How do you convey space in an image?

That could be a whole book in itself, and a lifelong quest for a painter. English artist David Hockney, now in his early 80s, has done several bodies of work and written abundantly about that idea.

I went to visit his retrospective, retracing some 60 years of his work, at the George Pompidou Center in Paris. l enjoy Hockney’s pragmatic, yet whimsical attitude about art, and his amazing skills as an artist.

Many of the paintings on display were of a large scale, and in this vast, industrial architecture, they hold their ground with aplomb. His pictures are carefully organized, the colors are bold, almost harsh at times: together they make a strong statement. Wit and self-assertiveness seem to permeate them.

There was a big crowd, and people tended to cluster in front of the pictures.That made for interesting group compositions, as the scale of the people and spaces depicted in the paintings were often close to reality. Their being close to or removed from the art also indicates a sense of scale. Even the colors they wear can accent and coordinate with the artwork.

I played with the idea of composing an image that stemmed from the painting, extending outside with the visitors and space of the room where it is hanged.

In the photo above, the dark and light shapes of the visitors’s clothes integrate perfectly with those of the painting. Even the figure on the left becomes part of it. It’s amusing to wonder who is looking at whom…with his usual sense of humor, I am sure Hockney thought about this. 

There are several spaces represented here: That of the museum itself, where the visitors stand, the flat space of the canvas, the pictured living room in the painting, with the people, cat and objects, then the space beyond the window, where the light comes from; and finally, the space in the small picture on the upper left. You can play a lot with the concept of space in a picture.

Since I take the pictures very quickly, sometimes there is not time to get closer, so I have to zoom. That brings a pixelization of the image that has a very painterly effect, as in the picture above. The artwork and the visitors are unified into a similar pattern, which makes the face of the woman facing us appear to be part of the painting behind her, especially since she is framed by a rectangle just as the standing figure in profile. Thus, the space between her and the painting is dissolved. They become another image.

I bet David Hockney would find the idea interesting.


Paintings by David Hockney: “Portrait of an Artist ( Pool with two figures)” 1972, acrylic on canvas, “Mr. and Mrs Clark and Percy”, 1970, acrylic on canvas, American Collectors ( Fred and Marcia Weisman, 1968, acrylic on canvas.
Louise Jalbert, photos taken at David Hockney’s retrospective, Centre George Pompidou, September 2017.