'It engulfs everything': David Hockney on nature

In behind-the-scenes footage from an award-winning documentary, the British artist discusses the woodland setting of one of his plein-air paintings


"Hockney Unlocked" is a series of 80 short films produced, directed and edited by Bruno Wollheim. The films are outtakes from Wollheim’s award-winning documentary, "David Hockney: A Bigger Picture", filmed single-handedly over five years with David Hockney. Here, Wollheim writes a commentary on some of the short films informed by a friendship stretching back 30 years.

In this video, Hockney was working on the upper-middle part of a six-panel painting, Woldgate Woods 7 & 8 November 2006, continuing an early morning mist scene from the day before. Now faced with bright clear light, he was having to paint from memory—and imagination. So a sort of parable unfolded, about the capacity of artists to remake the world in their own image.

David Hockney's Woldgate Woods 7 & 8 November 2006 (2006) © David Hockney. Photo: Richard Schmidt. Private Collection, courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art

Over the course of the year David makes six paintings of this scene. All are wonderfully elegiac, with not a dumped fridge in sight.

The series was the testing ground for an ever more ambitious programme of plein air Impressionist-style painting. Hockney had worked up from 2x3ft to 3x4ft canvases, the largest size he could accommodate in his small attic studio and van. Butting them together, he was now attempting to paint on a large scale the most fleeting effects of light and weather in just a day or two. The size of the brushes and the brushmarks increased, in a conscious effort to bring his painting closer to drawing —and inspired by the example of Monet, Van Gogh and late Munch. He was able to work on just a single panel by referring to a Photoshop image of the complete picture. 

• David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is now available online