Plein air oil painting
Don Demers, "Warren's Beach," 2007, oil, 12 x 17 in., Private collection, Plein air

Think of David Hockney, and swimming pools most likely come to mind. Indeed, much of the British artist’s work has been inspired by the light and landscape of his adopted home in Southern California. About a decade or so ago, however, he returned his attention to his native Yorkshire for a series of glorious plein air landscapes. “Landscapes seem big to me,” he says of his inspiration for the paintings, “and I wanted to make them bigger still.”

David Hockney, painting en plein air
David Hockney paints on location in Yorkshire, England.
Plein Air Magazine
Read more in the December/January issue of PleinAir magazine

To convey the grandeur of the landscape, the artist set up a number of panels at once and painted as if he were working on one extremely large canvas. But that’s not the only thing interesting about the work, as revealed in photos like the one shown here. On the whole, the landscapes he chose to paint were, well, boring. Often flat and lacking any clear focal point, the scenes don’t make for obvious choices of subject matter.

But, of course, that’s the artist’s gift — to see the beauty and promise in the mundane, and through their skills, reveal those qualities to others. In the right hands, a simple field can capture the imagination as well as a majestic mountain range or raging seascape. Calling on their knowledge of the principles and elements of art, they manipulate shape, line, value, color, rhythm, and the rest to create an image that’s pleasing to the eye, one that highlights the visual appeal in almost any subject.

Even so, that’s not all there is to Hockney’s landscapes, is it? Does technical proficiency really go all the way to explain why we’re so drawn to his and other masters’ work? No, it’s more personal than that.

No doubt Hockney’s fondness for the Yorkshire scenes that would have been so familiar to him comes through in the work, and, viewing them, we can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia for places we may have never seen. As is so often the case with great art, our response is visceral.

Studying the paintings by the artists in this issue, I had much the same experience. Each brings their own unique style and technique to the work — that alone is exciting enough — but they also reveal their intimate connection to the landscape, and that is everything.

Plein Air magazine, December 2018 / January 2019 Table of Contents:

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