a painting from mid-summer is all lush green and stippled leaves. Hockney’s usually direct and immediate brushwork has been reduced to a powerful shorthand in this series and as the year progresses his familiarity with the scene is rendered in ever-simplified, masterly passages of paint. The historical dimension of the project is heightened by the sense that he has absorbed the best of French colorist theory—Signac, Fénéon, Chevreul, Blanc—and adapted Matisse’s decorative arabesque to take on that most English of subjects: the woodsy landscape. Hockney is a painter’s painter and he deftly lives up to the hype with an unequaled sincerity toward his medium and subject. (Rachel Furnari)
At Arts Club, 201 East Ontario, (312)787-3997, through July 18.