Legendary artist and author David Hockney discussed his book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (Penguin Putnam) at Kentucky Author Forum on December 4, 2001.
One of the most critically acclaimed contemporary artists, Hockney’s innovative work influences nearly every medium — painting, drawing, stage design, photography and print making. In Secret Knowledge he rewrites the story of how Western artists made the great drawings and paintings of the last six centuries.
From his artist’s perspective, Hockney asks how painters rendered their work, rather than why. What he has discovered is that artists six-hundred years ago used lenses and mirrors to project color images of their subjects (people, fruit, vegetables, flowers, household objects) onto flat surfaces, and then traced those projected scenes with lifelike precision onto canvas or paper.
A chance observation in London’s National Gallery led Hockney to develop his provocative insights and theories. Fueled by the passion of his pursuit, Hockney set aside his brushes, stopped painting, and over the course of two years he obsessively tracked down the hidden secrets Van Eyck, Holbein, da Vinci, and others among history’s greatest painters. Backing up his theories with extensive scientific and visual evidence, Hockney effectively argues that the widespread use of lenses and mirrors throughout the Renaissance produced a certain “look” that became the dominant way of representing and seeing the external world. Yet despite his discovery of artists’ use of technical aids, Hockney leaves their personal mystique and talent intact, reminding readers, throughout, that the masters, not lenses, made their marks in paint with their own individual style and flair.
Given an extraordinary fresh look through the eyes of a contemporary master, hundreds of paintings of the great artists of the Renaissance are reproduced in Secret Knowledge in lavish color. To clarify his notions, Hockney uses his own drawings and photographs to clearly and simply illustrate how artists would have used the various optical devices available to them. Extracts from historical and modern documents provide further evidence, and correspondence between Hockney and international experts details both the evolution of his theory and the furor that has erupted over it.
Achieving international success by his mid-20s, first as a leading Pop artist, Hockney’s phenomenal success has been based not only on the flair, wit and versatility of his work, but also on his colorful personality.
David Hockney was interviewed at Kentucky Author Forum by Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic of the New York Times. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism, in 2000, Kimmelman has written on various cultural subjects for many publications. His book Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre and Elsewhere was selected as a notable book of the year by The Washington Post and The Times and a best book of the year by Publishers Weekly.